Anthropology as a whole plays a major role in the study of human and non-human
evolution. Today we will be reviewing physical anthropology and cultural anthropology,
and how both of these fields factor into the study of evolution.
Phys. Anth. Vs. Cul. Anth., 2
The questions pondered most about evolution by anthropologists are “what does it
mean to be human?” and “how did we become human?”. Today we will draw upon data
from physical anthropology and cultural anthropology to possibly understand how they
investigate and answer these questions.
Evolution in the simplest of terms means decent with modification. This term
encompasses all living things that encounter change over a period of time in order to
better adapt to their surroundings (Berkley, n.d.)
Evolution in terms of physical anthropology encompasses the many variations and
adaptations of all humans over time, both living and extinct. Within physical
anthropology evolution is viewed as a species’ success rate through its survival and
reproduction over time.
There are a number of different specialties within physical anthropology. For example,
geneticists will examine DNA from modern humans, human ancestors, non-human
primates, and primate ancestors so that they can examine the origins and similarities in
both species (Larsen, 2010). Biologists will study living humans and will further examine
how these humans that reside within different cultural environments interact with one
another. While pale anthropologists will study human ancestors by looking at fossilized
Phys. Anth. Vs. Cul. Anth., 3
bones and teeth so that they may see how each previous species fit into the human family
tree (Larsen, 2010). Primatologists study non-human primates and their behavior, which
then can possibly provide insight into how humans have evolved over time. And the
forensic anthropologists will examine human skeletal remains from past and present to
one provide identification but to also provide insight into their way of life (Larsen, 2010).
All of these subfields house within physical anthropology study the things that they do
in order to provide information as to how different human populations have formed and
evolved over a period of time as well as how they have interacted with their environments
in order to sustain their population.
Clark Larsen’s book Our Origins discusses in detail how we as humans became to be
and how we have evolved into what we are today. His book outlines the field of physical
anthropology and all of the functions that are housed within this field, as described above.
When it comes to cultural anthropology anthropologists that study this field
concentrate their time in studying human societies from around the world. They would
mainly focus on social and political organizations, marriage patterns, and kinship patterns
(O’Neil, 2012). A cultural anthropologist would also study religious beliefs and economic
patterns of different societies (O’Neil, 2012).
When studying these populations anthropologists would more than likely visit the area
in which the people they are studying live, much like in our text where the author spent
time studying the Hutterites. This would be helpful in studying evolution because it
would allow anthropologists to see how a population that is seemingly somewhat isolated
from the rest of the world can change and grow over time as well as how they sustain the Phys. Anth. Vs. Cul. Anth., 4
growth of their people in their group.
Dr. Dennis O’Neil’s site “What is Anthropology?” provided a good amount of
information on cultural anthropology, as well as what is studied in this field, and also
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