Physical Anthropology vs. Cultural Anthropology

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Physical Anthropology

Vs.

Cultural Anthropology

Abstract

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

how that...
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