Anthropology: A comparative science that examines human biological and cultural diversity. At its broadest, the study of who humans are and what we do.
What Were They Thinking?
From the 1882 edition of The American Universal Cyclopædia, published by S. W. Green's Son, New York.
Anthropology (from the Greek, anthropos, man) a term signifying that branch of science which has man for its subject. In it’s proper sense, it is very comprehensive, and of course includes anatomy, physiology, psychology, ethnology, history, theology, aesthetics, etc. The word has, of late, come into very common use. There is an anthropological society in London; and a separate anthropological section has been constituted in the British association.
The “science of man,” or natural history of
mankind; in the general classification of knowledge, the highest section of
zoology or the science of animals, which is itself the highest section of
biology or the science of living beings. To anthropology contribute the sciences
of anatomy, physiology, ethics, sociology, prehistoric archaeology; although
each of these branches of investigation pursues its own subject, having no
further contact with anthropology than when its research concerns man. It is the
office of anthropology to collect and set forth, as completely as possible, the
synopsis of man’s physical and mental nature, and the theory of his course of
life and action from his first appearance on the planet. Looking at man’s place
in nature, we see that the higher apes come nearest to him in bodily formation,
and here it is the office of zoology to point out resemblances and differences,
and to ascertain relations. “At this point,” says professor Owen, in a paper on
the bony structure of apes, “every deviation from the human structure indicates
with precision its real peculiarities, and we then possess the true means of
appreciating those modifications by which a material organism is especially
adapted to becoming the seat and instrument of a rational and responsible soul.”
Huxley, in comparing man with other orders of mammalia, decides – “There would
remain then but one order for comparison, that of the apes, and the question for
discussion would narrow itself to this: Is man so different from any of these
apes that he must form an order by himself? Or does he differ less from them
than they differ from one another, and hence must he take his place in the same
order with them?” Here the reference plainly limits itself to the human body.
Huxley compares man with the gorilla, which is on the whole the most man-like of
all the apes. The gorilla has a smaller brain-case, larger trunk, shorter legs,
and longer arms than man. The differences in the skulls are remarkably apparent.
In the gorilla the face, formed largely by the massive jaw-bones, predominates
over the brain-case; in man these proportions are reversed. In man the skull is
set evenly on the spine, the spinal cord being just behind the center of the
base of the skull; but in the gorilla, which usually goes on all-fours, the
skull is inclined forward and the spinal cord is further back. In man the
surface of the skull is nearly smooth, the ridges of the brow having but slight
projection, while in the gorilla these ridges are enormous. The capacity of the
largest gorilla skull yet measured was but
In fixing man’s place in nature on physiological grounds, much greater difficulty is met. There is here an enormous gulf between the most brute-like of men and the most man-like of apes; a chasm not to be accounted for by minor structural differences. The bold investigations and speculations of science have not yet been able to eradicate the opinion, deeply rooted in modern as in ancient thought, that only a distinctively human element can account for the wide severance between man and the highest animal below him. Mere mechanical differences do not explain the divergence. An ape with a man’s hand and voice would still have to rise through a long structural growth to be indeed a man. The greater amount of brain in man comes nearer to explain the difference; but even that fails. In some of the senses man is quite inferior; he cannot equal the eagle in sight, the dog in scent, nor one of a dozen animals in hearing; though in the senses of tasting and feeling he may be superior to any of them. We must conclude that it is by superiority in quality, as well as in quantity, of brain, and, because of that superiority, by the possession of of a highly organized language, that man has the power of co-ordinating the impressions of his senses, which enables him to understand the world in which he lives, and, by understanding, to use, resist, and rule it. This power of using what his senses reveal to him is clearly expressed by man in his language. He shares with beasts and birds the power to express feelings by emotional cries; the parrot approaches him in utterance; and by association of ideas, some of the lower animals understand to a certain extent what he says. But the abstract power of using words, in themselves meaningless, as symbols by which to convey complex intellectual processes – in which mental conceptions are suggested, compounded, combined, and even analyzed, and new ones created – is a faculty scarcely to be traced in any other animal than man.
That this power is a function of the brain has been fully proved in diseases of that organ, such as aphasia. This may stand among the best evidence that the brain is the principal, if not the sole, organ of mind. But animals of lower grade share with man in varying degree in many of the high attributes. Sudden terror affects man and beast alike; in both the muscles tremble, the breast palpitates, the sphincters are relaxed, and the hair stands up. Memory in some of its ranges in very strong is some animals, especially in elephants and dogs. Reasoning power is shown when the monkey breaks an egg softly and picks away the shell cautiously so as to preserve the entire contents. Monkeys also use mechanical defenses, throwing sticks and stones, and nuts from trees, at their enemies; and the wonderful mechanical instinct shown in nest-building by birds and insects must not be forgotten yet man rises above all this, and remains the only creature who is not subject to nature, but has knowledge and power to control and regulate his actions, and to keep in harmony with nature, not by a change of body but by an advance of mind. The lower instincts which tend mainly to self-preservation are weaker in man than in many other animals, while philosophy, seeking knowledge for its own sake; morality, manifested in the sense of truth, the right, and virtue; and religion, the belief in, and communion with, some spiritual being above man, are human characteristics, of which the lower animals show at most but the faintest traces. Yet the tracing of physical and even intellectual continuity between the lower animals and man need not lead the anthropologist to lower the rank of man in the scale of nature.
Modern materialists are content to regard the intellectual functions of the brain and the nervous system as all there is to be considered in a psychological comparison of man with lower animals. They hold that man is a machine – wonderfully comples, to be sure, yet only a machine, provided with energy by force from without – which mechanically performs the acts for which it was constructed, such as eating, moving, feeling, and thinking. But their views are strongly opposed by those who combine spiritualism and materialism in the doctrine of a composite nature in man; animal as to the body, and in some degree as to the mind, or, as some term it, the soul; spiritual as to the soul or, as some prefer to call it, the spirit. Dr. Prichard sustains the time-honored doctrine which refers the mental faculties to the operation of the soul. Mivart, the comparative anatomist, says: “Man, according to the old scholastic definition, is a ‘rational animal,’ and his animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though inseparably joined during life in one common personality. Man’s animal body must have had a different source from that of the spiritual soul which informs it, owing to the distinctness of the two orders to which those two existences severally belong.” In this view not life only but thought also is a function of the animal system, in which man excels all other animals as to the perfection of organization; but beyond this, man embodies an immaterial and distinctively spiritual principle which no lower creature possesses, and which makes the resemblance of the ape to him merely superficial. It is not our business to decide upon these conflicting doctrines, each of which has the support of many names high in science and philosophy.
Concerning the origin of man, opinion is divided between the two great schools of biology – that of creation and that of evolution. The old doctrine of the contemporaneous appearance on earth of all animals was long ago set aside by the researches of geology, and it is admitted that the animal kingdom, past and present, includes a vast series of successive forms, appearing and disappearing in the lapse of ages. Our subject requires us to ascertain what formative relation subsists among these species and genera – the last link of the argument reaching to the relation between man and the lower creatures preceding him in time. Agassiz admits that there is a manifest progress in the succession of beings, an increasing similarity between the living fauna, and among vertebrates especially an increasing resemblance to man. But among the causes of this succession of types he does not include parental descent: “the link by which they are connected is of a higher and immaterial nature, and their connection is to be sought in the view of the Creator himself,” whose ultimate aim, to which all creation and progress was made auxiliary, was to introduce man as the crown of his work. This is the “creationist view.” But the evolutionist maintains that successive species of animals, though never so diverse in appearance, are really connected by parental descent, having become modified in the course of successive generations. Lamarck says “man is co-descendant with other species of some ancient, lower, and extinct form.” Darwin’s conclusion that man is the descendant from some animal of the simian (monkey) stock is well known, though his qualification that “we must not fall into the error of supposing that the early progenitor of the whole simian stock, including man, was identical with, or even closely resembled, any existing ape or monkey,” is not so widely recognized. The problem of the origin of man cannot be properly discussed apart from the full problem of the origin of species. The likeness between man and other animals which both schools try to account for; the explanation of any interval with apparent want of intermediate forms, which seem to the creationists so absolutely a separation between species; the evidence of useless rudimentary organs, such as in man the external shell of the ear, and the muscles which enable some men to move their ears (which rudimentary parts the evolutionists hold to be explainable only as relics of an earlier specific condition) – these, which are the chief points in the argument on the origin of man, belong to general biology. The theory of evolution tends towards the supposition of ordinary causes (such as natural selection) producing modification in species; the theory of creation has recourse to acts of supernatural intervention. A middle course is suggested by Mivart: that man’s body belongs to natural evolution: his soul to supernatural creation. But this compromise, though it seems to be gaining adherents, thus far fails to satisfy either school. There is no question, however, that evolution, as a distinct theory, apart from all supposed connection with materialism, is securing the assent of scientists. We wait to see whether the discovery of intermediate forms will go on till it produce a disbelief in any real separation between neighboring species, and especially whether geology can furnish traces of the hypothetical animal which was man’s nearest ancestor, while not yet man.
Coming to look into the antiquity of man, we
remember that it is only a few years since English-speaking people very
generally accepted the chronology of archbishop Usher, and agreed, without
investigation and almost without question, that the earth and all that it
contains was created
In classifying the races of mankind, a
number of systems have prevailed. The color of the skin is the first striking
difference in showing race, and this distinction is found in ancient Egyptian
portraits, and writers, ancient and modern, speak of white, yellow, and black
races. The structure and arrangement of the hair is a better indication of race
than the tint of the skin. Stature is an uncertain guide, for there are short
and tall men in all races; still, an average rate of stature may indicate
descent, and it is note worthy that people of Keltic origin in Great Britain are
shorter than those of Teutonic descent. The conformation of the skull has been
used also, and careful measurements of form and capacit have been made; but
shapes of the skull vary so greatly even in the same tribe, as to render this
method of determining race practically worthless. The features, or general
contour of the face, being at once apparent to the eye, are much used by
scientific observers to determine race. Some of the most notable features, in
contrast with European types, are seen in the oblique eye of the Chinese, the
pointed Arab chin, the Kirghis snub nose, the fleshy lips of the negro, and the
broad ears of the Kalmuk. In Europe and America the Hebrews are distinguished by
their peculiar features, and some physiognomists will undertake to select almost
any nationality by mere examination of faces. The adaptation of a people to its
climate forms a definite race-character, and typical instances of the relation
of race-constitutions to particular diseases are seen in the liability of
Europeans in the West Indies to yellow fever, from which, as has been thought,
though scarcely proved, negroes are commonly exempt. Even the vermin infecting
different races of men have been classified. Physical capabilities of races
differ widely; but as the same is true of individuals of all races, such
differences can hardly be used for race-classification. Two strongly marked
mental contrasts are found in the shy and impassive Malay and the sociable and
demonstrative Papuan. Classifications by race have been numerous, but all more
or less imperfect, and some worthless. Blumenbach’s “five races” is a widely
known classification: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay.
On the origin of races there has long been and still continues, an earnest discussion. On one hand, it is claimed by monogenists that all men descended from a single pair; on the other, it is contended by polygenists that there were many primary species of separate origin. The monogenists rest upon the Bible, and point to Adam and Eve; the polygenists, while arguing from science, with equal confidence, show biblical passages from which they infer the existence of contemporaneous non-Adamite races; and even political science was called in to support the idea of more than one original race, when the institution of slavery in the United States was defended on the assumption that the negroes were a different race, inferior to the whites or the Indians. We do not enter into even a statement of the many variations of the human type, but observe that the general tendency of the evolution theory is against constituting separate species where the differences are moderate enough to be accounted as due to variations from a single type; while it is not inconsistent with evolution to claim that several distinct simious species may have culminated in several races of men. Still the drift of the evolution theory is towards unity of origin. Darwin says: “When naturalists observe a close agreement in numerous small habits, tastes, and dispositions, between two or more domestic races, or between nearly allied natural forms, they use the fact as an argument that all are descended from a common progenitor, who was thus endowed: and consequently that all should be classed under the same species. The same argument may be applied with much force to the races of man.” The experience of the last few years countenances Mr. Darwin’s prophecy, that before long the dispute between those who hold that all men came from one pair and those who hold to diverse originals, will die a silent and unnoticed death. [Portions of this article are, with modification, from Encyclopaedia Britannica, ninth edition.]
Anthropology, besides its scientific application above noted, is used in theology to indicate the study of man in his relation to God. Under this head, some writers have practically brought almost all theology under discussion. Perhaps the prevalent usage may be said to limit anthropology to a study of theological facts or principles in their relations to man considered psychological – or to man considered as to the origin of his complex being, and as to the interaction of his spiritual and material elements.