What is Anthropology?


Anthropology is the integrated biological and socio-cultural investigation of humankind, from the time of our hominid ancestors to the present, and encompassing small to large societies. It includes the four sub-disciplines of archaeology, bioanthropology, linguistics and socio-cultural anthropology with many different specialties in each division. 

Archaeology is the study of ancient human cultures by investigating the material remains that they left behind. An integral part of archaeologists' knowledge is obtained through scientific excavations. These are usually completed slowly and methodically so that nothing is missed and details can be recorded. Documentation is an important part of archaeologists' work, which involves careful recording bysurveying, mapping, and photography.
Archaeologists may learn about the beliefs and lifestyles of people in the past by many different methods and in different contexts. A few examples are locating and recording rock art or investigating house styles and construction methods by mapping buildings or structures. They may even learn about maritime history by investigating shipwrecks underwater. 

Archaeologists tend to specialize in different periods of human history or within biogeographically defined 'cultural areas'. Some study the origins of human beings several million years ago. Others investigate human culture and technology dating to the very recent past and even the material culture of contemporary societies. Collectively, such information helps us understand individual cultures and also some of the common features associated with all human beings throughout the evolution of our genus Homo.

Some archaeologists specialize in the study of one kind of evidence rather than in a time period or culture area. These varieties of evidence include human and animal bone, stone artifacts, rock paintings and engravings, beads, pottery, pollen, charcoal and other evidence of past environments, or buildings and historical documents. Some of these studies require scientific techniques, hence archaeology requires the integratation of the social sciences with the physical sciences. 
   
Biological Anthropology is the study of the physical, physiological, skeletal, and genetic nature of humans and our hominid ancestors. While this sub-discipline includes palaeoanthropology, or the study of human evolution, it also involves our primate biological relatives (known as primatology). Skeletal and genetic studies focus on the history and spread of diseases in ancient and modern societies, as well as in forensic investigations.
 
Biological anthropologists use a bio-cultural approach to the study of humanity. This approach centres on the relationships between human biology and culture from an evolutionary perspective. There is an overlap in course preparation between the biology and biological anthropology student but the anthropology student also incorporates knowledge of cultural systems into his/her course of study. Typically, the biological anthropologist will specialize in human variation/adaptation, forensic anthropology, palaeomicrobiology, palaeoanthropology or primatology. 
 
Linguistic Anthropology is the study of human speech and language, including origins and investigating specific languages. Particularly important is studying contemporary languages and comparing them with extant ones. Linguists may then identify relationships between human populations.
 
Linguistics is considered a sub-discipline of anthropology due to its focus on human culture. Language acquisition and usage is a unique human characteristic which may be studied by how an individual learns, in the context of a particular culture or within a broader human evolutionary mode.
 
Socio-cultural Anthropology is the study of cultures of living human populations, usually through ethnographic research. Socio-cultural anthropologists often study contemporary societies by observing human behaviour while living and working in those communities. This is called "participant-observation". Traditionally such field work was conducted in rural, agrarian, or forager communities. Anthropologists now might also be found working in urban and "western" societies.

The nature of the research questions asked varies widely, but usually involves an attempt to understand the socio-political and economic structure of the community, relations within and between families, and also the relationship of the community to the physical environment within which it operates. Modern cultural anthropology might involve studies to address community socio-economic development, political empowerment, or social dislocation. This sort of anthropology may contribute to community development, or the alleviation of social inequity.