[ an-thruh-pol-uh-jee ]
/ ˌæn θrəˈpɒl ə dʒi /
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See synonyms for: anthropology / anthropologically / anthropological on Thesaurus.com

the science that deals with the origins, physical and cultural development, biological characteristics, and social customs and beliefs of humankind.
the study of human beings' similarity to and divergence from other animals.
the science of humans and their works.
Also called philosophical anthropology. the study of the nature and essence of humankind.
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Origin of anthropology

First recorded in 1585–95; anthropo- + -logy

OTHER WORDS FROM anthropology

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of how humans have been different biologically, physically, socially, and culturally over time and space.

Anthropology is a broad, diverse field of study that is usually divided into multiple subfields of study and research that specialize in different areas. Let’s look at some of these subfields to get a better understanding of the kinds of subjects an anthropologist might study.

Archaeology is a major subfield of anthropology that has become well known thanks to major discoveries and pop culture. Archeology involves the study of human culture by recovering artifacts of past peoples. An archeologist might study the culture and society of the Mayans, for example, by searching for art, tools, or remains of buildings they left behind across the Americas.

Cultural anthropology is the study of humanity’s different cultures. This subfield can overlap with archaeology and often involves information discovered from it. But where archaeology is usually concerned with cultures of the past, cultural anthropology might study present cultures, especially with how they differ from each other.

Physical anthropology, or biological anthropology, focuses on how humans have physically and biologically changed over time. It also looks at how humans are different from other animals, especially chimpanzees and other primates. Anthropologists will often do this by analyzing bones of ancient humans or remains of animals that science considers to be relatives or ancestors of humans.

Why is anthropology important?

The first records of the word anthropology come from around 1585. It comes from combining form anthropo, which means “human,” and combining form logy, which means “field of study.” Anthropology is the study of humans, usually through the things we make or the societies in which we live.

While anthropology as a modern science can be traced back to the 1800s, the idea of studying human history and culture goes back to ancient historians such as the Greek historian Herodotus, who lived in the 400s b.c.e.

Anthropology and its subfields are defined differently from country to country. In the United Kingdom, for example, archaeology is considered to be a sister science to anthropology rather than a subfield. Among American anthropologists, linguistic anthropology is considered a fourth subfield. This subfield studies human culture through the many different languages that humans have developed, many of which are related to each other.

Did you know … ?

Anthropology is often known as a science that studies the past, but this is only a part of anthropology. In fact, many anthropologists work in fields such as business and government to assist in analyzing groups or cultures to better plan new projects or marketing campaigns.

What are real-life examples of anthropology?

Anthropology is a large field of science that studies human culture and history.

What other words are related to anthropology?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Anthropology is only concerned with ancient human societies.

How to use anthropology in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for anthropology

/ (ˌænθrəˈpɒlədʒɪ) /

the study of humans, their origins, physical characteristics, institutions, religious beliefs, social relationships, etcSee also cultural anthropology, ethnology, physical anthropology, social anthropology

Derived forms of anthropology

anthropological (ˌænθrəpəˈlɒdʒɪkəl), adjectiveanthropologically, adverbanthropologist, noun
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for anthropology

[ ăn′thrə-pŏlə-jē ]

The scientific study of humans, especially of their origin, their behavior, and their physical, social, and cultural development.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Cultural definitions for anthropology


The scientific study of the origin, development, and varieties of human beings and their societies, particularly so-called primitive societies.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.