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Anthropology is the study of humanity through the application of biology, cultural studies, archaeology, linguistics, and other social sciences.


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Uncovering the Past

In the tropical rainforests of Mosquitia, Honduras, this graduate student of anthropology works around yellow tape markers to uncover a cache of over 50 artifacts that may help us learn more about the former human inhabitants of the area.

Photograph by Dave Yoder

In the most general sense, anthropology is the study of humanity. More specifically, anthropologists study human groups and culture, with a focus on understanding what it means to be human. Toward this goal, anthropologists explore aspects of human biology, evolutionary biology, linguistics, cultural studies, history, economics, and other social sciences.

Anthropology emerged out of the New Imperialism of nineteenth-century Europe. During this time, European explorers came into contact with diverse groups and societies in the Americas and Asia. In the twentieth century, anthropology became increasingly specialized and professionalized as a social science.

Modern anthropology is often divided into four distinct subdisciplines: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and archaeology. The four disciplines can be generally characterized as follows: biological anthropology (also known as physical anthropology) is the study of human-environmental adaptation; cultural anthropology is the study of how people develop and use culture as a tool; linguistic anthropology is the study of how people communicate and formulate language; and archaeology is the study of the past through material left behind (also known as artifacts).

While different types of anthropologists conduct different research, they all rely heavily on fieldwork. For archaeologists, this fieldwork involves the excavation of sites where ancient societies once lived. For cultural anthropologists, fieldwork commonly consists of interacting with modern social groups in order to better understand them or their distant ancestors. Anthropologists from different fields also commonly collaborate using their different skills to create a more comprehensive understanding of a particular group.

Media Credits

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Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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