The Post Graduate Department of Anthropology was established in 1958, started functioning in a borrowed government building near the Old Convent School, Bhubaneswar, under the stewardship of Late Professor Dr. A. Aiyappan and later, in 1962 was shifted to the Utkal University Campus, Vani Vihar. It occupied its present building in the campus as early as 1971, in the first phase of the growth of the University Campus. The Department started with the faculty, namely, Late Professor Dr. A. Aiyappan, Dr. N. Patnaik, Dr. P. D. P. Rao, and Dr. K. K. Das, and the student strength was 8, subsequently increased to 16 in 1964-65, to 24 in 1972-73 and to 32 in 1986-87. The Department witnessed a new phase of its growth with Professor Dr. L. K. Mahapatra as its Professor and Head in 1967.
From its inception, the Department began teaching Social Anthropology and Physical Anthropology as the two major specializations. The third major specialization, Prehistoric-Archaeology, got taught beginning with the academic session 1973. Teaching the fourth specialization, South-East Asia Culture Area Study, began in 1978. Population Anthropology and Development Anthropology, respectively, the fifth and the sixth specialization started with the academic session 1988. The Department took some trend setting and unique steps in developing anthropology in the country. It initiated interdisciplinary teaching in South-East Asian Studies as part of M.A./M.Sc. courses since 1978, in collaboration with the Departments of Geography and History. For the first time in the whole country, anthropology of South-East Asia got taught as regular courses. However, the interdisciplinary course had to be discontinued due to paucity of teachers having exposure and expertise in South-East-Asia studies.
Also, for the first time, in the country, teaching of two specialization courses on Development Anthropology and Population Anthropology at the University level was imparted to the students of Anthropology, thus encouraging the perspective of development and population studies in the state of Odisha. The faculty and the students specializing in Development Anthropology pursue their field researches in Tribal and Rural areas, mainly concentrating on five major problems of study: Environment and Development, Agriculture and Development, Education and Development, Health and Development, and Women and Development. The specialization on Population studies was discontinued since 2004 due to none recruitment of teachers having the specialization in population studies. In 1978, the Department was selected for Faculty Improvement Programme by the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi, as one of the three University Departments in the whole country. As many as 15 Under-Graduate College Teachers joined the Department as Teacher Fellows to pursue their doctoral research in the fields of Social Anthropology, Development Anthropology, Physical Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology under the guidance of the senior faculties. Very few Universities in India have facilities for so many specializations. The teachers of this Department have earned recognition and distinctions in both national and international levels for their contributions in various branches of anthropology. Ninety-six students have been awarded Ph. D. from this Department. Six Professors of this Department served as Sectional President of the Anthropological and Behavioural Sciences section of the Indian Science Congress in various years. Very few Departments in India have this distinction.
The faculty members of the Department are also members of various bodies in national and international levels as well as in the editorial board of a number of reputed journals. The Department was awarded the CSIR-Kalinga-Haldane Chair in Human Genetics. The Department had organized the Centenary Celebration of the internationally acclaimed scientist late J. B. S. Haldane in 1992. The Department had organized the Centenary Celebration of the First Odia Archaeologist Padmasri Paramananda Acharya in 1993.
This Department has the distinction of being one of the two Departments in the country to have been accorded the Centre of Advanced Study status by the University Grants Commission. At this moment, second phase of CAS (UGC-CAS-II) has been accorded to the Department. It has the distinction of being the first Anthropology Department in the country to have been awarded the ASHISS grant by the UGC. The Department was accorded Department of Special Assistance status (DSA Programme) by UGC for three successive phases from 1988 to 2007.
The Department has been regularly organizing national and international seminars/ conferences / workshops on various themes pertaining to different fields of anthropology. In 2015, under the auspices of Indian National Confederation of Academy of Anthropologists (INCAA), the Department had organized the Indian Anthropology Congress 2015 (12th INCAA Congress). In the same year, the Department co-organized an international seminar on Reviving Old Linkages and Exploring New Opportunities under the auspices of Kalinga-Lanka Foundation. It was involved in organization of an international conference on India & the Indian Ocean: Renewing the Maritime Trade & Civilisational Linkages, where Prof. Kishor K. Basa played a key role as the Secretary of the Reception Committee. The Department has initiated the Japanese Language Pilot Project w.e.f. academic session 2015-16 where research scholars and faculty members of Utkal University are imparted Japanese language training.