Ceramic Teapot

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Baule woodcarvers at work, Yagolikro village, Ivory Coast
Photograph by Eliot Elisofon, 1972. Image no. EEPA EECL 6900. Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution

About Humans and the Environment

Humans have always manipulated their environment, whether by acquiring food, making and using tools, or other aspects of daily life. They are constantly interacting with their environment on a daily basis. By using the available materials, humans have created shelter, made tools, created containers and vessels, and produced items of personal and cultural significance. Many of these resources are naturally occurring, such as stones, minerals, animal bones, or organic fibers from plants, while others are made from combining materials. The process of acquiring these materials and the manufacturing process can be traditional practices that are passed down from one generation to another. Because materials are unique to the location of different communities and cultures, by studying the types of materials, as well as animal remains found and the processes used to manipulate them, anthropologists and researchers can learn about the daily activities and lifestyles of the cultures they are studying. In what ways do you interact with your environment on a daily basis?

The silk road allowed exchange of ideas and goods from Asian to Africa and Europe
Image courtesy of Shizhao, CC BY-SA 3.0

About Trade and Exchange

Many cultures make unique things that are specific to them or have unique and valuable things in their environment. Because people are limited to what they can make or have access to they often trade with other groups to get the supplies they need and want. Over time, certain cultures became known for having particular goods that were coveted by other groups. Because of this, specific trade routes were developed to allow for these items to spread. Some examples of this include tea and silk from China and spices from the Middle East and India. Along with trading material goods, cultures also exchanged ideas, customs, and information. By tracing the history of the spread of these items and information, anthropologists and researchers can better understand how humans have interacted with each other over time and how they have moved throughout the world. Trading and exchange is still a large part of society today. Although it is much easier to move from place to place, we still exchange ideas and goods.

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