Anthropology is at once both easy to define and difficult to describe. Its subject matter encompasses both the exotic (marriage practices among Australian aborigines) and the commonplace (the structure of the human hand). Its perspective takes in sweeping panoramas and microscopic details. The word anthropology tells the basic story: from the Greek anthropos (human being) and logia (science), it subsumes the scientific study of humankind, from its beginnings several millions years ago down to the present day. Anthropology attempts to understand the human condition, from cooking recipes to dance steps, from sacred rituals to child's play.
Anthropology draws its appeal from a universal human characteristic: curiosity about ourselves and other peoples, living and dead, here and around the world. Everyday we might see news items related to anthropology, or ask anthropological questions:
- How did people live 2,000--or 200,000--years ago?
- Are men and women really different?
- What is human nature?
- Do people from other places really think differently from us?
Answers to such questions are constantly examined and revised as the methodologies and investigatory tools of anthropology advance.