THE SANTA CLARA
November 14, 2013
When someone asks me what my major is and I reply with “anthropology,” I usually receive a very confused look in response.
Sadly, many people have no idea what anthropology is, let alone how cool it can be.
Simply put, anthropology is the study of humans, past and present. This includes our most common living ancestors, the primates, as well as all of the species that came before us.
But no, we don’t study dinosaurs, so please stop asking.
At Santa Clara, anthropology is a relatively new department, as it only started in the 1960s. The university offers the major as a Bachelor of Science degree, and a few of the anthropology classes require a regular lab.
The biological anthropology class fulfills the science with a lab requirement at Santa Clara and many students from different majors take it. This is different from many other universities because most of them offer anthropology as a Bachelor of Arts degree.
In fact, there is a huge debate within anthropology about whether it is more humanistic or scientific.
Despite all of the arguments for both sides, I believe anthropology falls under both categories because it requires methods from each side of the spectrum.
Then there are those who have heard of anthropology, but think it is an easy major. On the contrary, some of the hardest classes I have taken at Santa Clara have been anthropology classes.
Personally, I study a specific branch within anthropology — archaeology — which involves the study of material remains left behind by humans. This allows us to understand better those who came before us.
But I don’t wear a fedora or carry around a whip. I also don’t run from boulders after triggering a booby trap from removing an artifact off a pedestal. A real archaeologist would never remove an artifact without first recording everything about it, including its context.
Sorry to ruin your childhood.
I do, however, get to play in the dirt and dig holes.
This past summer, I was able to go to Belize to attend an archaeological field school. I spent two weeks waking up at 6 a.m. to travel to a site where I spent eight or nine hours digging inside a hole with a rock pick.
It was hard work in humid temperatures, but it was also amazingly rewarding. We were digging above a palace floor where the wealthiest Mayans once lived.
We pulled musical instruments and hundreds of ceramic vessels out of the ground, which gave us a glimpse into a completely different world.
Studying these sites can give archaeologists a general understanding of the Maya as a whole.
Anthropology is one of the most fascinating majors we have at Santa Clara. It allows us to study who we are as humans and why we are the way we are.
Hopefully in the near future, after I graduate, when I tell someone I have a degree in anthropology, I won’t get an expression of utter disbelief, but rather, one of interest and wonder.
Jena McDougall is a senior anthropology major and slot editor of The Santa Clara.