Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

1.1: What is Anthropology?

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Why are people so diverse (Figure 1.1)? Some people live in the frigid Arctic tundra, others in the arid deserts of sub-Saharan Africa, and still others in the dense forests of Papua New Guinea. Human beings speak more than 6,000 distinct languages. Some people are barely five feet tall while others stoop to fit through a standard door frame. What makes people, around the world, look, speak, and behave differently from one another? And what do all humans share in common?

    Figure 1.1: Despite superficial differences among individuals, humans are 99.9% genetically similar to one another. Credit: Humans (Figure 1.1) original to Explorations: An Open Invitation to Biological Anthropology is a collective work under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License. [Includes Untitled by Mission de I’ONU au Mali – UN Mission in Mali/Gema Cortes, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; Untitled in Middle East by Mark Fischer, CC-BY-SA 2.0; Smiling Blonde Girl by Egor Gribanov, CC BY 2.0; UNDP Supports Mongolian Herders by United Nations Photo, CC BY-NC-ND].

    Anthropology is a discipline that explores human differences and similarities by investigating our biological and cultural complexity, past and present. Derived from Greek, the word –anthropos means “human” and –logy refers to the “study of.” Therefore, anthropology is, by definition, the study of humans. Anthropologists are not the only scholars to focus on the human condition; biologists, sociologists, psychologists, and others also examine human nature and societies. However, anthropology is a uniquely dynamic, multifaceted discipline that emerged from a deep-seated curiosity about who we are as a species.

    This page titled 1.1: What is Anthropology? is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Beth Shook, Lara Braff, Katie Nelson, Kelsie Aguilera, & Kelsie Aguilera (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.