Introduction to Biological Anthropology!
In this course, you will learn about the field of biological anthology, a multidisciplinary, scientific discipline focusing on humans as a biological species. As such, we will be galloping through a number of different research areas dealing with the study of human biology and history. This means we will be moving quickly through the course material week to week. It is essential that you endeavor to stay up to date with the course material and assignments. If at any time you have difficulty with course material, feel free to contact me with any questions. I will also have a general discussion section for you to ask questions of your classmates, which I will moderate as needed.
Biological anthropology is one of the four traditional subfield of the greater field of anthropology. Generally speaking, anthropology is the study of humanity in all its various aspects. The word itself is derived from two Greek roots: anthropos, meaning human, and logia, meaning study. In the US, anthropology has traditionally been organized around the “four field” model established by the early 20th century anthropologist Franz Boaz. At the time, there was a significant concern that the indigenous populations of North America (“Native Americans”) were in danger of disappearing over the course of the following century. This brought together a diverse assemblage of research programs, including culture and social life, language, material culture and human biology. Thus, Four-Field Anthropology was born, and the four subfields included:
Cultural Anthropology – this subfield is concerned with human culture and social practices. There are essentially two main methods of research within cultural anthropology. The first is ethnography, in which anthropologists spend a substantial portion of time living with a particular population and recording every visible aspect of that population’s culture. The second method of cultural anthropology is ethnology, in which anthropologists use data gathered from ethnography in order to conduct comparative studies of human culture.
Linguistics – as the name would suggest, this subfield concerns all aspects of human language and communication. There are several specific research areas within linguistics as well. Descriptive linguistics studies the basic structure of human languages, including sounds, grammar and meaning. Historical linguistics studies the variation of linguistic structure aver time. Sociolinguistics concerns the study of culturally specific variations in meaning in human language.
Archaeology – archaeology concerns the study of human behavior and cultural patterns from the material remains these societies have left behind. In this sense, the field of archaeology is concerned with uncovering the history of the human species from the emergence of the modern human species up through the material remains of the 20th century. There are many specializations within archaeology. For example, archaeobotany concerns the study of plant remains from archaeological sites; geoarchaeology concerns the role of geological processes in the formation of cultural strata.
Biological Anthropology – the subject of this course, also called physical anthropology, this subfield concerns the biological diversity of the human species. Biological anthropologists study a number of aspects of human biology, including; paleoanthropology (the study of human evolution); human genetics (both modern and ancient); human growth and development; skeletal biology; human biological adaptation (how various populations are biologically adapted to their ecology); and primatology (the study of non-human primates). As you can imagine, there is a significant amount of cross over and collaboration between the sub disciplines. For example, archaeologists often refer to theories developed by cultural anthropologists in order to make sense of their data.