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What Is the Difference between an Archaeologist and Anthropologist?

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  • Written By: Emily Daw
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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An archaeologist and anthropologist are both researchers who study human societies. They are different, however, in the types of societies they study: archaeologists collect information about past civilizations, while anthropologists investigate both contemporary cultures and their historical origins. The word archaeology comes from the Greek meaning "study of old things." Anthropology, on the other hand, means "study of humans." On account of their different areas of research, an archaeologist and anthropologist must use different methodologies.

The work situations of an archaeologist and anthropologist are both usually very hands-on, but in different ways. An archaeologist's field work might consist of excavating and restoring artifacts, or human-made objects, from ancient ruins. In order to avoid damaging the artifacts, archaeologists must use specialized trowels or brushes when removing them from the dig site.

These artifacts are often the most important source of information that an archaeologist has about a particular civilization, especially if the civilization did not have a writing system. Artifacts can reveal how people obtained and prepared food, who their enemies were, and other historical facts. An archaeologist may study these artifacts either at the dig site or in a museum or lab with specialized equipment.

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On the other hand, an anthropologist studies both biological and cultural aspects of human societies in an attempt to determine how humans are alike and different from one another. An archaeologist and anthropologist might both benefit from studying artifacts, but in different ways. The archaeologist's interest is primarily historical events, whereas the anthropologist will focus more on the cultural significance of the artifact, concerning what it says about the people's beliefs and values.

In contrast to an archaeologist, an anthropologist may also study living cultures. This is usually done through ethnography, or writing about culture. An ethnographer's goal is to live among a group of people long enough to understand their actions, values and beliefs. The work of this type of anthropologist is usually, but not always, done among less developed cultures. He or she may benefit from investigating archaeological records left behind by the society's predecessors, but may also concentrate strictly on the present society.

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