Subfields in Anthropology
Archaeologists use the material evidence of the past. They study potsherds, tools, the ruins of buildings, animal bones, and many other types of objects to learn how people lived in the past. Archaeologists study both prehistoric cultures (those who left behind no written records) and historic ones too. The patterns of the archaeological record are used to explore topics such as the emergence of agriculture, the evolution of technology, the appearance of complex societies, and how societies change over long periods of time.
Bioanthropologists concentrate on the biological aspects of humans. They examine biological variation across space and time to explore topics such as human evolution, how humans adapt to different physical environments, and what other primates (our closest relatives) can tell us about what it means to be human. Bioanthropologists often look for links between human biology and culture to determine how each affects the other.
Linguistic anthropologists study the social and cultural contexts of language and how they vary. They can seek to reconstruct vanished languages, study the fundamental processes of language and how it evolves, how it is related to patterns of thought and meaning in different cultures, and how and why social variation relates to the ways language is produced and used.
Social and Cultural Anthropology
Cultural anthropologists study living societies and cultures by learning from the people who inhabit them. They may conduct ethnographic field work by going to live as a participant-observer with a group, society, or culture. They make comparisons between cultures to explain similarities and differences. Cultural anthropologists can study any aspect of a culture – family structure, social organization, economics, political systems, religion, art, and language. They are especially interested in the linkages and connections that bind cultures and societies together or distinguish them from each other.