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What Does a Biological Anthropologist Do?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A biological anthropologist, sometime called a physical anthropologist, can perform a number of activities depending on the focus of his or her job. The broad topic with which all biological anthropologists work is the physical development of humans from an anthropological perspective, but this topic can be used professionally in a number of ways. Research and teaching are always options for an anthropologist of this type, but a biological anthropologist might also find his or her skills useful in forensic investigations, museums, or zoos. Sometimes, an anthropologist of this type might even find work consulting with companies that need specific knowledge about human growth and development.

All biological anthropologists do research and write either professionally or academically. Analysis relies on effective research, and almost all jobs involving anthropology require effective communication. Depending on the type of work the biological anthropologist does, this can be a major or minor component of his or her job. Research in biological anthropology often requires library research, but may also involve conducting experiments and going out into the field to gather evidence. In some cases, scientific investigations can be the primary job of the anthropologist, particularly when working in a team.

In addition to research, a biological anthropologist may be expected to teach if he or she is employed by a university. In some cases, anthropologists working in museums and zoos may be expected to fill an educational role as well. The precise combination of duties associated with teaching biological anthropology depends on the institution.

There are many additional opportunities for biological anthropologists, some of which involve applying this unique perspective to specific projects. For example, when a biological anthropologist is hired to consult on an engineering project, he or she may be asked to look at the findings of this discipline in a very unusual way. As such, a biological anthropologist must often be flexible and creative in his or her job.

One important fact to consider when thinking about what a biological anthropologist does is that this particular discipline has changed drastically over time, both in methodology and the way that results are used. Biological anthropology was once used as a justification for many policies that have since been deemed racist and discriminatory, as well as to define the physical characteristics of human races. In addition to changes in philosophy, there have also been scientific developments in this field that have changed the basic job duties of the anthropologist drastically. What a biological anthropologist does depends not only on his or her job, but when he or she is performing that job.

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