Anthropology For Dummies book cover

Anthropology For Dummies

By: Cameron M. Smith Published: 05-11-2021

Study the science of all of us 

Anthropology is the organized study of what makes humans human. It takes an objective step back to view homo sapiens as a species and ask questions like: Given our common characteristics, why aren’t all of us exactly the same? Why do people across the world have variable skin and hair color and so many inventive ways to say hello? And how can knowing the reasons behind our differences—as well as our similarities—teach us useful lessons for the future? The updated edition of Anthropology For Dummies gives you a panoramic view of the fascinating fieldwork and theory that seeks to answer these questions—and helps you view the human world through impartial, anthropological eyes.  

Keeping the jargon to a minimum, Anthropology For Dummies explores the four main subdivisions of the discipline, from the adventurous Indiana Jones territory of archaeology and the hands-on biological insights provided by our physical nature to the studious book-cracking brainwork of cultural and linguistic investigation. Along the way, you’ll journey deep into our prehistory where we begin to differentiate ourselves from our primate relatives—and then fast forward into the possibilities of centuries yet to come. 

  • Explore the history of anthropology and apply its methods 
  • Get a deep, scientific take on contemporary debates such as identity 
  • Excavate the human past through new fossil discoveries 
  • Peer into humanity’s future in space 

Whether you’re studying anthropology for school or just want to know more about what makes us humans who we are, this is the perfect introduction to humanity’s past and present—and a clue to what we need to build a better future.  

Articles From Anthropology For Dummies

6 results
6 results
Anthropology and Human Modernity

Article / Updated 12-13-2021

Modern humans have physical and behavioral differences from ancient humans. When you're studying anthropology — specifically, modernity in humans — keep these points in mind. They highlight the most important characteristics of anatomical and behavioral human modernity: Anatomical modernity is having anatomical characteristics indistinguishable from modern, living humans. Appearing by 100,000 years ago, these characteristics include a larger brain (averaging 1,450 cubic centimeters), a larger body overall, and the presence of a chin. Behavioral modernity is behaving in ways that are indistinguishable from modern humans; it appears by 100,000 to 50,000 years ago and includes symbolism (the use of one thing to represent another thing), complex language (with complex grammar), and complex tool use (such as the use of symmetrical tools). Modern humans colonized sub-Himalayan East Asia by 80,000 BP (before present, a term archeologists use), Southeast Asia and Australia by 40,000 BP, Europe at least by 30,000 BP, the New World by 14,000 BP, and the Pacific and Arctic by 1,000 BP.

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Anthropology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 12-13-2021

What is anthropology? The study of humanity, or anthropology, starts with the origin and evolution of humanity. Other elements key to the study of anthropology are human modernity (anatomical and behavioral); defining culture and cultural universals; how humans feed themselves (subsistence) and the influence of subsistence on social organization; and human language.

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How Anthropologists Group the Early Hominids

Article / Updated 12-13-2021

By studying early hominids (large, bipedal primates) that date back to millions of years, anthropologists can track the development of the human race. When exploring anthropology, keep these important points in mind: The evolutionary process shapes species by replication, variation, and selection, leading to adaptation. Humans are one of roughly 200 species of the Primate order, a biological group that's been evolving for about 60 million years. Hominids appear (only in Africa) by at least 4 million years ago with the following adaptive characteristics: bipedalism (habitually walking on two legs), encephalization (larger brains than expected for their body size), small teeth (smaller teeth than expected for their body size — the canines in particular). The following table summarizes what anthropology has discovered about the main groups of early hominids. Hominid Group, Diet, and Tool Use Some Genera and Species Included Fossil Finds Dates Evolutionary Fate Gracile australopithecines: omnivorous diet with little tool use Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus africanus A. afarensis in Ethiopia, and A. africanus at many sites in South and East Africa Over 4 million years ago (A. afarensis) to about 2 million years ago (later A. africanus) A. afarensis probably ancestral to A. africanus; A. africanus probably ancestral to early Homo Robust australopithecines: more herbivorous diet with little or no tool use. Australopithecus aethiopicus, Australopithecus robustus A. aethiopicus and A. boisei in East Africa, A. robustus in South Africa Over 2 million years ago (A. aethipoicus) to about 1 million years ago (late A. robustus) Extinction around 1 million years ago Early Homo: omnivorous diet with more animal tissue consumption and survival relying on tool use. Homo habilis, Homo rudolfensis, earliest Homo erectus Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania and Koobi Fora, Kenya Earliest Homo around 2.5 million years ago; clearly H. erectus by 1.8 million years ago Evolved into H. erectus by 1.8 million years ago

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Culture and Cultural Universals in Anthropology

Article / Updated 12-13-2021

Anthropologists don't just study the evolution of human beings; they also learn about their cultures, how cultures develop, and how cultures shape human behavior. If you need to refresh your memory about culture, like what it is and how it guides human behavior, take a look at these aspects: Culture is a learned set of ideas and rules about appropriate behavior shared by a group; it's passed on from one generation to the next not by the genes but with language. Although the contents of each culture are different, each culture has specific ideas of language (a way to communicate), ethics (concepts of right and wrong), social roles (rights and responsibilities per gender and age class), the supernatural (the realm of supernatural beings), styles of bodily decoration (styles normally indicate identity), family structure (marriage customs and rules for inheritance), sexual regulation (incest taboos and marriage customs) and food preferences (ideas of what's appropriate for consumption at various social gatherings).

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What Is Linguistic Anthropology?

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Language is the system humans use to communicate. Linguistic anthropology studies human language, and these points highlight humanity's distinct way of transmitting information: Human infants aren't born with language already in mind, but all healthy infants are born hard-wired to acquire any of the uniquely complex rules (grammar) of any human language. Each language has a unique grammar, a complex set of rules that tell how to properly order the words in a sentence; children normally learn the outline of this grammar by about 3 years of age.

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Anthropology of Subsistence and Social Organization

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Humanity has practiced all kinds of ways of subsistence, or getting food. This table shows different modes of subsistence and the affects they've had on social organization. Band Tribe Chiefdom State/Civilization Subsistence: Foraging Foraging/pastoralism Horticulture or (rarely) foraging Agriculture Mobility: High Medium/cyclic Low Lowest Food storage: Little: days to months Little: weeks to months Medium: seasons to a few years High: reliance on stored foods Emphasis on property: Low but present Medium: among pastoralists, herded animals are property of individuals High: elites own special items High: major differences in material possessions by economic class Attitudes toward social ranking: Low: little stratification and generally equal access to resources for all members Medium: among pastoralists, families with more animals have higher rank High: hereditary elite class exists, but has more power to coerce than command Very high: resources allotted depend on social rank Population: 10–150 Less than 200 Low hundreds to 1,500 Tens of thousands to millions or billions Examples: Paiute of North American Great Basin, Inuit of Arctic Canada Maasai of East Africa (cattle herders), Saami of Arctic Scandinavia (reindeer herders) Maori of New Zealand, Vikings of medieval Scandinavia Ancient Egypt and Greece, Shang China, Maya (Mexico and Guatemala), United States

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