Anthropology and Its Branches

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Anthropology is the study of human beings, in particular the study of their physical character, evolutionary history, racial classification, historical and present-day geographic distribution, group relationships, and cultural history. Anthropology can be characterized as the naturalistic description and interpretation of the diverse peoples of the world. Modern-day anthropology consists of two major divisions: cultural anthropology, which deals with the study of human culture in all its aspects; and physical anthropology, which is the study of human physical character, in both the past and present. Anthropology emerged as an independent science in the late 18th century, it developed two divisions: physical anthropology, which focuses on human Evolution and variation, using methods of Physiology, Anthropometry, Genetics, and Ecology; and cultural anthropology , which includes Archaeology, Ethnology, Social Anthropology, and Linguistics. Anthropology is a holistic subject that covers all facets of human life including biological, cultural as well as economic. There are various branches of anthropology like cultural, linguistic, forensic, medical, etc. To get further insight on the major branches of anthropology, read on... The term anthropology has been coined from two Greek words anthropos which means 'man' and logywhich stands for ' the science of'. It involves the study of the human species at any place on earth, at any given time; be it in the busy neighborhood of Los Angeles or the dense forests of the Amazon. There are anthropologists who study fossils to solve the riddles of human evolution, whereas there are others who try to understand the effect of modernization on contemporary societies. While subjects like economics and biology focus on specific aspects of human life, anthropology is the only discipline that addresses all facets of human existence. Branches of Anthropology Cultural Anthropology Culture is an important tool for human survival. It is a complex whole of knowledge, morals, traditions, arts and customs, that we have learned as being part of a society. It is transferred over generations non-biologically, through words and symbols. Cultural anthropologists try to understand the logic behind cultural norms. They believe that no tradition or cultural practice is wrong. For example, scarring of the body might seem bizarre to us. However, a study of the culture of the African tribes that follow this ritual has shown that this is a highly relevant practice. During their research, cultural anthropologists live within a community, observe their customs, and try to understand them in comparison to the practices of other societies. Cultural anthropologists may study a society living on the far end of the globe, or may concentrate on certain segments of our own society, like the corporate sector, laborers, or slum dwellers. Linguistic Anthropology Language is an important agent of transmission of culture. It is an accomplishment of the human species that has given it an edge over the rest of the animals in the living world. In their endeavor to understand the origin and evolution of a language and oral traditions, linguistic anthropologists gain valuable insights into the culture of a community. They understand prehistoric links between various societies and explore the meaning of verbal concepts to learn about the conditions that existed in the past, and how humans adjusted to those. Besides studying language in a cultural aspect, linguistic anthropologists also try to understand the biological implications of language. This involves studying changes in the human brain and body, that enabled us to organize sounds in a meaningful way, to evolve language. Archeology Archeology deals with studying the tangible remains of a culture. Fortunately, human beings leave clues about their ways of life, not only in words and alphabets, but also in the form of material remains like pot sherds, foundation of houses, stone tools and burials. These reveal important information about the beliefs and traditions of a particular civilization or community. For example, paintings on walls of tombs may throw light on the status of the person buried there. Such paintings often depict practices prevalent in a society. Study of burial sites can helparchaeologists understand the religious beliefs of a group of people. Biological Anthropology Biological anthropology, also known as physical anthropology, deals with tracing the biological origins, evolutionary changes, and the genetic diversity of the human species. In the process, biological anthropologists study primate behavior, and anatomical variations between primates and human beings in order to understand physical changes that have taken place in humans during their evolutionary journey from apes. They may also take up genetic analysis and anthropometric studies to find reasons behind the physical differences between people of various groups. Besides these major branches, anthropology also has other divisions like forensic anthropology, medical anthropology, and ecological anthropology. Although each branch is a specialized field of study, they are inter-related. This gives anthropologists an edge over researchers from other fields in addressing human problems, as they study human existence not in isolation but in totality. Evolution Of Man - What is it? The modern theory concerning the evolution of man proposes that humans and apes derive from an apelike ancestor that lived on earth a few million years ago. The theory states that man, through a combination of environmental and genetic factors, emerged as a species to produce the variety of ethnicities seen today, while modern apes evolved on a separate evolutionary pathway. Perhaps the most famous proponent of evolutionary theory is Charles Darwin (1809-82) who authored The Origin of Species (1859) to describe his theory of evolution. It was based largely on observations which he made during his 5-year voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle (1831-36). Since then, mankind's origin has generally been explained from an evolutionary perspective. Moreover, the theory of man's evolution has been and continues to be modified as new findings are discovered, revisions to the theory are adopted, and earlier concepts proven incorrect are discarded. Evolution Of Man - Concepts in Evolutionary Theory The currently-accepted theory of the evolution of man rests on three major principles. These principles hinge on the innate ability which all creatures have to pass on their genetic information to their offspring through the reproductive process. An alternative explanation for homology is a common designer. According to this reasoning, the similarities in anatomical features between species point to a blueprint used by a Creator/Designer. The first tenet is microevolution, the occurrence and build-up of mutations in the genetic sequence of an organism. Mutations are predominantly random and can occur naturally through errors in the reproductive process or through environmental impacts such as chemicals or radiation. The second tenet of evolution is natural selection. Natural selection is a natural mechanism by which the fittest members of a species survive to pass on their genetic information, while the weakest are eliminated (die off) because they are unable to compete in the wild. Natural selection is often termed "survival of the fittest" or "elimination of the weakest. " The third tenet is speciation, which occurs when members of a species mutate to the point where they are no longer able to breed with other members of the same species. The new population becomes a reproductively isolated community that is unable to breed with its former community. Through speciation, the genes of the new population become isolated from the previous group. Evolution Of Man - Scientific Evidence The theory of evolution of man is supported by a set of independent observations within the fields of anthropology, paleontology, and molecular biology. Collectively, they depict life branching out from a common ancestor through gradual genetic changes over millions of years, commonly known as the "tree of life. " Although accepted in mainstream science as altogether factual and experimentally proven, a closer examination of the evidences reveal some inaccuracies and reasonable alternative explanations. This causes a growing number of scientists to dissent from the Darwinian theory of evolution for its inability to satisfactorily explain the origin of man. One of the major evidences for the evolution of man is homology, that is, the similarity of either anatomical or genetic features between species. For instance, the resemblance in the skeleton structure of apes and humans has been correlated to the homologous genetic sequences within each species as strong evidence for common ancestry. This argument contains the major assumption that similarity equals relatedness. In other words, the more alike two species appear, the more closely they are related to one another. This is known to be a poor assumption. Two species can have homologous anatomy even though they are not related in any way. This is called "convergence" in evolutionary terms. It is now known that homologous features can be generated from entirely different gene segments within different unrelated species. The reality of convergence implies that anatomical features arise because of the need for specific functionality, which is a serious blow to the concept of homology and ancestry. Additionally, the evolution of man from ape-like ancestors is often argued on the grounds of comparative anatomy within the fossil record. Yet, the fossil record indicates more stability in the forms of species than slow or even drastic changes, which would indicate intermediate stages between modern species. The "missing links" are missing. And unfortunately, the field of paleoanthropology has been riddled with fraudulent claims of finding the missing link between humans and primates, to the extent that fragments of human skeletons have been combined with other species such as pigs and apes and passed off as legitimate. Although genetic variability is seen across all peoples, the process of natural selection leading to speciation is disputed. Research challenging the accepted paradigm continues to surface raising significant questions about the certainty of evolution as the origin of man. Evolution Of Man - The Scrutiny The theory concerning the evolution of man is under increased scrutiny due to the persistence of gaps in the fossil record, the inability to demonstrate "life-or-death" determining advantageous genetic mutations, and the lack of experiments or observations to truly confirm the evidence for speciation. Overall, the evolution of man pervades as the accepted paradigm on the origin of man within the scientific community. This is not because it has been proven scientifically, but because alternative viewpoints bring with them metaphysical implications which go against the modern naturalistic paradigm. Nevertheless, a closer examination of the evidence reveals evolution to be increasingly less scientific and more reliant upon beliefs, not proof.
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