Real World Anthropology

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Learning Objects (14)

Direct Access Links:

What is Anthropology? (American Anthropological Association)
Archeologists On a 5,000-Year-Old Egg Hunt (Science Daily)
Remains of Mammoths Reveal Clues About Ice Age (Science Daily)
When Three Species of Human Ancestor Walked the Earth (Science Daily)
Three African Slaves During Spanish Colonialism (Science Daily)
Forensic Anthropology (Smithsonian)
Written in Bone (Smithsonian)
Paleoanthropology (Smithsonian)
The National Park Service & Cultural Anthropology (National Park Service)
Endangered Languages: Why It Matters (TED)
Enduring Voices (National Geographic)
Inventing a Vocabulary to Help Inuit People Talk About Climate Change (Smithsonian)
The Incredible Linguistic Diversity of Tibet Is Disappearing (Smithsonian)
Learn How to Be an Anthropologist (American Anthropological Association)


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What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of what makes us human. Anthropologists take a broad approach to understanding the many different aspects of the human experience, which they call holism. Anthropologists consider the past, through archaeology, to see how human groups lived hundreds or thousands of years ago and what was important to them. They consider what makes up our biological bodies and genetics, as well as our bones, diet, and health. Anthropologists also compare humans with other animals (most often, other primates like monkeys and chimpanzees) to see what we have in common with them and what makes us unique.

Anthropology is divided into four subfields: archeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology.

1. Archeology

Archaeologists study human culture by analyzing the objects people have made. They carefully remove from the ground such things as pottery and tools, and they map the locations of houses, trash pits, and burials in order to learn about the daily lives of a people. They also analyze human bones and teeth to gain information on a people’s diet and the diseases they suffered. Archaeologists collect the remains of plants, animals, and soils from the places where people have lived in order to understand how people used and changed their natural environments.

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Archeologists On a 5,000-Year-Old Egg Hunt

Long before Fabergé, ornate ostrich eggs were highly prized by the elites of Mediterranean civilisations during the Bronze and Iron Ages, but to date little has been known about the complex supply chain behind these luxury goods. An international team of specialists, including archeologists, led by the University of Bristol, is closer to cracking a 5,000-year-old mystery surrounding the ancient trade and production of decorated ostrich eggs.

Remains of Mammoths Reveal Clues About Ice Age

Mysterious bone circles made from the remains of dozens of mammoths have revealed clues about how ancient communities survived Europe’s ice age. Archaeologists from the University of Exeter have also found for the first time the remains of charred wood and other soft non-woody plant remains indicating people were burning wood as well as bones for fuel, and the communities who lived there had learned where to forage for edible plants during the Ice Age.

2. Biological or Physical Anthropology

Biological anthropologists seek to understand how humans adapt to different environments, what causes disease and early death, and how humans evolved from other animals. To do this, they study humans (living and dead), other primates such as monkeys and apes, and human ancestors (fossils). They are also interested in how biology and culture work together to shape our lives. They are interested in explaining the similarities and differences that are found among humans across the world.

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When Three Species of Human Ancestor Walked the Earth

An international team, including Arizona State University paleoanthropologist and researcher Gary Schwartz, have unearthed the earliest known skull of Homo erectus, the first of our ancestors to be nearly human-like in their anatomy and aspects of their behavior. The skull, attributed to Homo erectus, is securely dated to be two million years old.

Three African Slaves During Spanish Colonialism

Anthropologists tell the story of three 16th century African slaves identified from a mass burial site in Mexico City. Using a combination of genetic, osteological, and isotope analyses, the scientists determined from where in Africa they were likely captured, the physical hardships they experienced as slaves, and what novel pathogens they may have carried with them across the Atlantic.

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Forensic Anthropology

This video features Kari Bruwelheide, a forensic anthropologist and physical anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History. Join her in understanding what skeletons can tell you about how people lived and died. Probe into the mysteries contained in human bones. See the sophisticated technologies being used to extract information from bones, and think about what technologies might enhance the study of bones in the future.

Written in Bone

Written in Bone was a popular exhibit in the Museum for almost five years (February 7, 2009 to January 6, 2014); this website was developed originally to enhance the information available in the exhibit and continues as a freestanding entity now that the exhibit is closed.  This site examines history through 17th-century bone biographies, including those of colonists teetering on the edge of survival at Jamestown, Virginia, Maryland colonists living in the wealthy and well-established settlement of St. Mary’s City, farmers located in Leavy Neck in Anne Arundel County, and African slaves and European immigrants living in other locations in the Chesapeake Bay area. Scientists affiliated with these projects worked with Smithsonian anthropologists in the development of the original exhibit and this website.

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Paleoanthropology is the scientific study of human evolution. Paleoanthropology is a subfield of anthropology, the study of human culture, society, and biology. The field involves an understanding of the similarities and differences between humans and other species in their genes, body form, physiology, and behavior.

3. Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropologists specialize in the study of culture and beliefs, practices, and the cognitive and social organization of human groups. These scientists study how people who share a common cultural system organize and shape the physical and social world around them, and are in turn shaped by those ideas, behaviors, and physical environments.

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The National Park Service & Cultural Anthropology 

Research helps National Park Service (NPS) decision-makers understand what’s important to groups with special interests in parks, such as tribes and other distinct cultural communities. The NPS Cultural Anthropology Program supports original research through funding provided to parks, and by supporting partners in educational institutions.

4. Linguistic Anthropology

Linguistic anthropologists study the many ways people communicate across the globe. They are interested in how language is linked to how we see the world and how we relate to each other. This can mean looking at how language works in all its different forms, and how it changes over time. It also means looking at what we believe about language and communication, and how we use language in our lives.

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Endangered Languages: Why It Matters

It is estimated that there are 7,000 languages spoken in the world today with 50% of the world’s population speaking 50 languages and the other 50% speaking 6,950 languages. Mandana Seyfeddinipur explains how globalization, climate change, urbanization and political unrest are causing the extinction of languages at a rate equivalent to the loss of biological diversity during the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and how this negatively impacts cultural diversity and decreases social resilience.

Mandana Seyfeddinipur is a linguist and the director of the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme at SOAS University of London. The programme supports the documentation of endangered languages world wide. Of the approximately 7000 languages spoken today half will have fallen silent by the end of this century. Humanity is losing its linguistic diversity and these unwritten languages are vanishing without a trace. In her work she focuses on the documentation of these languages and the knowledge encoded within them. A specialist in language use and multimodality she supports and trains scholars in how to create multi-media collection of endangered languages documenting the knowledge of our human cultural heritage encoded in language.

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Enduring Voices

The Enduring Voices Project travels to some of the most remote parts of the world to study Earth’s many endangered languages. See them in action in this video of expeditions to Northern Australia and Northeastern India.

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Inventing a Vocabulary to Help Inuit People Talk About Climate Change

Canada’s Northwest Territories comprise one of the fastest-warming regions of the Arctic. Here, residents see spring arrive weeks earlier than it used to, while the ground beneath their homes thaws and slumps. Yet while much of the world talks about solar power, wind energy and other sustainable energy technologies to slow climate warming, Inuvialuit communities can’t do the same—at least not in their indigenous language, because the words for these options don’t exist.

The Incredible Linguistic Diversity of Tibet Is Disappearing

Tibet may be best known for its bounty of ancient Buddhist monasteries and stark natural beauty—but it’s also blessed with a vast diversity of languages. The Tibetan Plateau is home to more than a dozen distinct local tongues, many of which come with their own elaborate character systems. Unfortunately, thanks to the growth of internet infrastructure and state-sponsored education, many of these lesser-spoken languages are now on the brink of extinction, says University of Melbourne anthropologist Gerald Roche.

5. Career Development

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Learn How to Be an Anthropologist

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Ontology Tags Animals, Pets & Wildlife: Insights & Conservation – Nature In Our Midst | Arts & Entertainment: Authorship & Composition – Social Issues through Arts & Literature | Climate & Weather: Climate Literacy – Climate Change | Energy, Environmental & Natural Resources: Protecting Our Resources – Threats to Natural Resources | Health & Health Services: Decoding the Human Body – Biological Body | Societies: (1) Inhabiting Our World – (a) Civilizations (b) Cultures & Ethnicity (c) Evolution (2) Valuing Ancestry – (a) Ancestry & Health (b) Societal Implications of Genetics | STEM Research & Applications: Computers Today & Tomorrow – Uncovering the Past

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