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What is the difference between archaeology and anthropology?

Updated: Apr 4

Archaeology and anthropology both study human societies, but their focus of study differs in important ways.

What is archaeology

Archaeology is the study of the remains of human cultures-both ancient and in the near past. There are five main specialization areas within the field of archaeology which include prehistoric archaeology, historical archaeology, underwater archaeology, bioarchaeology and aerial archaeology.

Archaeologists study artifacts and features

Artifacts are objects made for use by humans such as jewelry, coins, pottery, and art. Archaeologists also study features. Features are things that humans and hominids created during the course of history. Features include things that were made by the human hand that are not portable. Examples of features include dwellings, walls and post holes.

Where is archaeology found?

Archaeological sites abound in every country of the world and include sites such as the paleolithic cave art found at Altamira in Spain, the pyramids at Giza in Egypt, the Anglo-Saxon royal burial at Sutton Hoo in England and even the remains of old mining ghost towns of the American West.

What is anthropology?

Anthropology is the study of humans within the context of their societies and their cultures. In its simplest terms, anthropology is the study of what makes us human, and it can also include our biology, genetics and health. Even though humans need the same things to survive like food, water, companionship, people in different areas of the world fulfill these needs in very different ways. An example is the studies by famed anthropologist Margaret Mead who added to our understanding of cultures that were in jeopardy, such as the Samoa and other cultures in Oceania.

One of the more interesting subsets of anthropology is paleoanthropology. Paleoanthropology is the study of our earliest human ancestors.Donald Johanson’s discovery of Lucy in East Africa and Louis and Mary Leakey’s searches for the origins of humankind in the Olduvai Gorge are paleoanthropological discoveries that continue to spark the imagination.

Are archaeology and anthropology the same academic disciplines?

This is a tricky question, and the answer differs from country to country. In the United States, archaeology is a sub-discipline under anthropology. In the U.S., the department of anthropology has four subfields including archaeology, biological anthropology, cultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. In the United Kingdom, this is cleanly reversed. Archeology is the main area of study, with anthropology being a sub-discipline of study.

A note about spelling: archaeology vs. archeology

Archaeology (with the ae) is the standard spelling throughout the English-speaking world. In the United States, from time to time, the variant archeology can be found. Both are correct, and accepted by most scholars (and dictionaries) today.


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