Anthropology is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “the scientific study of the origin, the behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of humans”. The word Anthropology derives from the Greek “anthropos”, meaning “human”. It falls under the broad spectrum of Social Sciences, along with Economics, History, Political Science, and Psychology.
There are several subfields within Anthropology, including Physical Anthropology, Cultural Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, and Linguistic Anthropology. Some scholars include a fifth subfield, Forensic Anthropology, while others consider this to be part of the Biological Anthropology subfield.
Physical Anthropology, also known as archaeology, is the study of civilizations through the physical remains they leave behind. These remains are known as artifacts. Archaeologists seek to understand the distribution, movement, and lifestyles of past cultures by locating and studying physical sites using established, formal, scientific methodologies. Archaeologists study the “trash” that civilizations leave behind in order to understand more about those people’s daily lives. Archaeology is not only limited to the study of ancient civilizations. There are several sub-disciplines within Archaeology that focus on modern cultures as well.
Cultural Anthropology is concerned with the social organization and defining characteristics of a civilization. This subfield studies how the individual members of a culture interact with each other and with other cultures. Cultural Anthropologists study a culture through their language, socio-economic organization, political system, family structure, views on kinship and childrearing, system of religion and mythology, use of symbolism, and their relationship to the earth around them. Like Archaeology, Cultural Anthropologists study both ancient cultures and modern societies.
Biological Anthropology is concerned with the history of human beings through studying the human body. Biological Anthropologists study human biological and genetic evolution, modern population genetics, human adaptability (physiological, developmental, and genetic), and primatology.
Linguistic Anthropology studies human communications, including verbal (spoken language), written (character and pictorial languages), and non-verbal communications (body language or symbolism). Linguistic Anthropologists seek to understand the variations in language through time and space, how language is used by different cultures, and how it affects those cultures.
Forensic Anthropology is the use of anthropological methodologies and techniques to study human remains in a legal context. This study is conducted mainly for the purposes of identification; not only identification of the individual, but also identification of the cause of death. Forensic Anthropology has gained in recognition and popularity in recent years due to the prevalence of television shows like “CSI”, which include the use of scientific anthropological methodologies to solve crimes.