People often confuse anthropology and archeology. The words seem similar, and the two fields overlap.
Archeology is one of the sub-fields anthropology. The other three sub-fields are cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, and linguistics. Physical and cultural anthropologist often make use of archaeological techniques to collect and study fossil and skeletal remains.
The word “anthropology” is derived from the Greek words anthropos (man) and logos (word, knowledge). Anthropologists study every aspect of the physical, cultural, and social development of humans over the entire span of time, including our primate ancestors. Anthropologists are very interested in the evolutionary process and its interaction with cultural, medical, and ecological issues.
How did we humans come to be the way we are? What are the different aspects of human existence and experience? Anthropologists undertake scientific comparative studies to determine how human populations of the world are similar and how they are different. They study biological characteristics, social customs, language, kinship, religion, economics, and art.
Anthropology overlaps with the fields of biology and medicine, as well as social sciences such as psychology, economics, and sociology. New discoveries are being made on an ongoing basis. Anthropology is an exciting and dynamic field of study with many sub-specialties such as forensic anthropology, medical anthropology, and evolutionary anthropology.
The word “archeology” is derived from the Greek word “arkhaiologia”, which means “ancient history.” Archaeologists investigate history by finding and studying the remains and objects a society leaves behind. Who can forget the excitement of Schliemann’s search for Troy? How about the opening of King Tut’s tomb and the subsequent horror of its alleged curse? Each artifact has its own story, inviting our imagination to travel backwards through time.
The work of archaeologists is particularly useful and creative for cultures which have left no written history. Excavations, or “digs”, are the staple of archeological study. Archeologists sweat through a great deal of dusty and meticulous field work unearthing, collecting and recording what they find. Afterwards, they may spend months or years poring over their treasures, attempting to reconstruct the life and times of a long-gone people. Finally, they must collate their findings and publish reports for others to use. Historians and cultural anthropologists depend on the work of archaeologists to give substance to their theories.
Interested students can get a broad overview of anthropology and archeology from the undergraduate perspective. If they wish to become professionsl workers in the field, much additional education and skill-building are required. Both fields are constantly being renewed by the findings of teams around the world. They continue to offer the tantalizing hope of unearthing the next revolutionary discovery which will change the way we view human history.
Sources and resources:
Smithsonian page about archeology and anthropology
Links to resources for archeology and anthropology