Physical Anthropology

Anthropology Introduction to the four Subfields

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Anthropology is the study of humankind. Its primary concern is to gain knowledge about human origins, evolution, cultures, diversity, and development.  It also concerns about solving human problems.  Anthropology builds knowledge from humanities, biological, social, and physical sciences.  Anthropology is divided into four subfields as anthropologists build knowledge from these areas.  These four subfields are cultural, archaeological, biological or physical, and linguistic anthropology. 

Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologists study human society and culture.  They also study the similarities and differences of different cultures.  In addition, cultural anthropology study how societies organize, structure, and rule.  Cultural anthropologists draw attention to gender, class, religion, politics, and sexuality. They also use empirical methods to gather information.

Cultural anthropologists use the method of ethnography to study cultural diversity. They use ethnographic techniques to provide an account of a society.  Such ethnographic techniques that they use are observation, interview, and conversation.  For instance, cultural anthropologists want to observe the lifestyle in an urban community.  In order for them to observe, they live among the indigenous people. From that, cultural anthropologists may start a conversation with local people to gain knowledge about local behaviors, politics, beliefs, and customs.  In contrast, they may use cultural consultant, someone who has knowledge about the community history, to collect information.  Moreover, cultural anthropologist may collect information by listening to individual’s life history.

Other techniques that cultural anthropologists use are genealogical method, longitudinal, survey and team research. Above all, cultural anthropologists use ethnology to study cultural diversity.  Ethnology compares and contrast different societies and cultures.  For instance, cultural anthropologists who use the method of ethnology gather information from a series of researchers to analyze cultural similarities and differences.  They can also use ethnology to build theory about the social and cultural systems of the past.

Archaeological Anthropology

Archeological anthropology is the study of human past events.  Archaeologists use techniques, such as excavation, dating methods, and systemic survey (gather information on a particular region) to study material remains and sites.  Such material remains that they find and examine are potteries, tools, human and animal bones.  Other material remains are structures, buildings, garbage, weapons, and landscapes.  These evidences provide information for archaeologists to reconstruct past events.  These evidences also provide data for them to reconstruct economic, political, and social activities and conditions.   For instance, the quantity of pottery fragments of the Han Dynasty in China reveals an imperial era.

Biological or Physical Anthropology

Biological or physical anthropology is the study of human origins and evolution. It is also the study of human variation and adaptation to diverse environments.  Biological anthropologists seek to find the answers to the questions related to evolutionary theory.  They collaborate with various academic fields in order to gain information about the fossil record and genetics. Such academic fields that biological anthropologists collaborate with are paleontology, palynology, and primatology. 

Biological or physical anthropologists also gain information about human biological variation from bone biology and molecular anthropology.  For example, physical anthropologists can explain individual condition in the bone.  Certain infectious diseases leave some marks in the bone.  In addition, physical anthropologists also use anthropometry, a technique to measure human body parts and dimension.  They use anthropometry to study human condition.

Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropology is the study of how languages (sign language, spoken language, nonverbal language) influence culture and society.  Linguistic anthropologists look at how languages shape communication, perception, and social identity.  Moreover, linguistic anthropologists study how languages organize cultural beliefs, ideologies, social class, and gender speech differences.  In the Japanese language, people call others depend on their relationship, status, and familiarity with others.  For instance, students use the term “teacher” when they are talking to teachers.

Linguistic anthropologists also study how languages enable people to develop a common cultural depiction of natural and social worlds.  Linguistic anthropologists look at the origin, development, meaning, and structure of languages.  They also look at the changes of influences of languages over time.   For instance, the Chinese writing system was introduced to Japan in the 4th century AD.   Japan adopted the Chinese writing system and developed its own writing system.


These four subfields are important in the field of anthropology.  They not only address questions related to human evolution and diversity but also questions related to universal matter.  For instance, the four branches of anthropology ask various questions related to globalization, politics, social, and economic.  Also, these four branches address inquiries related to contemporary spread of diseases and treatments.  In addition, these four branches link to other anthropology subfields.  Such subfields are applied anthropology, legal anthropology, ecological anthropology, medical anthropology, and much more. 

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