Physical anthropology is a biological science and a social science. It combines the study of human biology and evolution with the study of human culture and behavior. In the United States physical anthropologists generally also receive training in sociocultural anthropology, archeology and linguistics. Field study programs are an important part of the training required for physical anthropologists. Field schools are intended to broaden the academic experience and are held off-campus, usually for an extended period of time, often in distant locations.
Across the Globe
Traditionally, students in physical anthropology are encouraged to spend time learning in far-off lands. Field schools in different parts of the world are associated with colleges and universities, often allowing students to earn credits toward a degree. The University of South Florida, for example, offers a six-week field school program in Honduras, a five-week program in Costa Rica, and a four-week undergraduate research field school program in Puerto Rico. Harvard University’s Department of Anthropology offers field schools in Scandinavia, Israel and Peru.
Physical anthropology field schools offer students an opportunity to learn about other cultures. Living with the native inhabitants of foreign countries and studying their way of life provides a valuable educational experience. The University of Colorado at Denver, for instance, offers a four-week course of study at the Tanzania Field School in Anthropology. In additional to walking in the footsteps of human ancestors at famed Olduvai Gorge, this field-based program includes a cultural immersion learning experience in which students live with the Maasai people of the Ngorongoro Highlands in northern Tanzania and participate in their ceremonies and rituals.
Although many physical anthropology field schools are located in foreign countries, some are available in North America. The University of Massachusetts Amherst, for example, offers a field school that trains students in the science of biological anthropology, including excavations of human remains, forensic analysis, and laboratory techniques. The department of anthropology at the University of California Davis offers a field school that takes place in the Fish Lake Valley on the California-Nevada border. This six-week program introduces students to the role of the biological anthropologist, archaeologist and forensic scientist, and includes guest lectures from visiting professors and other professionals.
Busy undergraduate and graduate students are often unable to participate in field school programs during the school year. The summer months provide a special opportunity for physical anthropology students to travel and to pursue field study, and academic institutions offer many field school programs during the summer. The anthropology department at Adelphi University in New York offers annual summer field schools in the Alaska wilderness, in Crete and in Guatemala. Oregon State University offers a summer anthropology field school at the Cooper’s Ferry site located in the Salmon River canyon of western Idaho. Participants in the program study some of the earliest evidence and artifacts of human populations in the Pacific Northwest.