Anthropology – The Ultimate Science?

Why do we do it? Why do anthropologists become anthropologists? I know that, for me, it’s because it’s the “ultimate” science. Let me explain.

I started my college experience as a philosophy major. I have always been the kind of person who questions, well… everything. However, I found that, although quite interesting, and definitely a solid foundation in thinking skills, philosophy wasn’t enough. I meandered through a few more programs – business, politics, economics, etc. – mainly just knocking out the “ditch-digging” classes of undergraduate work. But then I reached an impasse…

“Time to Make a Choice, Young Man!”

I had come to the end of my required classes and it was time to make a choice. I had to major in something. But what does one major in when everything interests them? Why, anthropology of course!

Anthropology has four main sub-disciplines, as well as countless specialties within them.

First, we have Cultural Anthropology. This is the study of people, society, and culture. As an aside, it is also the home of my particular field, ethnography.

Next, we have Archaeology. Anybody who’s ever seen Indiana Jones, Laura Croft, or Dr. Zahi Hawass “Chasing Mummies” across the desert will know what I’m talking about here – Although I will probably be strung up by my big toe by fellow archaeologists for mentioning Jones and Croft… real archaeology has absolutely nothing to do with them. But, then again, how many aspiring archaeologists came to the field as a result of these movies? The world may never know.

Then there is Biological Anthropology. The name kind of says it all, doesn’t it? It’s the study of human biology and, gasp – dare we say? – evolution. I have a particular fondness for Bio Anth because it is the area from which one of my passions comes from: Forensic Anthropology.

Forensics, as you may know, is the use of science to solve crime. Bio Anthropologists use their skills to help identify remains of victims, as well as other feats of amazement. To think that you can look at a set of bones that have been in the ground for years and not only determine how and when they died, but actually reconstruct what that person looked like, and thus return them to their family – well, that is simply incredible!

Last, but certainly not least, anthropology encompasses the field of Linguistics, or the study of language. It’s invention, history, and yes, even it’s biology, which brings me to my point…

Putting It All Together

As you can see, anthropology covers a lot of ground. At first, it may seem strange to combine such uniquely different sciences into one field. But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense.

Let’s take a typical site dig, for example. In the course of the research you will use history to determine where a site may be. You will use geology – and a lot of math – to determine where to dig. You may even use chemistry to answer certain questions.

After using Archaeology to determine where they lived, Cultural Anthropology techniques are used to reconstruct how the people lived. You might use Biological techniques to determine who they were and how they are related to us today. You will use Linguistics to trace their language, and thus perhaps their thought process, and maybe even show how they connect with a culture that is still in existence.

Outside the realm if anthropology specifically, we can use ideas from politics, economics, philosophy, religion, psychology, sociology, art, music, even business… the list goes on and on and on.

A Degree Designed for ADD?

As you can, Anthropologists use arguably ALL other disciplines in their efforts to study people.

So is it the “ultimate” science? I think so. What other field combines so much? Math, science, art, history… if you can name it I’m pretty sure I can find a connection to anthropology.

Just about anything I want to talk about has an anthropological slant to it: War in Afghanistan? Yup. 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue? You betcha. The hottest new novels on Amazon? Of course. Lady GaGa’s latest video? Come on, stop making it so easy on me.

Once again I ask: Is anthropology the “ultimate” science? Of course, everyone’s opinion my vary, but for a guy with borderline Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and one serious case of ADD, the answer is a resounding YES!
Jim Goolsby is a writer, ethnographer, and anthropology student at Oregon State University. To get instant access to all of his thoughts on anthropology, people, and culture, visit his blog

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