Archaeological Anthropology: Background, What Studies and Examples

The archaeological anthropology It is a science in construction that uses techniques from both archeology and anthropology. Seeks to know the interactions between the cultural subsystems that make up the scripted societies; that is, those lacking in writing.

In recent times, this science has advanced in the study of material and immaterial manifestations of the peoples studied. For this, it has a theoretical and methodological body that is its own. Trying to explain how they were and how humans interacted in Prehistory is the starting point of this science.

Archaeological anthropology

Its initial foundation was the study of the material elements found in archaeological excavations. However, the search led to the understanding that it can serve to understand all the ancient, contemporary and contemporary cultures.

The analysis of the already extinct cultures is achieved with diachronic studies, far from the experience of the researchers. The study of contemporary scripts cultures is approached from the synchronic analysis, in consonance with the experience of the experts.


  • 1 Background
    • 1.1 What is anthropology?
  • 2 Archeology schools
  • 3 What is the study of archaeological anthropology?
  • 4 Examples of studies
  • 5 References


Those who were initially looters of graves, gave way to people interested in knowledge more than in the treasures. Such was the case of Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), a bourgeois born in Mecklenburg (Germany), the son of a humble Protestant pastor. The boy fell in love with The Iliad Y The odyssey because his father read them before sleeping.

The boy had three talents: potential for languages, capacity for business and great curiosity. When he was 20 he spoke 13 languages, by the time he was 30 he was already a businessman, and at 50 he was digging up Troy and giving life to archeology.

Archeology quickly took shape and became a science to describe and interpret ancient cultures. This science investigates through constructions, works of art, utensils and different forms of writing.

Precisely one of the problems with the cultured cultures is that they do not have their own Rosetta stone. She was the one who allowed the experts to understand the Egyptian hieroglyphics, because it had the translation in two different writings already known.

What is anthropology?

Anthropology is the science that studies human beings both for their physical characteristics and for their cultural production. It is developed in the eleventh century and its study is made possible by the break with religious dogmas and the emergence of research without prejudice of faith.

However, anthropological science reached the twentieth century with watertight spaces, with dark areas. The absence of written records often prevented the understanding of a culture and its protagonists.

During the first half century, the Europeans and their merely archaeological proposals marked the investigation. Its process was to extract, unearth, classify objects and, as a maximum, date them with carbon 14.

Archeology schools

In 1962 the American Lewis Binford writes Archeology as anthropology. There he proposes a methodology to study man from the artifact.

Five years later, archaeologist Kwan Chi Chang, also from the United States, develops a comprehensive vision to understand the findings. Between the two open new paths that will be known as American archeology.

In the process several schools walk parallel. The classic works with the calculation and analysis of the object itself. The evolutionist focuses on changes in the environment.

The third school, the processualist, allows to learn about the object and understand the adaptation of the human being to the environment. Finally, the systemic appears, which is based on the understanding of the structure and social processes occurring around the element studied.

By 1995 the idea of ​​this science had already been integrated into the studies, documents and proposals in the universities. In this science the processes of anthropology and archeology are synthesized.

What is the study of archaeological anthropology?

Departing more from the qualitative, it seeks to understand non-literate societies through three subsystems. To do this, first review the technological; that is, the technological elements, any device or device conceived and manufactured by people.

Then it passes to the social organization: the sociofact elements. It is about intangible or intangible constructions. These are kinship relationships, representations of beliefs or propositional structures in sociocultural conventions.

In third place is the ideological: the ideofactos elements. They are the constructs to implant lines of thought as an instrument of sociopsychological domination on the part of the holders of power.

Then, the archaeological anthropology is based on objects, sociocultural and ideological structures to study the humans that give body to these elements. It aims to understand and perceive the evolutionary line of cultures.

Examples of studies

With this science you can not only study the cultures of Prehistory, but also many contemporary ones. What is sought is to know those cultures that, even without writing, generate oral narrations, music, songs, religious proposals and social conventions.

In any rural community, where written expression is null, archaeological anthropology can be devoted to understanding the sociocultural phenomenon from its integral production. Here are some specific cases:

- A study on cremations such as Francisco Gómez Bellard of the Complutense University is part of this science. It seeks to explain comparatively the reasons for this procedure in different societies without writing.

- Social constructs such as graffiti could also be worked on. From the depth of what is written on the walls, they can reveal the characteristics of the society expressed therein.

- You could study the ancient expressions of the spiritual rituals of Latin American cultures.


  1. Bellard, F. G. (1996). The anthropological analysis of cremations. Complutum Extra, 6 (2), 55-64. School of Legal Medicine. School of Medicine. Complutense University. Spain. Retrieved from:
  2. Rodríguez, J. A. (1986). Theoretical and methodological planning referred to the research design. Notebooks of the National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought, 11, 163-191. Argentina. Retrieved from:
  3. Rodríguez, G. R. (2001). Smudge Pits: the archaeological thought between Binford and Hodder. Minius: Magazine of the Department of History, Art and Xeography, (9), 9-24. University of Vigo. Spain. Recovered in:
  4. S / D, Archaeological Anthropology. Recovered at:
  5. U.C. Santa Cruz. Archaeological Anthropology. Retrieved from:

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