UPSC Anthropology Optional Syllabus and Strategy

“Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities.” – Alfred L.Kroeber

Anthropology as an optional subject is popular among IAS Exam aspirants because it is considered scoring and also, its syllabus is relatively less now after a few portions were omitted. It is also helpful for science students as it is a perfect combination of science and social science. It has certain elements of biology and anatomy. It also includes social topics in it. As an administrator, some knowledge of anthropology is also helpful.

IN UPSC Mains Exam;

  • There are 2 optional papers, as you would be aware.
  • Optional Paper 1 & Optional Paper 2
  • Both papers are 250 marks making a total of 500 marks.

Get detailed UPSC Exam Pattern in the linked article.

Get the detailed syllabus of the subjects mentioned in the UPSC Notification from the linked article.

Syllabus of Anthropology in UPSC Mains:

Anthropology UPSC Syllabus (Short)

Paper I

  1. Anthropology – Meaning, etc.
  2. Relationship with other disciplines
  3. Branches of Anthropology
  4. Human Evolution
  5. Primates
  6. Phylogenetic status, hominids, neanderthal man, homo sapiens etc.
  7. Biological basis of life – cell, DNA, Mutation
  8. Prehistoric Archaeology
  9. Culture
  10. Society, Marriage, Family, Kinship
  11. Economic organization
  12. Political organization and Social Control
  13. Religion
  14. Anthropological theories
  15. Culture, language and communication
  16. Research methods
  17. Human Genetics
  18. Race, racism
  19. Epidemiological Anthropology
  20. Human growth and development, fertility
  21. Demographic theories
  22. Applications of Anthropology


  1. Evolution of the Indian Culture and Civilization
  2. Demographic profile of India
  3. Traditional Indian social system, caste, etc.
  4. Emergence and growth of anthropology in India
  5. Indian Village, Linguistic and religious minorities, socio-cultural change in Indian society
  6. Tribals
  7. Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes
Get the detailed syllabus of Anthropology for UPSC in the linked article.

UPSC Anthropology Syllabus:-Download PDF Here

Reasons to Select Anthropology as an Optional

  • If you have an anthropology background.
  • Students with any other science background can also opt for this subject as the elements of science in anthropology can make it easier to grasp.
  • If you have a genuine interest in this subject, you should definitely go for this optional.
  • This subject contains both biological and social topics. The biology-related topics like in physical anthropology are scoring as they are not subjective.
  • A good understanding of anthropology also helps you in your Ethics and Essay paper.
  • A lot of good study material is also easily available for the anthropology in IAS exam.

How to prepare for IAS Anthropology Optionals – Tips & Strategy

  • Understand the basics of each topic. They will help you correlate topics which is very important in anthropology.
  • Always correlate topics while studying and writing answers. You must try and develop interrelationships among the topics. Understand the commonality among concepts (for example, synthetic theory and race formation, though appears to be different are related concepts).
  • Understand theories in anthropology as this is essential for a good understanding of social anthropology concepts like marriage, family, kinship, political organisation, etc.
  • Always apply concepts to current issues affecting people; and which are in the news regularly. Tribal issues and concerns are very important. Link current problems and realities especially in the Indian context to theoretical concepts.
  • Practice diagrams for the physical anthropology part since they fetch more marks and also help explain concepts better.
  • Always make good notes while you prepare as it helps you remember more and enable better revision.
  • Always refer to the previous year question papers while you prepare so that you get a fair idea about the type of questions and the important topics to study.
Click here for the previous year anthropology IAS mains question papers.

How to write answers in Anthropology Optional Paper for UPSC?

  • Always present concepts and facts in a simple and lucid manner.
  • Don’t complicate things. Try to present solutions to problems.
  • Don’t be too theoretical. UPSC pattern change in 2015 implies that you need to write short, crisp answers. Questions require answers from 150 to 350 words, rather than long essay type answers. So you must include relevant points within the word count.
  • Aid your descriptions with diagrams for the physical anthropology section. For example, consider the following question asked in IAS mains anthropology optional paper I 2010:

Q) Why are Neanderthals called Premodern humans? The Upper of their coexistence with modern man. Discuss. (30)

In this question, if you give diagrams of skeletons and dentition’s, your answer will definitely have an edge over those without diagrams.

Even in non-physical anthropology, give flowcharts, cycles, graphs and pictures to enhance your answers. For example, consider the following question asked in IAS mains anthropology optional paper I 2010:

Q) Write short notes on the following in about 150 words each: 15×4=60

The problem of bonded labour among Indian tribes.

To answer this question, you can give flowcharts or a cycle showing the various causes of bonded labour among tribes in India (poverty, indebtedness, loss of shifting cultivation, land alienation, etc).

Another example from IAS mains anthropology optional paper I 2015:

Q) Write notes on the following in about 150 words each: 10×5=50

      Longitudinal method of studying growth.

You can enhance your answer by giving a graph showing the relation between height gain and age. Always be abreast of current events and write about them in your answers. This is especially relevant for social anthropology.

Consider the following question that was featured in the IAS mains anthropology optional paper II 2011:

Q)Write short notes on the following in about 150 words each: 15×4=60

     Left-wing extremism and tribal in India.

Here, you must answer giving importance to current events.

Include case studies in your answers to generic questions especially in Paper-II. A few topics for which case studies could be collected and quoted are:

  • Linguistic and religious minorities, Panchayati Raj, tribal topics, SC, ST & OBCs, ethnicity, and impact of major religions on tribal societies.
  • Give subheadings.
  • Try to answer all the questions from the physical anthropology section as they are most scoring.

Study Material for Anthropology Optional for IAS:

  1. Physical Anthropology – P. Nath
  2. Outlines of Physical Anthropology – B.M.Das
  3. An Introduction to Social Anthropology – Majumdar & Madan
  4. Indian anthropology – R.N.Sharma
  5. Indian Anthropology – Nadeem Hasnain (Good source of case studies)
  6. An Introduction to Social Anthropology – Makhan Jha
  7. Tribal India – Nadeem Hasnain
  8. Internet and Newspapers for current events.

Important Topics for Anthropology Optional:

  • Holism
  • Linguistic anthropology
  • Relevance of anthropology
  • Branches of anthropology, various dating techniques
  • Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Cultures
  • Neolithic revolution
  • Copper bronze age
  • Culture, civilization
  • Society
  • Marriage
  • Family
  • Language, culture and communication
  • Research methodology – genealogical method, observation, techniques of data interpretation, fieldwork significance in anthropology
  • Tribal topics

Trends in Previous Year Question Papers

Questions on law and justice: These have been regularly asked in UPSC anthropology papers in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1991, 1996 and 2014.

Example question from 2014 anthropology paper I:-
Q) Discuss the nature of Law and Justice in simple societies citing suitable examples. (20)

Example question from 1996 anthropology paper I:-
Q) Differentiate between centralized political systems and stateless political systems, and state how law and justice are administered in stateless societies. (200 words)

Questions on marriage: these have been asked in 1983, 1986, 1989, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Example question from 2014 anthropology paper I:-
Q) Define marriage and describe the various types of marriages in human societies. (15)

Example question from 2015 anthropology paper I:-
Q) How did Morgan explain the evolution of marriage, family and Socio-Political organization, and how did other evolutionists disagree with his explanation? (20)

Questions on family: these have been asked in 1984, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2015.

Example question from 1998 anthropology paper I:-
Q) Do you agree with the view that family is a ‘universal association? Critically examine the above statement. (200 words)

Questions on pre-history: 1983, 1984, 1985, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

Example question from 2007 anthropology paper II:-
Q) Write short notes on any three of the following in about 200 words each: 20×3=60

(a) Neolithic Culture

Example question from 2009 anthropology paper II:-
Q) Examine the contribution of Mesolithic culture to the rise of Neolithic culture. (10)

Questions on organic evolution: these have been asked in 1981, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 2002 and 2010.

Example question from 2002 anthropology paper I:-
Q) What is Organic Evolution? Explain the theories of evolution. (200 words)

Questions on race: These have been asked in 1988, 1991, 2011, 2013 and 2016.

Example question from 2016 anthropology paper I:-
Q) Explain the role of heredity and environment in the formation of races. (15)

Questions on tribal or rural development: These are very important and have been asked in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1992, 2005, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Example question from 2016 anthropology paper II:-
Q) Describe how various tribal development programs and plans have impacted the process of social transformation among tribes. (15)

Example questions from 2015 anthropology paper II:-
Q) Write short notes on the following in about 150 words each: 10×5=50

i. Relevance of tribal Panchsheel today

ii. Rights over resources and tribal unrest

Q) Discuss how constitutional provisions in India have built-in mechanisms for dealing with the problem of land alienation in tribal areas. (20)

Example questions from 2014 anthropology paper II:
Q) Write short notes on the following in about 150 words each: 10×5=50

i.Biogenetic variations of Indian tribes
ii. Social and economic marginalization of tribal people
iii. Forest policy and tribes 
iv. The concept of PTG
v. Impact of Christianity on tribes

Q) Discuss the impact of Globalization on the livelihood of the tribal populations. (20)

The Relevance of Anthropology in General Studies Paper-IV

Anthropology and ethics are very much related. Anthropology talks about culture and ethics is an important aspect of a culture or society. By giving information on the nature of humans, society and values, the study of anthropology helps in decision making when an ethical dilemma is faced. Other concepts in this subject that help you to make decisions in the ethics paper are holism, cultural relativism, functional equilibrium model and insider’s point of view.

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