Some physical anthropologists, like paleoanthropologists, study the fossil record.
It is the job of many physical anthropologists to create a family tree that traces human ancestry back to the primates, but not all anthropologists work in dusty laboratories studying artifacts. Some physical anthropologists excavate at archaeological dig sites, while others study the biology of the modern humans. Physical anthropology’s many subfields combine to give the world a clearer picture of where humans and other primates come from and what makes them tick.
If you have ever read a news article about the latest fossil discovery that could be the link between apes and humans, you were probably reading about the work of a paleoanthropologist. Paleoanthropology focuses on the fossil record to make sense of human evolution. It essentially combines the disciplines of archaeology, paleontology and geology, as a paleoanthropologist digs up artifacts, analyzes their environmental context and uses these findings to propose theories about human origins and development.
Neuroanthropology focuses on brain development in the context of culture.
If you are interested in the debate about nature versus nurture, you may like neuroanthropology. It focuses on the evolution of the brain and its influence on human behavior and evolution—but that’s not all. As neuroanthropologist Daniel Lende at the University of Notre Dame explains, neuroanthropology connects the fields of anthropology and neuroscience by studying how both culture and the brain’s chemistry make humans who they are. Unlike many other anthropologists who focus solely on tracing human ancestry, neuroanthropologists work to understand modern humans by studying addiction, memory, social cooperation and other issues.
Biomedical anthropology will appeal to anyone who is interested in the biology behind human health. It is an emerging field of physical anthropology that bridges the gap between medicine and anthropology. Biomedical anthropologists work to decipher the complex biological, cultural and evolutionary processes that affect human health and disease. This open-minded approach gives researchers a fuller understanding of the variety of influences that cause disease, which should encourage creative solutions to health problems.
Primatologists study humans’ primate relatives.
If you have ever watched a nature program about primates and their social behaviors, you have glimpsed the world of primatology. Primatologists forgo studying solely about humans and focus instead on their relatives, the primates. They observe primate behavior, sometimes comparing them to humans and sometimes not, with the aim of understanding primate evolution and the ways primates think and interact.