Chapter Summary

Focus of the book:

  • What humans were in the past
  • Who humans are today
  • Where the human species may go in the future
  • Why humans are what they are as biological organisms

Anthropology is the scientific study of humankind. There are four subfields of anthropology: cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistic anthropology, and physical (biological) anthropology.

A key concept in the holistic field of anthropology is the biocultural approach, or the idea that humans are affected and shaped by both their genetic makeup and the cultural environment that surrounds them.

Physical anthropology is the study of human biological evolution and human biocultural variation. This idea forms the basis for the following two key concepts. First, people at an individual and a species level are the product of a particular evolutionary history. This evolutionary history has shaped humans differently from any other species on the planet. Second, each and every person is the product of an individual life history. The life history of an individual includes not only that person’s genetic makeup but also his or her environment. Environment as it is utilized in this textbook signifies not only climate, plant and animal life, and so on, but also includes cultural and social factors.

What does it mean to be human? This key concept frames anthropology and drives its investigative questions. Physical anthropology is uniquely situated because it functions not only as a social science but also as a biological science. Physical anthropology is interdisciplinary because it so often borrows from and incorporates other scientific fields. This textbook focuses on six features that separate humans from all other animals on the planet: bipedalism, presence of a nonhoning canine, dependence on culture, development of hunting, speech, and dependence on domesticated foods.

Anthropology is a scientific discipline. Scientists formulate and investigate research questions according to the scientific method. They use observation, documentation, and testing to generate hypotheses and to construct theories based on those hypotheses.