Anthropology 1

By ooorg

18 May 2019

Anthropology is the study of humanity, both modern and ancient. By studying ancient humanity we can learn about where we came from (and perhaps where we are heading), which can inform us about who we are today as a species.

Studying humanity is a big topic. So Anthropology is divided into four main sub categories:

  1. Physical Anthropology
  2. Cultural Anthropology
  3. Archaeology
  4. Linguistics

1. Physical Anthropology is the study of the human species anatomically both in the present and evolutionarily. It is accepted axiomatically that all species on Earth have evolved, and that the modern human we are today - Homo Sapien sapien - evolved from earlier life-forms such as (proto) primates, which are common ancestors to that of modern apes (eg. Chimpanzees, our closest living relative) and ourselves. A common misconception is that we evolved from apes that exist today, but instead we evolved from common ancestors and modern apes have evolved from those same ancestors (where there was a split in the species) into the apes that live today. You could say that all living things have a common ancestor, you just have to go far back enough.

2. Cultural Anthropology. Aside from physical anthropology there is the aspect of humanity which occurs 'outside of the body', or extrasomatically. These can be physical things like clothes or tools, but it is more than that because cultural anthropology includes the ideas of such things as clothes or tools. Culture in anthropological terms is defined as a 'complex set of ideas'. The 'human animal' is different to the 'non-human animal' in part because of these ideas. We are both an animal as we evolved from common ancestors of 'animals', but we are also non-animal because we are the only species that wears clothes and speaks in a language, and has culture, it can be argued.

3. Archaeology is a form of cultural anthropology which focuses on the study of extrasomatic material of the human past. We cannot study the cultural past in the same way we can study the cultural present because we cannot speak to a human from the past, nor can we observe their behaviour. But we can research the material culture of the past and study it to give insight to the behaviour and ideas of the human past. We can also search for this material culture of the past because it is in the ground upon which we walk. Hence why archaeologists dig. We have an understanding of the language and ideas of human past to a certain extent because of the existence of writing. But writing only began at a certain point in human history (circa 5,000 BP) and also the writing would have been done by only a certain few. Of interest to archaeologists is also the material culture that existed for a much longer period of time before writing came about. For example stone tools, the existence of which denotes the 'Stone Age', the earliest examples of which are dated back as early as 3.4 million years ago[].

4. Linguistics. Another cultural aspect of humanity but not a material one. The study of language and languages is a cultural study because language is not innate – the meaning of the symbols in a language is both arbitrary and invented by humans. It is also both evolving and exists as a shared thing in a society. The meaning of a word or language is understood between participants. It is thought that the human mind became 'modern' when it began to understand symbols as metaphors or 'deep symbols' – as opposed to shallow symbols that animals understand – and with that came the beginning of language. Conceptual symbols such as symmetry could have existed before speech itself and manifested in such things as early axe-heads and could have been a determining factor in the development of speech-language itself.