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Anthropology is the study of humans from the past as well as the present, so it is a rather broad discipline. In order to understand cultures around the world and through time, Anthropology utilizes information from social and biological sciences, the humanities, and other related fields. In the United States, anthropologists specialize in one of four areas: socio-cultural anthropology, archaeology, biological anthropology, or linguistics.
Socio-cultural anthropologists are interested in how living groups are distinct from other cultures and how they adapt to their environment; organize, govern, communicate, perpetuate their traditions; and interpret the world. Ethnographers are anthropologists who collect data on an individual culture through participant observation, interviews, genealogical studies, etc., as part of a field study in which they are immersed in direct contact with the group. The goal is to describe and interpret the various aspects of the culture as thoroughly as possible in writing. Objects utilized by the people, including their clothing, utensils, tools, weapons, religious items, furniture, ornaments, habitats, etc., may be collected for further study by other scholars in the future.
Archaeologists study past peoples, from the first use of stone tools by ancient hominids millions of years ago to peoples living in more recent historic times. The evidence archaeologists examine includes a range of material remains left behind by human activities, including artifacts such as pottery, stone and bone tools, woven crafts, architectural structures, and physical features (such as hearths, storage pits, burials, and roads). They also analyze evidence from the ancient environment, including landscapes, floral, faunal, and geological remains, and chemical residues. The information sought by archaeologists covers a wide array of topics, including the identification and development of unique cultures, their economies, technological innovations, subsistence patterns, belief systems, social organization, and interaction with the environment and their neighbors.
Biological anthropologists study human evolution, adaptation to environmental conditions (e.g., high altitude, extreme cold, or extreme heat), physical variation among populations, and the antiquity, cause, and distribution of diseases and pathologies. This subdiscipline includes research on other primates (primatology), the hominid fossil record (paleoanthropology), prehistoric human remains in archaeological sites of any age (bioarchaeology), human biology (health, growth and development), and genetics of past and living populations.
Linguistic anthropologists study the ways in which language reflects and modifies a culture’s customs and activities, including how members communicate, establish social identity, express their beliefs, and interpret their world through the spoken and written word.