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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Anthropology

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Anthropologists study past and present cultures, language, human evolution, and biological variation. They are engaged in issues relating to contemporary society, such as health care, human rights, law, industry, urban development, environmental management, and global population. Of all the sciences — such as biology, psychology, and sociology — only anthropology attempts to study the entire human condition over time and space.

What does it mean to be human? How did we come to be the way we are? To answer these questions, anthropologists undertake scientific comparative studies to determine how peoples of the world are similar and how they are different. They study social customs, language, kinship, religion, economics, art traditions, and biological characteristics.

It is through these studies that anthropologists try to understand what it is to be human. They pose such questions as: How did we come to speak the languages that are spoken? Why do we eat certain plants and animals and ignore others? Who were the first inhabitants of this continent and how did they live? When did arthritis first afflict human beings and why is it so prevalent? Anthropologists explore questions relevant to all aspects of the human experience — past, present, and future — that concern us all and engage our imagination.

» History of Smithsonian Anthropology (1897-1997)

» Anthropology and Careers

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