Anthropology is a social science dedicated to the study of the human race. Literally translated, anthropology means the study of (-ology) humanity (anthropos). Anthropology is a very broad-based, big-picture field of academia that studies everything from a culture’s food gathering methods, waste disposal, social structures, and religious beliefs.
Many people are under the false impression that anthropologists simply study old bones and relate them to the theory of evolution. However, this is only one subfield of anthropology called physical anthropology. Three other subfields of anthropology include Cultural Anthropology, Archaeology, and Linguistic Anthropology.
Physical anthropologists specialize in the study of genetics and human evolution over time. However, the work of physical anthropologists go beyond digging up bones in remote locations around the globe. Physical anthropologists can “read” human remains to determine the deceased person’s diet, societal factors that may have caused bodily injury, and average length of lifespan. While most physical anthropologists find jobs in research and academia, some go on to become forensic anthropologists in the criminal justice system.
Cultural anthropologists study various aspects of world cultures including clothing, oral hygiene, food gathering, waste disposal, religious rituals, family interaction, and indigenous land rights. Cultural anthropologists often specialize even further into various sub-subfields of anthropology. These include ethnolinguists who study a culture’s language, and ethnomusicologists who study a culture’s musical traditions. Cultural anthropologists find jobs in research, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations.
Made famous by the adventures of Dr. Jones in the Indiana Jones series of films, this subfield of anthropology studies great societies and cultures of the past. Archaeologists in the field excavate and sift through dirt in order to find buried historical treasures from long ago. Using these artifacts, archaeologists construct a picture of the ancient culture and their daily lives, what they ate, how they dressed, and how they prepared their food. Archaeologists find jobs in academia as professors and in government working for agencies such as the National Park Service.
Linguistic anthropologists study the nuances of how cultures communicate through language. This includes written and spoken communication. Linguistic anthropology takes a close look at language production, expressive folklore and cultural studies, and specific cultural languages including Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Mayan. Linguistic anthropologists find jobs in research and academia.
Additional Anthropology Subfields
Depending on the educational institution, many colleges and universities offer additional anthropology subfields including applied anthropology, culture and folklore, forensic anthropology, and activist anthropology. Regardless, anthropology is a broad-spectrum social science that offers various opportunities to study past and present cultures around the world.