Rm Seifried

Exploring the Relationship Between Archaeology and Anthropology

The Archaeology and Anthropology Difference

The papers gathered in this volume confront a number of fundamental issues that are of contemporary relevance to both disciplines. They do this by interrogating the existence and consequences of perceived disciplinary asymmetries, but they do so in ways that are neither reductive nor utopian.

Many of the contributors rethink the idea that archaeology is exempt from a vivid image of the past. Rather, they argue that the discipline has something to offer in this respect.


Despite their distinct subject matters, archaeology and anthropology share a number of methods. This includes surveying, excavation and analysis of physical artifacts. This allows for a cross-discipline exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Several papers in this volume explore this idea of a productive flow between the disciplines. Lucas, McFadyen, Strathern and Thomas all discuss the concept of absence as a key theme in this relationship. They highlight how archaeology’s perceived lack of evidence compared to anthropology has led to a different approach that can offer new insights.

This idea of flow also includes the way in which different conceptualisations of time are used. For example, McFadyen discusses how archaeology’s long-term perspective enables it to understand processes of change more effectively. Meanwhile, Feuchtwang and Rowlands explore how archaeological data can be incorporated into historical accounts without reducing the discipline’s objectivity. This could help to develop a deeper understanding of the past by allowing archaeology and history to inform one another.


Since the beginning of anthropology as an academic discipline, its practitioners have recognized that humanity is incredibly diverse. Anthropologists work in fields such as technology innovation, urban planning, historic preservation, communications strategy and forensic investigation to demonstrate that the discipline can be applied to anything that humans do.

Despite these differences, some common theoretical concerns can be identified in the papers included in this volume. Several authors argue that the substantive asymmetry often imagined between archaeology’s lack of discourse and anthropology’s over-abundance of it is not as severe as sometimes assumed (Lucas, McFadyen and Yarrow).

For decades, anthropological archaeological research cohered around an approach known as environmental determinism, which held that ancient human societies developed as responses to specific environmental imperatives. This approach has since been superseded by an acknowledgement of human agency and choice, allowing for the exploration of how people have transformed their environments to meet their own social needs. This perspective has facilitated new approaches to the study of early human-environment interactions, which are being applied by both archaeologists and anthropologists.


Archaeologists study human pasts using artifacts (such as pottery, stone tools, bones, and remnants of buildings) to reconstruct the social systems that existed at various times in the distant past. They rely on a variety of methods to analyze these artifacts, such as lithic reduction analysis, ceramic analysis, and geographic information systems.

Anthropologists often conduct ethnographic fieldwork with contemporary populations to learn about how their ancestors lived. Then they use this knowledge to make more accurate inferences about the prehistoric record. This approach is called comparative archaeology.

While the contributions to this volume explore a range of theoretical perspectives and empirical case-studies, they are unified in their concern to interrogate the existence of perceived disciplinary asymmetries. Rather than seeing these differences as barriers to collaboration, however, authors attempt to understand the activities and interests that form such asymmetries in the first place. This, in turn, opens up further possibilities for what archaeology might contribute to anthropology in response.


Archaeologists are concerned with the reconstruction of past human life. In order to do this, they need to understand how human beings lived in the past through the study of physical artifacts such as bones and tools.

They must also take into account how those people may have interacted with their environment (e.g., what types of foods were eaten and how) in order to understand the cultural significance of a site.

While both archaeologists and anthropologists can study similar aspects of humanity, they also have many differences. For example, archaeologists study civilizations in the past, while anthropologists focus on current cultures.

Another difference between the two disciplines is that anthropology is more interdisciplinary. This means that anthropology students typically complete more coursework in different areas of the discipline. Archaeology, on the other hand, is a subfield of anthropology. Therefore, it has a more limited scope. This can lead to a lack of knowledge about the broader context of a culture.

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