The Science of Anthropology: Understanding Human Evolution and Cultural Diversity

Anthropology is both an academic and scientific field of study which provides key insights into the biological and cultural components of humanity. This branch of science is focused on elucidating the major aspects of human life through study in two major domains: physical and cultural anthropology. From this study, anthropologists attempt to gain understanding from human evolution, our behavior, and cultural diversity.

What is Anthropology? 

Anthropology is the systematic study of humans, their origins and evolution, societies, and cultures. It is a science, and therefore it includes the application of the scientific method and techniques, such as scientific observation and experimentation, to its study. As of now, it is considered one of the social sciences, but many anthropologists don’t necessarily consider it a social science, due to the fact that it makes use of many different disciplines in its study.

The Origins and History of Anthropology 

The science of anthropology is by no means a new subject. As early as the 1600s, humanists have been attempting to define, understand, and categorize humanity, attempting to make sense of mankind and its diversity. Since that time, the science of anthropology has evolved into an extensive and multi-disciplined body of knowledge with branches, sub-categories, specific interests and more.

What Branches Make Up Anthropology? 

Anthropology can be divided into four primary branches, each with its own focus:

  1. Cultural Anthropology: This branch of anthropology involves the study of cultures and examines the beliefs, behaviors and customs of groups of people.

  2. Physical Anthropology: Often referred to as biological anthropology, this branch of the subject examines human biology, behavior and evolution.

  3. Linguistic Anthropology: This branch focuses on language, its history and its impact on culture.

  4. Archaeology: This branch of anthropology involves the study of past societies through their material remains.

Chain of Being, Mores, and Folkways 

Chain of being, also known as “Great Chain of Being”, was a philosophical notion created by Aristotle in the 4th century BC. In a nutshell, it is a hierarchical structure of all matter and life, from the most basic, atom and crystal, all the way up to the most complex, man.

Mores, on the other hand, refer to the moral principles and values of a certain group, which serve as guidelines in social behavior. In essence, it is the “ethos” of a civilization and is unique to each culture.

Lastly, folkways are social norms that are specific to culture or a subculture. A folkway is also a behavioral trait that guides everyday life, but it is seen as “minor” compared to the more important mores.

Difference Between Culture and Society

 For most people, the terms “culture” and “society” are used interchangeably; however, they actually have different meanings when delineating the scope of anthropology. Society has a wider meaning and in anthropology it refers to the collective group of people living in a certain region.

Culture, on the other hand, refers to the shared beliefs, values and symbols of a certain group of people. It is more concerned with the norms, practices, and customs of a particular group, and serves as a system of shared knowledge.

Cultural Diversity 

Cultural diversity is the variety of human societies and cultures in the world, which is constantly changing due to cultural interactions and exchanges. This diversity encompasses a wide range of aspects, from language, religion, music, and traditions to diet, thought processes and more.

The concept of cultural diversity has become increasingly important as globalization continues to take place and bring together people of different cultures and backgrounds. This cultural integration gives rise to “cultural hybridity”, where different cultures come together in creative ways, which often results in innovations and new ideas being formed.

Ethnicity and Race 

In anthropology, race and ethnicity are discussed simultaneously as they are close related in meaning. In a nutshell, ethnicity refers to a group of individuals who have distinctive cultural practices, beliefs and characteristics that distinguishes them from other groups.

Race is a social concept that is used to categorize and differentiate humans according to physical characteristics and distinct features. However, in the field of anthropology, the concept is seen as more of a social construct rather than an exact definition.

Ultimately, the importance of anthropology lies in its ability to uncover and explain our roots, customs and diversity. Through the science of anthropology, we gain a deeper understanding of where we come from, and how we fit into the broader scope of human evolution and cultural diversity. By continuing to study this subject, we can gain ever more insight into our biology, behaviour and cultural identity, and hopefully use this knowledge for the benefit of humanity.