The Difference between Anthropology and Archaeology Explained

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Asking for the difference between archaeology and anthropology is a very common mistake people tend to make. The fact of the matter is, archaeology is one of the four main branches of anthropology: physical/biological, socio-cultural, linguistic, and archaeological. Asking the difference between archaeology and anthropology is like asking for the difference between a German Shepard and a dog. A German Shepard is a dog just like archaeology is an anthropological profession. Technically anything related to humans in any way is anthropological.

So then, what is archaeology? Well, the most widely accepted definition of this profession is the study of past cultures through material remains in order to piece together the human past. Many people associate archaeologists with popular faces such as Indiana Jones (with his quest to throw everything shiny into a museum) and Laura Croft (with her almost sexual obsession concerning ancient mysteries). The fact of the matter is, both of these pop-culture personas, and many others like them, are little more than grave robbers. Allow me to expand.

In the beginning scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, one anxiously watches as the brave Indiana wittingly overcomes many obstacles in order to get to the golden idol at the end of the tunnel; he dodges spikes that shoot out if he breaks a beam of light, he uses his whip to jump over a bottomless pit, and also runs away from a gigantic, perfectly round boulder after successfully grabbing the idol. Sure, the golden thing would look nice and pretty in a museum. But a real archaeologist would not be concerned with it in the least. A real archaeologist would be fascinated to understand how an ancient culture was capable of making spikes shoot out if you break a beam of light. A real archaeologist would want to learn how a technologically un-advanced society dug a bottomless pit. A real archaeologist would want to find out how an isolated, 3rd world people carved a perfectly spherical and enormous boulder that would roll down after anyone who grabbed this golden idol.

I wish archaeology was as exciting as Indiana Jones makes it out to be but, actually, there is a lot of boring and tedious work that goes into an archaeological survey. One cannot simply run into an ancient site, grab all the gold and pretty stuff, and then bust out whilst dodging arrows and spears thrown by angry locals- even if it is all in the name of conservation. There are procedures and ethics archaeologists must follow. In a nutshell: keep the local people and government happy, take meticulous notes on everything, dig only when necessary, and, when a dig does occur, collect absolutely everything. They even have to collect and label dirt. Boredom is much more common than life-threatening excitement.

I mentioned earlier that there are four sub-groups of anthropology. So, to keep in the holistic nature that is a part of this great profession, I will briefly describe the other three. According to the very prominent anthropologists, Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz, biological and/or physical anthropology is "the study of human beings as biological organisms and the attempt to discover what characteristics make them different from other organisms and what characteristics they share". Socio-cultural anthropology is the study of "beliefs and behaviors of members of different human groups shaped by sets of learned behaviors and ideas that human beings acquire as members of society". Finally, linguistic anthropology is the study of human culture as perceived through human language.

There are, of course, many more sub-categories of anthropology (as mentioned earlier, anything that has to do with studying humans in any way can be considered and anthropological study) but those are the main four. So now you know exactly what anthropology is and what it is not. Next time you hear somebody say that Indiana Jones is a good example of an archaeologist please correct them. That is the farthest thing from the truth.

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