Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Anthropometry literally means "measurement of humans." In physical anthropology it refers to one aspect of human variation: The different body sizes and proportions of individuals belonging to different populations. In modern American usage, at least, it specifically refers to measurement of living individuals, not the bones of deceased individuals (osteometry or craniometry).
The first main practical use of anthropometrics was in criminalistics, in a system of identifying criminals designed by Alphonse Bertillon in 1883. Francis Galton was a key contributor as well, and it was in showing the redundancy of Bertillon's measurements that he developed the statistical concept of correlation. Bertillon's system originally measured variables he thought were independent—such as forearm length and leg length—but Galton had realized were both the result of a single causal variable (in this case, stature).
Bertillon's goal was to use anthropometry as a way of identifying recidivists—what we would today call "repeat-offense" criminals. Previously, police could only record general descriptions and names, and criminals were fond of using alternative identities. As such, it was a difficult job to identify whether or not certain individuals arrested were "first offenders" or life-long criminals. Photography of criminals had become commonplace but it had proven ungainly, as there was no coherent way to arrange visually the many thousands of photographs in a fashion which would allow easy use (an officer would have to sort through them all with the hope of finding one). Bertillon's hope was that through the use of measurements of the body, all information about the individual criminal could be reduced to a set of identifying numbers which could be entered into a large filing system. Bertillon also invisioned the system as being organized in such a way that even if the number of measurements was limited the system could drastically reduce the number of potential matches, through an easy system of body parts and characteristics being labeled as "small", "medium", or "large". For example, if the length of the arm was measured and judged to be within the "medium" range, and the size of the foot was known, this would drastically reduce the number of potential records to compare against. With more measurements of hopefully independent variables, a more precise identification could be achieved, which could then be matched against photographic evidence. Certain aspects of this philosophy would also go into Galton's development of fingerprint identification as well.
During the early 20th century, anthropometry was used extensively by anthropologists in the United States and Europe. One of its primary uses became the attempted differentiation between supposed differences in the races of man, and it was often employed to show ways in which races were supposedly inferior to others. The wide application of intelligence testing also became incorporated into a general anthropometric approach, and many forms of anthropometry were used for the advocacy of eugenics policies. During the 1920s and 1930s, though, members of the school of cultural anthropology of Franz Boas also began to use anthropometric approachs to discredit the concept of fixed biological race. Anthropometric approaches to these types of problems became abandoned in the years after the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, who also famously relied on anthropometric measurements to distinguish "Aryans" from Jews. The eugenicist school of physical anthropology generally went into decline during the 1940s.
Anthropometric studies are today conducted for numerous different purposes. Academic anthropologists investigate the evolutionary significance of differences in body proportion between populations whose ancestors lived in different environmental settings. Human populations exhibit similar climatic variation patterns to other large-bodied mammals, following Bergmann's rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to be larger than ones in warm climates, and Allen's Rule, which states that individuals in cold climates will tend to have shorter, stubbier limbs than those in warm climates. On a microevolutionary level, anthropologists use anthropometric variation to reconstruct small-scale population history. For instance, John Relethford's studies of early twentieth-century anthropometric data from Ireland show that the geographical patterning of body proportions still exhibits traces of the invasions by the English and Norse centuries ago. Anthropometry may also be used to distinguish body types such as endomorphic and mesomorphic.
Outside academia, scientists working for private companies and government agencies conduct anthropometric studies to determine what range of sizes clothing and other items need to be manufactured in.
In art Yves Klein termed anthropometries his performance paintings where he covered nude women with paint, and used their bodies as paintbrushes.
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