What is Anthropology?

Anthropology can be defined as the study of human social systems. Anthropologists attempt to understand the social, symbolic and material lives of human groups, contemporary or historic.

Anthropologists also attempt to understand culture, the way that humans pass from generation to generation learned behaviours.

By doing so Anthropologists work across gulfs of cultural understandings.

Anthropologists learn to apply a number of specialist techniques:

  • Participant Observation
    • Directly observing the daily life, modes of behaviour and organisation of the group or community being studied. Participant observation is often described as "fieldwork".
  • Questioning
    • Anthropologists learn what questions to ask, of whom within a group, when the questions should be asked and how to ask them. Questions are often recorded to keep the sounds, nuances, intonations and musicality of the speakers or in writing.
  • Surveys
    • Investigating samples of information, often through formal questionnaires, to develop theories and general understandings about whole populations.
  • Fieldwork
    • Fieldwork involves a range of activities including, but not limited to, doing the surveys, asking the questions, being the participant observer, joining groups, making mistakes, practicing communincation methods, making lists, watching, listening, recording observations, taking photographs, drawing things, mapping, taking notes, forming ideas and testing hypotheses.

When Anthropologists apply these techniques and their specialist knowledge they practice what is called ethnogrpahy. Professional anthropologists produce ethnographic reports as part of their practice as professional heritage consultants.

What is the difference between a professional anthropologist and a professional archaeologist?

  • Anthropologists and archaeologists alike seek to understand the way humans live and how humans behave.
  • To do this Anthropologists tend to focus on living cultural groups.
  • Archaeologists tend to focus on material remains and artefacts within landscapes and environments to seek explanations. Archaeologists often do excavations, sampling of the ground to find artefacts and pointers to the existence of previous human habitation. From their observations archaeologists can develop quite accurate understandings of the way that human groups lived and survived in different places.

It is important to recognise that professional anthropologists and professional archaeologists often work together to improve the overall knowledge about cultures, human groups and the places in which they have lived or live.