The Four Fields of Anthropology

Welcome to week 1 of Physical Anthropology. This week we will cover the scientific method and the four fields of Anthropology. In this blog post I will focus on what the four fields of Anthropology are.

What is Anthropology?

Anthropology is concerned  with all aspects of humanity across space and time. Anthropologists take a four-field approach with each sub-field specializing in its own area of interest. Archaeology, the study of artifacts, is concerned with the material remains of the past. Cultural Anthropology, in contrast is concerned with the culture of the people in the present. Linguistic Anthropology is the study of human speech and language. Last but not least, Physical Anthropology is the “study of human biology within the framework of evolution with an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture” (pg. 12 on your textbook).

These four fields of anthropology also include their own set of sub disciplines, but knowing the general focus of each of the four fields will give you a good idea as to what discipline belongs to which field.

Here are examples of articles pertaining to each of the four fields:



Cultural Anthropology:


Linguistic Anthropology:


Physical Anthropology:


The Primate Order: Homologies vs Analogies and derived traits

I am a Supplemental Instruction Leader for Physical Anthropology at Long Beach City College, and in this week’s blog post I will be covering a lesson on the Order primates and the concept of homologous and analogous structures.

Analogies vs Homologies, what’s the difference? 

-Both birds and butterfly’s have wings

-The humerus of a bat and a human

Both instances above are examples of each of the terms. Can you guess which ones? Just because both birds and butterfly’s have wings does not mean their wings share a common ancestor, so they are analogous in structure. Likewise, the humerus of a bat and human, though different in function, do share a common ancestor, thus they are homologous in structure.


Homologous structures among the order primates 

The word “primate” is an umbrella term to classify a certain group of mammals that are defined by certain characteristics that separate them from other mammals. By definition, all primates share key homologous structures because they all share a common ancestor. Examples of these structures are opposable thumbs, prehensile hands and feet, and five digits on each of these appendages to name a few. Many shared behavioral aspects also define the primate order which will get to at a later section. main-qimg-2d191cdc2c09be02e3e5a392438daa49-c

Breaking it down even further… down the primate rabbit hole. 

You are walking on top a dirt field and you are getting ready to dig a hole. You are going to need a shovel. I want you to think of this shovel as a metaphor for the term derived traits. You are looking for the skeletal remains of your great great ancestor so you are determined to dig until you find them. You start digging, and shortly thereafter you come across skeletal remains of something that looks very vaguely like it could be your ancestor, but there are many traits missing. You keep digging, and you come across another skeletal remain that looks more like it could be your ancestor, but not quite enough. You keep digging and digging, each time coming across remains that look more and more like your ancestor until finally you have dug a hole so deep that you come across what you’ve been looking for.

Derived traits are homologous structures that can be modified to the point where it pertains to the particular species in question. In this case, when we say derived traits we are referring to humans. Every time you encountered a skeletal remain as you dug deeper, the traits were more and more derived until you eventually came across your human ancestor. In regards to the primate order, the primate classification is the very top of the dirt field you are about to dig. In other words, it is less specific, or less derived to humans.

Now we are going to start digging into the primate rabbit hole, and see what we find. Grab your shovel, start digging, and soon you will encounter the primate suborder.famtree

Suborder: Strepsirhini and Haplorhini

Strepsirhini is a group of primates that have a rhinarium, or “wet nose” (along with the basic characteristics of all primates: opposable thumbs, five digits, etc…)

Haplorhini is a group of primates that lack a rhinarium, or “dry nose” (along with the basic characteristics of all primates: opposable thumbs, five digits, etc…)

Already we can tell which trait is more derived to humans. Just think, do we have a rhinarium or not? Clearly we do not, so therefore we belong under the suborder Haplorhini.

As you are shoveling, you quickly notice that the path down the Strepsirhini does not lead to your ancestor, so you move down the one that does: Haplorhini.

Following this logic, each time you dig deeper you will eventually see that there are more similarities to humans. In the next lesson we will cover the infraorder Catarrhini.



The Magic Pill Mentality

magicpillA lot of achievements in medical science stem from this “magic pill” mentality. You treat symptoms with pills, surgery, or some kind of technique aimed to cure that one thing (despite the many side effects) in a reductionist approach. Sometimes, pills and surgery are inevitable, but the best (and smart) thing to do is to go back to the basics and try to avoid needing pills and surgery in the first place.
In order to get away from reductionist approach, you do the opposite and take on a holistic approach. This means you see your health as a whole system. This means that the “magic pill” can only do so much for you, and that you best start changing other bad habits that caused the illness to begin with. Why? because your health is a system that does not have one specific solution. Depression may be signs of cancer down the line (study link below links depression with inflammation), and also heart disease. So with a holistic approach, you see depression as steming from that which causes inflammation, which according to the second study linked below, connects inflammation with diet.

Why Do We Love Bass So Much?

Why do we love the bass so much?

A study done by the McMaster Institute for music and the mind says that it is easier for us to follow deep tones in rhythms than it is high pitched tones. In essence, when we listen to deep tones, our brains show more activity, or in other words, we become more aware.

So… in general, what is that which causes us to become this type of aroused? The answer is neurochemicals like adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc…

The study stops explaining there, but I want to deduce even further and ask why is it that bass tones arouse us more than other tones in the hearing spectrum?

Thinking about it, wouldn’t you conclude that it may have something to do with our evolution as mammals, or even further than that down the reptilian clade? I think every aspect of ourselves is not there by accident, but came from millions and millions of years of trial and error, everything serving an adaptable purpose somehow. That said, here are some differences in our sensitivity of sound vs other animals of a different class:

Mammals < 10 Hz to 150 kHz ; sensitivity to -20 dB

Birds (more uniform than mammals) 100 Hz to 8-10 kHz; sensitivity at 0-10 dB

Reptiles (poorer than birds) 50 Hz to 2 kHz; sensitivity at 40-50 dB

Amphibians 100 Hz to 2 kHz; sensitivity from 10-60 dB

So, given this information, why is it that mammals have a longer, deeper (and higher) sensitivity than other classes? Mammals tend to live on the ground, some have adaptive spaces in trees, while others underground.

Mammals were first evolving around the triassic period (200 million years ago or so). The triassic period is the pre cursor to the next time period known as the Jurassic (we’ve all seen the movie right? Dinosaurs!) Living and surviving through one of the most vicious periods known to animals (besides humans of course) meant that they had to be very sensitive to deep tones. Why? probably for many reasons, but one of the main ones was to become AWARE of the deep tonal stomping caused by potential danger from the distance. This stomping of course came from none other than… DINOSAURS! Mammals adapted many advantageous survival skills during this time, and one of them was to be sensitive to these deep tonal (and rhythmic) stomping grounds.

So here is the progression put simply: Deep tones –> adrenal activation –> fight or flight response—> awareness —> feel good.

and as many things in modern times are a bi-product of our past, I think music captures that in an artistic way, where we can enjoy the adrenaline rush without the actual danger, aka stomping grounds from dinosaurs. But if need be, we know it’s there, and we would use it if we had to.


The Pensive Primate

Here at the Pensive Primate the aim is to provide interesting research and rational inquiry into social, cultural, and scientific subjects. Pensive Primates observe platforms like social media, and have skeptical views on unsubstantiated claims on viral posts. Pensive Primate hopes to lessen online ignorance and help promote critical thinking.