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Anthropology Optional Syllabus For UPSC Mains | Preparation Strategy, Booklist & More

Anthropology is one of the popular UPSC optional subjects among the Civil Services aspirants. The reason for its popularity range from the easily accessible resources for preparation to a lighter and easily understandable syllabus. Both of which stands true to the claim. Since the anthropology optional syllabus for UPSC contains elements from science, it becomes a popular choice among science graduates as well.

Anthropology optional for UPSC has given many toppers in the past like Anudeep Durishetty (AIR 1, 2017), Sachin Gupta (AIR 3,2017) to name a few. In this article, we have discussed the anthropology syllabus for UPSC, how to prepare anthropology optional for UPSC as well as the topper-recommended booklist for this optional subject! Let’s get started!

Anthropology Optional Syllabus For UPSC

Anthropology optional in UPSC Main Examination has a very crisp syllabus. Hence, it is a popular choice among many UPSC aspirants. The Anthropology optional syllabus is divided into two papers Paper-I and Paper-II.

Anthropology Optional Syllabus For Paper I:

Syllabus for Anthropology Optional Paper-1


Meaning, scope, and development of Anthropology.


Relationship with other disciplines: History, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, Life Science, Medical Science.


Main branches of Anthropology, their scope, and relevance:

  • Social-cultural Anthropology.

  • Biological Anthropology.

  • Archaeological Anthropology.

  • Linguistic Anthropology.


Human Evolution and the emergence of Man:

  • Biological and Cultural factors in human evolution.

  • Theories of Organic Evolution (Pre- Darwinian, Darwinian and Post-Darwinian).

  • Synthetic theory of evolution; Brief outline of terms and concepts of evolutionary biology (Doll’s rule, Cope’s rule, Gause’s rule, parallelism, convergence, adaptive radiation, and mosaic evolution).


Characteristics of Primates; 

  • Evolutionary Trend and Primate Taxonomy; 

  • Primate Adaptations; 

  • (Arboreal and Terrestrial) Primate Taxonomy; 

  • Primate Behaviour; 

  • Tertiary and Quaternary fossil primates; 

  • Living Major Primates; 

  • Comparative Anatomy of Man and Apes; 

  • Skeletal changes due to erect posture and its implications.


Phylogenetic status, characteristics and geographical distribution of the following:

  • Plio-preleistocene hominids in South and East Africa - Australopith

  • Homo erectus: Africa (Paranthropus), Europe (Homo erectus heidelbergensis), Asia (Homo erectus javanicus, Homo erectus pekinensis).

  • Neanderthal Man- La-Chapelle-aux-saints (Classical type), Mt. Carmel (Progressive type).

  • Rhodesian man.

  • Homo sapiens — Cromagnon, Grimaldi and Chancelede.


The biological basis of life: 

  • The Cell, DNA structure and replication, 

  • Protein Synthesis, Gene, 

  • Mutation, 

  • Chromosomes, and Cell Division.


a) Principles of Prehistoric Archaeology. Chronology: Relative and Absolute Dating methods.

b) Cultural Evolution- Broad Outlines of Prehistoric cultures:

  • Paleolithic

  • Mesolithic

  • Neolithic

  • Chalcolithic

  • Copper-Bronze Age

  • Iron Age


The Nature of Culture: 

  • The concept and characteristics of culture and civilization; 

  • Ethnocentrism vis-à-vis cultural Relativism


The Nature of Society: 

  • Concept of Society; 

  • Society and Culture; 

  • Social Institutions; 

  • Social groups; 

  • Social stratification.



  • Definition and universality; 

  • Laws of marriage (endogamy, exogamy, hypergamy, hypogamy, incest taboo); 

  • Types of marriage (monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, group marriage). 

  • Functions of marriage; 

  • Marriage regulations (preferential, prescriptive and proscriptive); 

  • Marriage payments (bride wealth and dowry).



  • Definition and universality; 

  • Family, household and domestic groups; 

  • functions of family; 

  • Types of family (from the perspectives of structure, blood relation, marriage, residence and succession); 

  • Impact of urbanization, industrialization, and feminist movements on family.



  • Consanguinity and Affinity; 

  • Principles and types of descent (Unilineal, Double, Bilateral, Ambilineal); Forms of descent groups (lineage, clan, phratry, moiety, and kindred); 

  • Kinship terminology (descriptive and classificatory); 

  • Descent, Filiation and Complimentary Filiation; 

  • Descent and Alliance.


Economic organization:

  • Meaning, scope and relevance of economic anthropology; 

  • Formalist and Substantivist debate; 

  • Principles governing production, distribution and exchange (reciprocity, redistribution and market), in communities, subsisting on hunting and gathering, fishing, swiddening, pastoralism, horticulture, and agriculture; globalization and indigenous economic systems.


Political organization and Social Control:

  • Band, tribe, chiefdom, kingdom and state; 

  • concepts of power, authority and legitimacy; 

  • social control, law, and justice in simple societies



  • Anthropological approaches to the study of religion (evolutionary, psychological and functional); monotheism and polytheism; 

  • sacred and profane; 

  • myths and rituals; 

  • forms of religion in tribal and peasant societies (animism, animatism, fetishism, naturism and totemism); 

  • religion, magic and science distinguished; 

  • magico- religious functionaries (priest, shaman, medicine man, sorcerer and witch).


Anthropological theories:

  • Classical evolutionism (Tylor, Morgan, and Frazer)

  • Historical particularism (Boas); Diffusionism (British, German and American)

  • Functionalism (Malinowski); Structural- functionlism (Radcliffe-Brown)

  • Structuralism (L’evi – Strauss and E. Leach)

  • Culture and personality (Benedict, Mead, Linton, Kardiner and Cora – du Bois).

  • Neo – evolutionism (Childe, White, Steward, Sahlins and Service)

  • Cultural materialism (Harris)

  • Symbolic and interpretive theories (Turner, Schneider and Geertz)

  • Cognitive theories (Tyler, Conklin)

  • Post- modernism in anthropology


Culture, language and communication: 

  • Nature, origin and characteristics of language; 

  • verbal and non-verbal communication; 

  • social context of language use.


Research methods in anthropology:

  • Fieldwork tradition in anthropology

  • Distinction between technique, method and methodology

  • Tools of data collection: observation, interview, schedules, questionnaire, Case study, genealogy, life-history, oral history, secondary sources of information, participatory methods.

  • Analysis, interpretation and presentation of data.


Human Genetics 

  • Methods and Application: Methods for study of genetic principles in man-family study (pedigree analysis, twin study, foster child, co-twin method, cytogenetic method, chromosomal and karyo-type analysis), biochemical methods, immunological methods, D.N.A. technology and recombinant technologies.


Mendelian genetics in man-family study 

single factor, multifactor, lethal, sub-lethal and polygenic inheritance in man.


Concept of genetic polymorphism and selection

  • Mendelian population, Hardy-Weinberg law; 

  • causes and changes which bring down frequency – mutation, isolation, migration, selection, inbreeding and genetic drift. Consanguineous and non-consanguineous mating, genetic load, genetic effect of consanguineous and cousin marriages.


Chromosomes and chromosomal aberrations in man, methodology.

  • Numerical and structural aberrations (disorders).

  • Sex chromosomal aberrations – Klinefelter (XXY), Turner (XO), Super female (XXX), intersex and other syndromic disorders.

  • Autosomal aberrations – Down syndrome, Patau, Edward and Cri-du-chat syndromes.

  • Genetic imprints in human disease, genetic screening, genetic counseling, human DNA profiling, gene mapping and genome study.


Race and racism 

  • The biological basis of morphological variation of non-metric and metric characters. 

  • Racial criteria, racial traits in relation to heredity and environment; 

  • biological basis of racial classification, racial differentiation and race crossing in man.


a) Age, sex and population variation as genetic marker- ABO, Rh blood groups, HLA Hp, transferring, Gm, blood enzymes.

b) Physiological characteristics-Hb level, body fat, pulse rate, respiratory functions and sensory perceptions in different cultural and socio-economic groups.


Concepts and methods of Ecological Anthropology. 

  • Bio-cultural Adaptations 

  • Genetic and Non- genetic factors. 

  • Man’s physiological responses to environmental stresses: 

  • hot desert, 

  • cold, high altitude climate.


Epidemiological Anthropology: 

  • Health and disease. 

  • Infectious and non-infectious diseases. 

  • Nutritional deficiency-related diseases.


Concept of human growth and development:

  • stages of growth – pre-natal, natal, infant, childhood, adolescence, maturity, senescence.

  • Factors affecting growth and development genetic, environmental, biochemical, nutritional, cultural and socio-economic.

  • Ageing and senescence. Theories and observations – biological and chronological longevity. Human physique and somatotypes. Methodologies for growth studies.


Relevance of menarche, menopause and other bioevents to fertility. Fertility patterns and differentials.


Demographic theories- biological, social and cultural.


Biological and socio-ecological factors influencing fecundity, fertility, natality and mortality.


Applications of Anthropology:

  • Anthropology of sports, 

  • Nutritional anthropology, 

  • Anthropology in designing of defence and other equipments, 

  • Forensic Anthropology, 

  • Methods and principles of personal identification and reconstruction, 

  • Applied human genetics 

  • Paternity diagnosis, genetic counseling and eugenics, 

  • DNA technology in diseases and medicine, 

  • serogenetics and cytogenetics in reproductive biology.

Anthropology Optional Syllabus For Paper II:

Syllabus for Anthropology optional Paper-II


Evolution of the Indian Culture and Civilization

  • Prehistoric (Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Neolithic 

  • Chalcolithic).

  • Protohistoric (Indus Civilization): Pre- Harappan, Harappan and post- Harappan cultures.Contributions of tribal cultures to Indian civilization.



  • Anthropological evidences from India with special reference to Siwaliks and Narmada basin (Ramapithecus, Sivapithecus and Narmada Man).


Ethno-archaeology in India: 

  • The concept of ethnoarchaeology; 

  • Survivals and Parallels among the hunting, foraging, fishing, pastoral and peasant communities including arts and crafts producing communities.


Demographic profile of India 

  • Ethnic and linguistic elements in the Indian population and their distribution. 

  • Indian population – factors influencing its structure and growth.


The structure and nature of the traditional Indian social system 

  • Varnashram, 

  • Purushartha, 

  • Karma, 

  • Rina and Rebirth.


Caste system in India 

  • structure and characteristics, 

  • Varna and caste, 

  • Theories of origin of caste system, 

  • Dominant caste, 

  • Caste mobility, 

  • Future of caste system, 

  • Jajmani system, 

  • Tribe- caste continuum.


Sacred Complex and Nature 

  • Man

  • Spirit Complex.


Impact of Buddhism, Jainism, Islam and Christianity on Indian society.


Emergence and growth of anthropology in India-Contributions of the 18th, 19th and early 20th Century scholar-administrators. Contributions of Indian anthropologists to tribal and caste studies.

5. 1

Indian Village: 

  • Significance of village study in India; 

  • Indian village as a social system; 

  • Traditional and changing patterns of settlement and inter-caste relations; 

  • Agrarian relations in Indian villages; 

  • Impact of globalization on Indian villages.


Linguistic and religious minorities and their social, political and economic status.


Indigenous and exogenous processes of socio-cultural change in Indian society: Sanskritization, Westernization, Modernization; 

  • Inter-play of little and great traditions; 

  • Panchayati raj and social change; 

  • Media and social change.


Tribal situation in India 

  • Bio-genetic variability, linguistic and socio-economic characteristics of tribal populations and their distribution.


Problems of the tribal Communities 

  • land alienation, poverty, indebtedness, low literacy, poor educational facilities, unemployment, underemployment, health and nutrition.


Developmental projects and their impact on tribal displacement 

  • problems of rehabilitation. 

  • Development of forest policy and tribals. 

  • Impact of urbanization and industrialization on tribal populations.


Problems of exploitation and deprivation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. 

  • Constitutional safeguards for Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.


Social change and contemporary tribal societies: 

  • Impact of modern democratic institutions, development programmes and welfare measures on tribals and weaker sections.


The concept of ethnicity; 

  • Ethnic conflicts and political developments; 

  • Unrest among tribal communities; 

  • Regionalism and demand for autonomy; 

  • Pseudo-tribalism; 

  • Social change among the tribes during colonial and post-Independent India.


Impact of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and other religions on tribal societies.


Tribe and nation state - a comparative study of tribal communities in India and other countries.


History of administration of tribal areas, tribal policies, plans, programmes of tribal development and their implementation.

The concept of PTGs (Primitive Tribal Groups), their distribution, special programmes for their development. Role of N.G.O.s in tribal development.


Role of anthropology in tribal and rural development.


Contributions of anthropology to the understanding of regionalism, communalism, and ethnic and political movements.

How to Prepare Anthropology Optional Syllabus For UPSC

Anthropology is one of the easier optional subjects for the UPSC Main Examination. Hence, it requires a little less effort than others. However, one should develop a crystal clear conceptual understanding in order to write effective answers. Let’s look at how to prepare Anthropology optional syllabus for UPSC: 

#1 Ace the basic concepts of anthropology

If you are new to the subject, your first aim should be to develop concept clarity. Always remember that towards the end, it is the conceptual clarity that will matter. You’ll be able to attempt answers in Mains or during the interview only if you’ve mastered all the concepts of the syllabus. Hence, do not focus on completing the syllabus but on developing conceptual clarity. Ember and Ember is the best book for beginners.

#2 Make Comprehensive notes

If you are making handwritten notes, make sure they are comprehensive in terms of syllabus coverage yet extremely crisp when it comes to noting important points. Make sure you leave some space after each topic to add from other resources. This will allow you to have great revision material.

#3 Practice diagrams and labelling

Since there are a lot of diagrams in Anthropology, make sure your practice diagram making and labelling as much as possible. It will ensure a neat diagram while mains answer writing. Incorporate as many diagrams and flow charts as you can. It will give an extra edge.

#4 Practice Answer writing with proper facts

While practising, always ensure you add the names of anthropologists and quote what they have said in their work. You must also add 2-3 other names in order to fetch extra marks.

#5 Revision is the key

Keep revising your notes for maximum retention of the content of the syllabus. It is extremely important for a descriptive paper. In order to effectively revise, either make comprehensive notes or make use of digital resources for note-making.

Booklist for Anthropology Optional for UPSC

Here is the recommended booklist for Anthropology Optional for UPSC:





  1. Physical Anthropology – P Nath

  2. Anthropology Simplified – Vivek Bhasme (very good source for diagrams and answer structuring)

  3. Anthropology – Ember and Ember


  1. Indian Anthropology -Nadeem Hasnain

  2. Tribal India – Nadeem Hasnain

  3. Anthropology Simplified– Vivek Bhasme

  4. The Tribal Culture of India – LP Vidyarthi

  5. Xaxa Report

  6. January 2014 edition of Yojana- Tribal and Marginalized Communities

This is a brief overview of Anthropology optional syllabus for UPSC. We also covered preparation strategy for Anthropology optional as well as booklist to be followed for both Paper-I and Paper-II. 

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