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Thursday: August 18, 2011

For my readers who are not fellow anthropology students, I thought I would take a bit of webspace here and go over some things. I will try to always add brief basic explanations of topics covered, but if you still find it confusing, let me know and I will add further detail. Sometimes it is hard to see the trees through the forest.

Anthropology is the study of humankind – what does it mean to be human? It is also holistic, which means it uses all fields of knowledge to form an understanding, from the humanities to the natural sciences. This is why it interests me so – if boredom with a subject were to ever occur, I can switch gears and look at it from a new angle. I can be a Jane of All Trades, so to speak.

Anthropology is also often divided into four major subfields. Each can then be divided again, and some will overlap, and theories continually are reworked, but in general they are:

·Archaeology, the most widely known category, focuses on the artifacts left by human populations. It should be noted that artifacts are created by people, while fossils are their remains. Archaeologists look at things like development of art, evolution of tools, stylistic changes in architecture, and trash. Trash heaps, or middens, actually tell a huge amount of information. Just think what can be told about your household with the items you discard each day!

·Biological anthropology utilizes hard science to determine what makes us human. How did we evolve? Why are there different blood groups? How does our lifestyles affect our DNA for future generations? How do some populations survive disease while others are completely wiped out? Primatology is a subfield of bioanthropology, as well as forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, and molecular anthropology. By the way, anthropologists have never ever said that we evolved from apes!

·Cultural anthropology studies what defines culture. They often fully submerge themselves into another group over a very long time. Historically, these groups were mostly tribal populations, but as anthropology progresses, the groups could now be a punk-rock subculture in Brooklyn or people who think the internet meme of owling is cool. Cultural anthropologists are the most similar to sociologists and they question how are all cultures the same? What makes a person part of one culture, but not of another? How are cultures changed or even eradicated with colonialism or globalism? How do cultures provide social organization?  What is culture?

·Linguistics is likely the least well-known field of anthropology. Like cultural anthropology, the field questions how all languages are similar, yet how are they different? What is language? How does language evolve? How does one learn language? How does having language affect our world view? Some languages are are even endangered, or have never been turned into written language, and linguists work to preserve them.

I have taken classes on all of these subjects and any one of them is highly interesting. I also volunteered at an archaeological dig in 2008 ran by Dr. Mark Schurr of ND and the Kankakee Valley Historical Society at Collier Lodge in Kouts, Indiana. Here are some photos of that experience:

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

I primarily helped these two graduate students while they excavated and took measurements.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Soil layers are defined for mapping.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

I used a screen to sift through the unit's artifacts.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Dr. Schurr demonstrates how water screening works.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

Recovered artifacts after cleaning.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

An arrowhead found from a nearby unit.

Collier Lodge Archaeological Field School

An 1888 coin found from a nearby unit.

In the next post, I will discuss what my grad studies will be centered on: bioarchaeology.

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