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Anthropology is a discipline that explores the biological, cultural, and social evolution of human beings and human society as a special type of social organization. It includes a variety of sectors, sub-disciplines, trends, topics, research paradigms, and research schools. Initially, anthropology was considered as the science that studies the origin and evolution of the human physical organization and different races excluding the social and cultural characteristics.
The contemporary anthropologists seek to establish similarities and differences between social forms of life and cultural practices, religious beliefs, and economic systems of both types of societies ancient and modern. The science that studies the formation of the human races, the standard variation of the human physical structure in these races, including the connection to the peculiarities of the surrounding human environment now only applies to biological anthropology. To understand how the different branches of anthropology affect the perception and understanding of humankind, it is necessary to compare how each branch describes this phenomenon from its perspective.
In a broad sense, anthropology is perceived as a science of humanity in the unity of its social and cultural aspects. It studies the tools, techniques and technology, tradition and customs, beliefs and values, social institutions, the family, marriage and kinship, economic mechanisms, the evolution of the art, the struggle for prestige, and other aspects. Anthropology is connected with human and social sciences and studies the history of human beings (Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2015).
It also includes the ethnology, which is the science of human propagation on the Earth, the behavior and customs of people. It involves sociological studies that examine the relationships between people; linguistics; mythology; social geography (focuses on the impact that environment and the natural landscape has on humans; demographics (presenting statistical data on the composition and distribution of the human population), medical anthropology (psychology and human genetics), human ecology and others.
As has been mentioned above, anthropology is divided into four main branches: cultural, physical, archaeological, and linguistic anthropology. Among the social sciences, anthropology takes a special place as it traces the emergence and development of the human race within millions of years (Haviland et al., 2015). Anthropology has not only a wide range of temporal studies of the human race but also the most diverse thematic range. Anthropology enables seeing the broader view of human society, not limited to its industrial forms, and does not assume that the existing social forms are certainly large.
For example, in some corners of New Guinea, small groups of hunters and gatherers still lead a solitary life, preserved in its original form. Further, anthropology has an important ethic function; it tries to free the minds of people from the ethnocentric views that make people underestimate other cultures, from the desire to evaluate them based on the standpoint of norms and values of their culture (Haviland et al., 2015). An extensive comparative cultural perspective revealed by anthropology helps to understand society, to look at it differently.
Regarding the important methods of anthropological research, they are the narrative technique, anthropometry (measuring method), craniology (the study of the skull), osteology (the study of skeletal), dentistry (the study of the dental system), the studies of skin relief, plastic reconstruction (human face recovery), microanatomy, anthropological photography. Further, such methods as radiology, longitudinal (long-term) and transverse (one-time) study groups, recovery techniques of human appearance, mapping racial characteristics including (participating) observation of native cultures, and others should be considered as anthropological.
The central place among the branches of anthropology is taken by socio-cultural anthropology, which examines the characteristics of human communication and culture in terms of cultural institutions, customs, traditions, ways of life, socialization features in different cultures, and others. It examines the social structure and the interaction of people in them. The main focus of research of this branch is related to human development as a phenomenon of culture regarding human behavior, the establishment of norms, prohibitions, and taboos associated with the inclusion of a person in the socio-cultural relations.
Apart from that, it revolves around enculturation processes, the cultural influence on sexual dimorphism, the notions of family and marriage, love as a cultural phenomenon, the formation of attitude and human outlook, mythology as a cultural phenomenon, and others.
Cultural anthropology is based on collected, processed, classified, and interpreted empirical data. It suggests a humanistic view of the world, based on the cross-cultural comparative studies, in particular, on the comparison of different cultures in different historical periods (Peoples & Bailey, 2011). This viewpoint is characteristic of only the socio-cultural branch of anthropology. Many American scholars have pointed out that the socio-cultural anthropology can be viewed from both sides, the ethnographic (based on fieldwork) and ethnological (based on cross-cultural comparisons).
Cultural anthropology, since its inception, is a broad discipline and reveals, in the first place, the concept explaining the structure and existence of the popular culture (Srivastava, 2012). The descriptive materials are either the means of verification of concepts or serve as their evidence.
In recent years, sub-disciplines of cultural anthropology, the cultural ecology, and paleoecology, have been actively developed. Both branches reveal the impact of industrial activity on the environment; the first discipline is concerned with modern times, and the second is concerned with the ancient era. The initial concept of these branches is an ecosystem, which reveals the unity of the natural environment with the created one (Peoples & Bailey, 2011).
For instance, the anthropologists, who specialize in these areas, are interested in the influence of overpopulation of the planet as a whole or its regions on productivity. The development of transport and communication means, the way specific intelligence technology and mining mineral resources are linked to this branch, as well as the impact of the transition from the rural life, which was in harmony with the environment, to the city life, which is often in conflict with the harmonious life in the natural setting (Srivastava, 2012).
By analyzing the density of the population of ancient settlements, scientists can learn whether it belonged to the metropolitan, urban, or provincial types of territorial communities (Peoples & Bailey, 2011). Socio-cultural anthropology investigates specific phenomena of human existence in their cultural and historical specifics. The method of which is the comparative analysis of the phenomena of human life in different cultures and historical epochs.
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The analysis of the culture is of particular importance for anthropological research when direct access to the structures in which the person works is limited. Either this can be applied to the extinct structures such as social systems that existed in the past or to the primitive communities, which, as a rule, do not exist in a civilized society anymore (Peoples & Bailey, 2011). Historians who did not limit the research to the fixation of historical events but tried to identify the common components of the cultural development of the era and to show the specificity of the human beings, belong to the first type of researchers.
The second group of researchers consisted mainly of ethnologists and philosophers that tried to find the basis for a deeper understanding of life within these communities and the human position in them through the analysis of cultural stereotypes and forms of primitive societies (Peoples & Bailey, 2011). Also, they researched general laws and principles of human existence in communities of any type. The study of primitive cultures was useful in the sense that they have discovered the fundamental principles of human life, which are in the background in the developed, civilized cultures due to the secondary structures.
The important developments in socio-cultural anthropology are associated with the use of the structural method. This method was not only of technical, instrumental value, but it also has radically changed the perception of the humankind. The researchers started to study the content of myths, rituals, customs, and other forms of understanding the world together with the attempts to clarify the influence of structures that formed the specifics of communication links among ancient people (Peoples & Bailey, 2011). The uniqueness of thinking of the ancestors was explained not by imagination and fantasy-driven by their instincts and peculiar kinship structures but also the consequences of the development of nature. For example, all sorts of taboos acted like the rules governing the relations of people.
One of the contemporary methods, which is widely used nowadays, is the analysis of individual phenomena of the acute culture that reveals the features and attributes of living in the modern world. Due to the complexity of contemporary culture, the researchers’ attention is focused on particularly expressive cultural events typical for the modern post-industrial culture, such as cinema, fashion, advertising, virtual reality, and others.
Biological anthropology studies the processes and stages of human evolution as a species, as well as the nature of intraspecific variation, their anatomical and physiological characteristics, and other significant biological facts.
When comparing this branch with the others, it becomes evident that the subject of the study of biological anthropology is different. The object of the biological anthropology is the human population, while the subject matter is the biological variability (polymorphism) of people and their ancestors during the time (anthropogenesis and diachronic changes in modern humans), the study of which is impossible without the use of the achievements of related sciences (geology, ecology, primatology, history, psychology) (Stanford, Allen, & Anton, 2013). The study of biological variability in humans (race, gender, age, constitutional, socio-professional) is also associated with the knowledge of the interdisciplinary connection of physical anthropology with the related sciences (population genetics, physiology, medicine, ethnography, demography, sociology).
The main task of the biological anthropology is to identify and scientifically describe the variation (polymorphism) in several human and biological characteristics of these systems (the so-called anthropological) signs, as well as to identify the reasons for this diversity.
Biological anthropologists are interested in human genetics, its hereditary characteristics; questions of morphology (the parameters of the human body and the physical characteristics of the analysis), as well as adaptive human interaction as a biological substance with the culture and the natural environment. One of the morphological units, which is somatology, aims to establish a correlation between the structure of the body and the personality type (Stanford et al., 2013).
Another growing area is the primate ethology studies, which combines anthropology, psychology, and zoology. Biological anthropologists are studying the evolution of the human skeletal structure and the body functions of soft tissues (Stanford et al., 2013). The subject of the study is also a racial variation and the associated susceptibility to disease, survival in different environments, and so on. In contrast to the socio-cultural anthropology, which studies behavioral characteristics and human socialization, physical anthropology, or biological anthropology studies the physical characteristics of people.
As well as the socio-cultural, biological anthropology studies humans since prehistoric times, in particular, it studies the fossils and traces the development of different characteristics over time. Scientists are looking for traces of cultures, such as stone tools and the remains of hearths; they also analyze the connection between brain size and the ability to walk upright and physical development (Stanford et al., 2013).
Some physical anthropologists study the animals that are close to human beings, including chimpanzees and other apes. By watching these animals, scientists are trying to understand how the prehistoric ancestors looked like and how human beings have changed over thousands of years (Stanford et al., 2013). Advanced methods for studying human and animal proteins help scientists to discover how close different types are to each other, but human interaction with the environment is not a subject of study of this branch. Biological anthropologists study how human beings differ from each other physically in terms of red blood cells, different skin colors, and hereditary diseases.
They also analyze the impact of food on human behavior. For example, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency makes people more aggressive (Stanford et al., 2013). Some physical anthropologists study how the social activity of people combined with their food and the climate has affected the span of human life.
Archaeological anthropology studies anthropogenesis (the origin of Homo sapiens) and the subsequent development of the individuals as well as explains the historical variation in the lives of peoples. This science allows using the latest achievements in physics, chemistry, and biology to determine the date and purpose of fossils and artifacts, helping to recreate the lifestyle of ancient people.
The main difference between this branch and other branches of anthropology is that it examines humanity through the objects left by people. It includes dwellings, home, clothing, pottery and tools, works of art (Haviland et al., 2015). Archaeologists trace the development of cultures, study the things that have been made and used by people. Such objects help them determine what primitive life was like.
For example, the size of the house and the number of hearths for cooking can show the number of people who lived under the same roof. The difference in the number and value of items laid in the burial can tell about the class and social differences among ancient people (Haviland et al., 2015). Animal bones and plants remain to disclose whether people used to keep pets, or hunted them or if they grew crops or collected wild plants for food.
Archaeological anthropology or archeology is the study of the past of humankind based on material evidence (Haviland et al., 2015). One of the peculiarities of this branch is that archaeology studies the traces of human activity, mainly in the soil strata, formed as a result of these activities (cultural layer), as well as on the surface and at the bottom of reservoirs (architectural monuments, petroglyphs, traces of ancient irrigation, shipwrecks, etc.) for the historical and cultural information.
Archaeology is the only human study that uses the material remains left by people rather than direct observation of human behavior or written evidence. Archaeologists involved in recreation and comprehension of the life of people of past eras, use a variety of methods and techniques. Some of them are used only in archeology; others are borrowed from physics, biology, geology, and other sciences.
The material findings fall into four broad categories (Haviland et al., 2015). The first is the artifacts, for instance, objects created or used by people. These include tools and jewelry, clothing fabric, moth-time bronze ornaments, pottery, production waste (for example, a plate, cleaved from the rocky core in the manufacture of tools), pruning thread remaining after weaving work, and others. The second is artificial structures: a pit dug in the ground to store food or garbage; fireplaces, filled with wood coals and ashes; stone foundations of buildings, tunnels, mines, earth mounds, and tombs. The third category consists of biological residues such as raw bones, snail shells, pollen, grains, and charred wood, food waste. The fourth category includes soil sediments accumulated in the monument area and which contains traces of human activity.
The experimental archeology is very important as it empirically examines the theoretical assumptions that were put forward by scientists before (Haviland et al., 2015). For example, archaeologists create artifacts to study the production of waste; thus, in the manufacture of stone tools they determine the number and placement of chips, then obtain and compare them with the sediments from the studied archaeological sites.
The experiments of another kind of shed light on the process of transformation of the inhabited settlements into the archaeological site; for instance, the archaeologists have burned a model of Neolithic huts or earthen structures constructed up to investigate how they change under the influence of erosion and other natural factors. The ethnic archeology similarly pays much attention to the collection of data to facilitate the interpretation of archaeological materials and sites (Haviland et al., 2015). The difference between them is, however, that ethnic archeology studies human activities in the field conditions, presumably similar to those depicted in archeological materials.
The importance of this branch of anthropology is that the archeology has given the basic array of information related to the early epochs of humanity, until the late Middle Ages. It is a priceless contribution to the study of pre-literate societies, of which there is no evidence (Haviland et al., 2015). Archeology techniques are also used for the investigation of certain events during the XVII-XX centuries, about which there is little documentary evidence.
Archaeology remodels, describes and justifies the cultural patterns of human behavior based on material objects discovered in the course of the excavation. Archaeologists mainly research about the prehistory (the period before the opening of writing). For archaeologists, the primary data are the remains of material culture. On this basis, scientists have reconstructed the ancient way of life in towns and villages, traditions, and customs, the life and work of the ancestors (Haviland et al., 2015).
Archaeological anthropology, unlike other branches, is not limited to the scientific attribution of the cultural monument (technical description of the time, place, historical details, cultural specifications), and its technical description. It goes much further, by using the monuments as a means of disclosure of social relations that existed in the distant era.
The key to cognizing culture is the perception of it as a system of symbols. The most common system is the language as a means of oral and written communication. By understanding the role of communication in the culture, linguists also answer the historical questions and classify the languages of the world seeking to identify the connection between them, to bear witness about the historical relations between nations.
Linguistic anthropology, unlike other branches, analyzes the speech of people in different cultures. Linguists try to find a connection between the language of people and other aspects of their cultures. For example, in the Indonesian language, many assertions have a social connotation. Houses and other items have different names depending on the social status of the person to whom these objects belonged (Ottenheimer, 2012).
Their language reflects the importance of social classes in the culture. The scientists also analyze the structure of the language that has no written expression. Anthropologists study both words and their meanings (Ottenheimer, 2012). For instance, the tribes of East Africa used a lot of words for colors, as well as the words that defined the cattle. Their vocabulary showed the importance of livestock in their lives. How different cultures classify animals, plants, and relatives show how they used to perceive the world.
Linguistic anthropology is the branch of linguistics that studies the evolution of the human mind based on its reflection in the language evolution (in terms of vocabulary). Almost all historical changes in human consciousness and cultural development and growth of knowledge are reflected in the lexical system of any language (Ottenheimer, 2012). The formation of this branch of anthropology is connected to the two stages, which are the pre-scientific and scientific. The first stage is connected with a period when people used the ideas and common words to name these ideas. The second stage describes the period when people started to operate scientific concepts and terms.
It is possible to determine the speed of a particular fragment of the conceptual picture of the world as well as its quantitative and qualitative historical changes, the stage of specialization and filiation of individual scientific disciplines when comparing the synchronous sections of terminologies that act as a means of execution of the relevant conceptual systems (Ottenheimer, 2012). It also makes it possible to reconstruct the history of cultural development trends, which are frequently expressed in the language.
It is worth noting that the ongoing specialization process accompanies the development of human knowledge. On average, the number of scientific disciplines doubles every 25 years. The specialization of knowledge is reflected in the quantitative growth and specialization of language items in almost every language (Ottenheimer, 2012). Another important provision of this anthropological branch is concerned with the objectivity of the existence of similar phylogeny (the historical development of the species) and ontogenesis (individual development of the organism) in human evolution.
The scientists have been looking for the connection of mental development of the people that was reflected in the growth in the volume of the vocabulary and the stages of development of the lexical world picture of humankind. Most importantly, the linguistic anthropology studies the sequence of the discovery of different subjects and activities, which enables obtaining crucial historical information and draw conclusions based on linguistic data.
The question arises as to whether anthropology is a unified science. It is clear how varied the interests of different branches are, even though they are gathered together under a common name. The scientists study the properties of human beings as members of one species and some of how they adapt to different environments. The researchers also analyze material objects of social groups, and their beliefs, and values as well.
Anthropologists, as well as other social scientists, try to study the common features of human behavior systematically. They develop the theory and use the scientific method to confirm theories (Haviland et al., 2015). Their research is comparative in terms of different cultures; thus, scientists can study the differences and similarities among different groups of people. Another important feature of anthropology is its emphasis on the internal state of society (Haviland et al., 2015). Anthropologists are trying to determine the way the people’s belonging to a specific culture has influenced their perception of the world. In this regard, the anthropology can make a significant contribution to the establishment of interethnic harmony because it contributes to the understanding of different cultures.
When considering the importance of each of the anthropological branches and realizing what every branch has to adds to the understanding of humanity, it is worth noting that the world is made up of a vast number of different ethnic, religious and cultural categories and classes with various ways of living and varied perceptions of the world. They interact and depend on each other (Haviland et al., 2015).
Almost all of the existing problems are cultural, and these problems cannot be solved without knowing and respecting the heritage and history of other cultures. Anthropology displays and uncovers the nature of other cultural societies, which enables cognizing new aspects of the cultural world.
Anthropology examines the full diapason of social groups and cultural values through which a person learns about the humankind. The branches of this science make it possible to understand the nature and variety of peoples, nations, social groups, and promotes their peaceful coexistence (Haviland et al., 2015).
Biological anthropology has shown the fundamental unity of all human races; archaeological branch revealed the changes in human adaptation to the environment and society; socio-cultural branch has described and analyzed the diversity of cultural systems, values, and social institutions, while the linguistic anthropology has shown the way cultural realities are reflected in languages.
Anthropologists have shown evidence that the biological races and cultures are not the same and give them grounds to stand for the recognition of its intellectual and physical equality and heritage. Thus, anthropology gives people clues about the ways the ancestors lived in a socially heterogeneous environment, and it enables multi-dimensional analysis with the help of different tools to cognizing other cultures. Anthropology does not only give knowledge of the diverse cultures and social groups but also allows seeing the world from different perspectives.
Haviland, W. A., Prins, H. E. L., Walrath, D., & McBride, B. (2015). The essence of anthropology. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Ottenheimer, H. J. (2012). The anthropology of language: An introduction to linguistic anthropology workbook/reader. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Peoples, J., & Bailey, G. (2011). Humanity: An introduction to cultural anthropology. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Srivastava, A. R. N. (2012). Essentials of cultural anthropology. Delhi, India: PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd.
Stanford, C. B., Allen, J. S., & Anton, S. (2013). Biological anthropology: The natural history of humankind. London, UK: Pearson.