Physical anthropology is a branch of anthropological study that studies humans, and animals, as biological organisms. Thus, it is also called biological anthropology (Haviland, et. al. , 2008). Physical anthropology is founded on evolutionary principles which indicates that the focus of physical anthropology is evolution, growth and development, and human adaptation (Haviland, et. al. , 2008; Ryan, 2002). Evolution, for a physical anthropologist, consists of a human’s development throughout time. It primarily looks into the genes as a major factor in the growth and development of humans.
The theory of evolution is developed and studied through the centuries as it defines how humans are able to adapt with the changes in the environment and the society. Physical anthropology looks at evolution the same way as Jean Baptiste Lamarck has viewed evolution although it is important to remember that previous studies have also tested different facets of evolutionary theories. Lamarck explains that evolution occurs through a natural process of living organisms adjusting to their environment (Ryan, 2002). This shows that organisms have a way of changing its genetics in order to live and to survive the environment.
Charles Darwin was the one who merged different theories and developed the theory of natural selection wherein organisms adapt to specific environments. This can be seen with humans wherein people living in the cold regions are white-skinned indicating lesser melanin in their skin components than the brown-skinned people living near the ecuator. As Darwin gave the reasons for natural selection, Thomas Malthus developed the principle behind natural selection, which indicated that reproduction and death, an organism’s life cycle, works behind natural selection.
With Darwin and Malthus’ theories, evolution means the life cycle of an organism that is defined by its adaptation to its environment. This does not mean that physical anthropologists focus on the organism’s components only but also in the environment and effects of a certain or specific situation on the organism. Aside from studying the genes, they also study the setting, most often immersing themselves within the community they are studying in order to understand the specific needs and adaptive techniques that humans have undergone through time.
A branch of physical anthropology looks into human osteology to understand the development of humans through time. With this, anthropologists understand how human bone structure develops and changes in order to adapt to the specific needs of their environment, much the same as how humans developed from being a ape-like man to the upright man of today. Paleodemography is used in order to understand long-term evolutionary changes of the human bone structure, and restructuring the skeletal remains and studying its components and structure is its main focus in order to determine how these humans have lived during their time (Hoppa, 2001).
By understanding the bone structure of humans before, anthropologists will be able to define the different characteristics and developments of humans during the time and contrast it with the humans of the present day. This gives the anthropologists evidence in the growth and development of humans. Paleodemography also provides demographic data of humans before indicating the size of population, the birth and death rates and the movements of humans indicating the societal and cultural environment which could provide evidence in human development, both physical and cultural.
Another branch of anthropology which deals with evolution is cultural anthropology. Although it focuses on the cultural and social aspect of the evolution of humans, it is the same with physical anthropology in looking back and studying the development and growth of humans based on their environment. As humans move through time, cultures evolve, and so does humans (Haviland, et. al. , 2008). As humans adapt to their environments, humans also adapt according to their social and cultural needs. This indicates that culture plays a big part in the evolution of humans.
From forming small communities, humans now build empires that can influence not just a country but different countries throughout the world. Stability and change are important concepts in cultural anthropology, as human societies do not only progress but also decline. Demography is one important facet of this study as demography shows how humans move from one place to another, and how humans are able to carry their culture from one place to another. The process of socialization is closely related in studying demography, creating social demography.
Demography is not only statistics but interpreting the data in order to understand its relevance in human development. Cultural anthropologists may use the data from paleodemography in order to understand the different social structures, like the community structure, that explains how humans have lived during their time. This can be seen with Bernardi and Hutter’s research (2007), which studies the anthropological demography of Europe in order to understand the changes in social relationships and social organizations and how it affects human evolution. Evolution means changes and adaptations.
The study of evolution does not end since humans continuously adapt to the changes around him, whether its their environment or their social structure. Although physical and cultural anthropology view evolution through different eyes, the former through the changes with the human body structure and the latter, changes with human’s social structure and movements, both study the same thing, the changes and development on human’s way of living. Both branches of anthropology seek answers to the continuous changes that humans have undergone through time, and seek answers to what will become of humans in the future.
Works Cited Bernardi, L.& Hutter, I. (2007). The Anthropological Demography of Europe. Demographic Research 17(18) (pp. 541-566). Germany: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Haviland, W. , Prins, H. , & Walrath, D. (2008). Evolution and Prehistory: The Human Challenge, 8th ed. CA: Wadsworth, Thomson Learning. Hoppa, R. (2001, May 2). The Once and Future Palaeodemography. Out of the Past: The History of Human Osteology at the University of Toronto . Scarborough, CA: CITDPress, University of Toronto. Ryan, A. (2002). The Meaning of Physical Anthropology. In A. ed. Ryan, A Guide to Careers in Physical Anthropology (pp. 1-20). CT: Bergin and Garvey.Sample Essay of PapersOwl.com