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DSST General Anthropology Study Guide

Updated: Feb 14

DSST Exam: General Anthropology

Are you preparing for the General Anthropology DSST exam?

Our General Anthropology study guide offers a comprehensive introduction to your test, covering all major topics from cultural analysis to physical anthropology.

With our resources, you'll be well-equipped for success on your exam. Good luck on your journey!


Table of Contents


1. Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines

Tribe beating on drums.
Anthropology: Methodologies and Disciplines – 10%


Anthropology encompasses various disciplines, including physical, cultural, linguistics, archaeology, and applied anthropology, contributing to our understanding of humanity.


Physical Anthropology

Physical anthropology studies the human body and its evolution, shedding light on our physical and biological characteristics.


Cultural Anthropology

Cultural anthropology explores human cultures and societal norms, revealing the diversity of human behavior.



Linguistics investigates language and its impact on individuals and societies, uncovering patterns of communication and expression.



Archaeology delves into the material evidence of past cultures, offering insights into ancient civilizations and human history.


Applied Anthropology

Applied anthropology applies anthropological insights to address real-world environmental conservation and economic development challenges.

These disciplines provide a comprehensive understanding of humanity, from physical origins to cultural complexities.


DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question # 50


2. History and Theory

Caveman walking through cave.
History and Theory – 10%


Ethnographies offer personal accounts of specific cultures, while perspectives provide analytical interpretations of cultural behavior.



Functionalism highlights the interdependence of cultural elements and their role in maintaining stability within a society.


Marxist Anthropology

Marxist anthropology examines how economic factors influence power dynamics within cultures.


Sex and Gender

Anthropologists explore the construction of sex and gender in various cultures, examining differences in social roles and norms.


Race and Ethnicity

Race and ethnicity influence social relations and attitudes, often leading to discrimination or harmonious coexistence among different groups.


Cultural Ecology

Cultural ecology studies how societies interact with their environments, including resource use, adaptation to climate change, and responses to environmental challenges.


3. Physical Anthropology

Tribe hiking through jungle.
Physical Anthropology – 13%

Physical Anthropology

Physical anthropology delves into human anatomy, physiology, and evolutionary history.

Anthropologists in this field explore the evolution of the human body and its distinctions from other animals.

They also investigate how diverse human populations have adapted to their environments.


Four Main Subfields

Physical anthropology encompasses four primary subfields: genetics, evolution, primatology, and paleontology.

  • Genetics: Focuses on DNA and hereditary traits.

  • Evolution: Examines species' changes over time.

  • Primatology: Studies non-human primates, including their behavior, ecology, and evolution.

  • Paleontology: Explores ancient life forms, encompassing both human and animal remains.

Each subfield provides valuable insights into humanity's origins and development.

Studying physical anthropology enhances our understanding of human identity and evolution.


DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question # 199


4. Archaeology

Scientist digging for bones.
Archaeology – 10%


Archaeology is the scientific study of the material remains of past human life and activities.

The remains consist of artifacts such as tools, pottery, jewelry, bones, and architectural structures.


Paleolithic and Mesolithic

The Paleolithic period, the oldest in archaeology, spans from about 2.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

The Mesolithic, occurring between 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, represents a transitional phase.



The most recent Neolithic period lasted from 8,000 to 4,500 years ago.

During this era, humans began domesticating plants and animals, leading to the emergence of more complex civilizations.


Development of Civilization and Urban Societies

Advancements during the Neolithic era led to the development of complex civilizations and urban societies.

This progression ultimately resulted in the creation of writing systems, facilitating recorded history.


Material Culture

Material culture encompasses all physical objects utilized by people in their daily lives.

Archaeologists analyze material culture to glean insights into past cultures and societal differences.


5. Cultural Systems and Processes

Tribal man spinning fire.
Cultural Systems and Processes – 14%

Cultural Systems and Processes

Cultural systems and processes are fundamental to understanding how societies function and evolve.

These encompass various aspects that shape cultures, categorized into several areas.


Culture's Components

This includes values, beliefs, norms, and customs that define a society's identity and behavior.


Symbolic Systems

These are the methods through which cultures communicate and convey meaning, such as language, gestures, and symbols.


Language and Communication

Examines how cultures share information and express ideas through verbal and non-verbal communication.


Cultural Diffusion

Refers to the spread of cultural elements, practices, and ideas from one society to another through trade, migration, or conquest.


Cultural Universals

These are standard cultural features like family structures, social norms, and rituals.


Subcultures and Counter-culture

Explore groups within a society that deviate from the mainstream culture, often forming distinct identities and values.


The World System and Colonialism

Examines the interactions between cultures on a global scale, including historical processes like colonialism and globalization.


Arts and Media

It examines how cultures express themselves through various artistic forms, including literature, music, visual arts, and digital media.


DSST General Anthropology Trivia Question # 433


6. Social Organization

Tribe dancing in a circle.
Social Organization – 10%

Social Organization

Social organization refers to the structured patterns and relationships within a society, encompassing various aspects like marriage and family, kinship, descent, and social stratification.


Marriage and Family Patterns

These patterns dictate how couples and families interact and are structured within a society.

They can regard monogamy or polygamy, patrilineal or matrilineal descent, and the distinction between nuclear and extended families.


Kinship and Descent Groups

Kinship and descent groups are formed based on blood ties or marriage connections.

Social groups such as clans, lineages, and moieties can be crucial in shaping one's identity and social organization.


Social Stratification

Social stratification categorizes individuals into distinct classes or groups based on their economic status, wealth, or social status.

This hierarchical structure influences access to resources, opportunities, and social mobility.

These elements of social organization interact dynamically, shaping a society's cultural norms, customs, and practices and providing insights into its social dynamics and complexities.


7. Economic and Political Organization

Tribal medicine man dancing.
Economic and Political Organization –10%

Modern Political Systems

Modern political systems result from a complex economic and political organization history shaped by subsistence patterns, settlement dynamics, and the evolution of trade and exchange mechanisms.


Evolution of Political Systems

Political systems have adapted to changes in economic structures, including shifts from subsistence-based economies to market economies.

This evolution has led to diverse political institutions and governance mechanisms, including forms of governance such as reciprocity, redistribution, and market exchange.


Globalization and Environmental Challenges

Globalization has brought about significant changes to political landscapes worldwide.

Economic interdependence and the interconnectedness of nations have heightened resource competition and environmental pressures.

Consequently, governments are increasingly challenged to address environmental issues effectively.


Transnational Cooperation

Globalization has also facilitated more significant opportunities for transnational cooperation on environmental matters.

International agreements and collaborative initiatives are essential for addressing global environmental challenges such as climate change, pollution, and resource depletion.


Future Trends

The ongoing influence of globalization and environmental concerns is expected to shape the future evolution of political systems.

Governments will likely face growing demands for effective environmental policies and sustainable development strategies.

Additionally, the need for transnational cooperation and global governance mechanisms will become increasingly important in addressing shared environmental challenges.


8. Religion

Anthropology tribe dancing.
Religion – 11%

Diverse Belief Systems

Across the globe, diverse belief systems are characterized by unique teachings and practices that shape individuals' spiritual lives.


Formal Religious Institutions

Formal religious institutions are organized structures that uphold and propagate specific belief systems.

These institutions often play central roles in community life, providing spiritual guidance, communal support, and avenues for worship.

However, informal religious organizations also fulfill similar roles within communities alongside formal institutions.


Religious Practices

Religious practices encompass a broad spectrum of rituals, ceremonies, and observances integral to various belief systems.

Rituals are important in many religions, serving as symbolic expressions of faith and marking key life events or transitions.

Formal or informal religious institutions also foster community and belonging among adherents, providing opportunities for shared worship, fellowship, and spiritual growth.


9. Anthropology in the Global Age

Person taking an image of tribal woman.
Anthropology in the Global Age - 12%

Applied Anthropology

Applied anthropology utilizes anthropological theories and methodologies to address practical challenges, also known as action or engaged anthropology.

Professionals in this field work across diverse sectors, such as corporations, government agencies, NGOs, and community-based organizations, contributing to organizational development, human resources, marketing, and community planning.


Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation involves safeguarding traditional cultures from extinction by documenting traditions, promoting arts and crafts, and conserving natural habitats.

It responds to threats posed by modernization and globalization, resisting assimilation into dominant cultures.


Directed and Spontaneous Cultural Change

Cultural change can occur through directed efforts, imposed from above in response to external threats, or spontaneously through everyday interactions within a culture.

The former is coercive and intentional, while the latter is bottom-up and leads to the emergence of new customs, beliefs, and practices.


Future Challenges

Anthropology faces future challenges, including addressing global issues like climate change, poverty, and preservation of cultural heritage.

Adapting to the digital world and amplifying indigenous voices in global dialogues are crucial tasks for the field.


10. Conclusion

Anthopology bird stone.

DSST General Anthropology

Anthropology, as the study of human cultures and societies, delves into various disciplines such as biology, archaeology, linguistics, and psychology.

Anthropologists aim to comprehend the commonalities and distinctions among cultures to address practical challenges.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the role of anthropologists in problem-solving and fostering understanding across diverse societies becomes even more critical.


Next Steps

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11. Student Resources

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