In the most general sense, anthropology is the study of humanity. More specifically, anthropologists study human groups and culture, with a focus on understanding what it means to be human. Toward this goal, anthropologists explore aspects of human biology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, cultural studies, history, economics, and other social sciences.
Anthropology emerged out of the New Imperialism of nineteenth-century Europe. During this time, European explorers came into contact with diverse groups and societies in the Americas and Asia. In the twentieth century, anthropology became increasingly specialized and professionalized as a social science.
Modern anthropology is often divided into four distinct subdisciplines: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. The four disciplines can be generally characterized as follows: biological anthropology (also known as physical anthropology) is the study of human-environmental adaptation; cultural anthropology is the study of how people develop and use culture as a tool; linguistic anthropology is the study of how people communicate and formulate language; and archaeology is the study of the past through material left behind (also known as artifacts).
While different types of anthropologists conduct different research, they all rely heavily on fieldwork. For archaeologists, this fieldwork involves the excavation of sites where ancient societies once lived. For cultural anthropologists, fieldwork commonly consists of interacting with modern social groups in order to better understand them or their distant ancestors. Anthropologists from different fields also commonly collaborate using their different skills to create a more comprehensive understanding of a particular group.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry adaptation Noun
a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.
Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation anthropologist Noun
person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.
science of the origin, development, and culture of human beings.
Encyclopedic Entry: anthropology archaeology Noun
study of human history, based on material remains.
Encyclopedic Entry: archaeology artifact Noun
material remains of a culture, such as tools, clothing, or food.
biological anthropology Noun
study of the evolution and physical development of human beings. Also called physical anthropology.
study of living things.
full, wide-ranging, or inclusive.
cultural anthropology Noun
study of the learned behavior of groups of people in specific environments.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
change in heritable traits of a population over time.
field work Noun
scientific studies done outside of a lab, classroom, or office.
Encyclopedic Entry: field work linguistic Adjective
having to do with language or speech.
linguistic anthropology Noun
study of how language influences social life.