Anthropology is a very wide field of study and one that is very important to the understanding of the human race. From ancestral species to the origins of communication, anthropology's four main fields of study cover all aspects of human life, evolution, and development. The main fields can then be specified further for a more microscopic look at the nuances of human life and civilization.
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The study of Anthropology can cover anything from the development of symbols and language, to how humans evolved from unrecognizable mammals. At its core, anthropology is the study of humankind, from a holistic perspective that views the human race from all perspectives and angles. This holistic approach ensures that anthropologists study with no cultural values and ideals from affecting their research (Haviland, Prins, Walrath, McBride.2016) Under the umbrella of anthropology, four subfields exist to focus on specific areas. Those being: cultural, linguistic, and biological anthropology, as well as archeology.
Cultural anthropology is the study of the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of humans. Cultural anthropology can cover many topics of human culture. Systems, such as legal, political, medical or religious systems are explored, however more specific groups can be the subject of focus as well. Societal divisions such as age, race, gender and class are examined by cultural anthropologists. As per all anthropological studies, these groups and systems are viewed from a holistic viewpoint.
Linguistic anthropology, as the name suggests, investigates the idea of language and explores the structures, history and development of human languages and communication. Linguistic anthropology puts an emphasis on the "Why" and "How" of language, by examining linguistics under a more holistic lens, exploring ideas such as, "How does language reflect and influence specific cultures" or "How does language differ from one culture to another". Linguistic anthropology also aims to conserve and document languages on the brink of disappearance in an effort to protect from cultural amnesia. To do this, an anthropologist will interact with, record, and document those who speak languages whose disappearance is imminent.
Like cultural anthropology, Archaeology studies human cultures. However, these studies are conducted through the recovery and analysis of remains. Archeologists use million-year-old tools, pottery, and even human remains to understand human life, and gain a biocultural understanding of prehistoric life. Archeology can focus on more specific areas through the studies of bioarchaeology and historical archeology. Examples of archeology can be the examination of DNA from bone samples found in dig sites, used to analyze and compare with other samples from other sites to document the spread of a group of early peoples.
Biological anthropology focuses on humans as an organism, researching human development, and humans on a molecular level. Originally, biological anthropologists focused heavily on the subject of evolution, but it has since branched out into many subcategories. Because knowledge of the human body can be applied in so many ways, biological anthropologists can apply themselves in areas. Such as paleoanthropology, to study long time changes to human biology, Primatology, to study primates and the connections humans share with them, and forensic anthropology, to use genetic information and skeletal remains of the deceased to build a profile about them.
Within cultural anthropology, lies the subfield of ethnography. Along with ethnology, these are the main components of cultural anthropology. Ethnography is a description of a cultural group, obtained via fieldwork. Research is conducted by a mix of outside observations and social participation, referred to as participant observation. Through participant observation, anthropologists follow the habits and rituals of those they are studying, by eating the same foods and sleeping and living in the same conditions. This approach provides anthropologists with a fully immersive understanding of different cultures and provides the anthropologist with a better outlook of a culture.
Linguistic anthropology has many subfields, one of them being historical linguistics. Historical linguistics focuses specifically on the history of language and how it changes, spreads, and correlates and interacts with other languages. An example can be seen by how over the course of millennia, the spread of the Bantu languages in Africa and their spread from the western edges, to the rest of the continent.
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Archeology is widely regarded as dealing with prehistoric artifacts, however, this is not always the case. Applied archeology is a subfield that focuses on excavating landfills and what happens to old waste, rather than digging for pottery and remains. The purpose of applied archeology in this setting is to examine the effects of biodegradation over time and gain a more accurate estimation of how long biodegradation actually takes in different materials that end up in landfills.
The human body is important to many areas of study, so naturally, biological anthropology can be applied in many different subfields. Paleoanthropology is a subfield of biological anthropology that focuses on some of the largest time spans of any other form of anthropology. Paleoanthropologists study the origins of the human species, and the organisms that predate us. Looking back to mammals from 225 mya, paleoanthropologists can map human evolution over millions of years, comparing fossils to humans to gain an understanding of the lineage of the species.
Anthropology is a vast field of study that takes a look at humans and their culture to better understand the vast history and the future of the species. Through a holistic lens, anthropology touches almost every facet of human living and connects it together to paint a full picture of the species.
Haviland, W. A., Walrath, D., McBride, B., & Prins, H. E. (2016). The essence of anthropology (4th ed.). United States of America: Cengage Learning.
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