views updated May 09 2018

anthropometry According to James Tanner, formerly Professor of Child Health at the University of London, ‘anthropometry was born not of medicine or science, but of the arts, impregnated by the spirit of Pythagorean philosophy. Painters and sculptors needed instruction about the relative proportions of legs and trunk, shoulders and hips, eyes and forehead, so that they could more easily go about what we might nowadays consider the mundane occupation of making life-like images’. The earliest recorded attempt in the West to study the development of the human form for medical or scientific purposes appears to have been made by the German physician, Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623–88), as part of an enquiry into the relationship between body proportions and the incidence of disease. During the nineteenth century, the term ‘anthropometry’ was promoted and popularized by such writers as Adolphe Quetelet (1796–1874), Charles Roberts (d. 1901), and Paul Topinard (1830–1911). Topinard defined the study of anthropometry as the systematic measurement of the different parts of the human body in order to determine their respective proportions not only at different ages, but also ‘in the human races, so as to distinguish them and establish their relations to each other’ (quoted in Spencer 1997, p. 80).

As this brief history indicates, the origins of the science of anthropometry can be traced in a number of different ways. One of the earliest spurs to development in the modern era was the study of human growth, as indicated by the famous series of measurements conducted on his son by Count Philibert Guéneau de Montbeillard (1720–1785), and published by Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707–88) in the fourth Supplement to his Natural History (1777). The development of anthropometry was also influenced by the development of physical anthropology and the search for evidence of ‘racial’ variations. During the second half of the nineteenth century, several researchers, including the Austrian physician, Karl Scherzer (1821–1903), conducted investigations into the physical measurements of supposedly ‘primitive’ peoples, and the British anthropologist, John Beddoe (1826–1911), assembled information on the height, weight, and other characteristics of the different ‘races’ of the British Isles. The development of anthropometry was also closely bound up with research into the health and physical condition of people living under different social and economic conditions. Tanner quotes the French physician, Louis-René Villermé (1782–1863), as noting that
Human height becomes greater and growth takes place more rapidly, other things beings equal, in proportion as the country is richer, comfort more general, houses, clothes and nourishment better, and labour, fatigue and privation during infancy and youth less; in other words, the circumstances which accompany poverty delay the age at which complete stature is reached and stunt adult height.

Although it is important to recognize the scientific reasons for the growth of interest in anthropometry, one should also acknowledge the fact that many of the measurements made of human beings in the past were conducted for more immediate and, perhaps, less exalted reasons. With the exception of skeletal evidence, most of the information which we now possess about the heights of people in the more distant past has come from measurements made of soldiers at the time of recruitment. One of the reasons for measuring soldiers was to discover whether they met the Army's minimum height standards, but other groups, such as convicts, slaves, and indentured servants, were measured so that they could be identified more readily in the event of escape. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, increasing interest was being shown in the measurement of children. Some of the earliest measurements, such as those made by the British factory surgeons, were designed to establish whether the children were old enough to be employed; others were intended to establish the children's fitness for physical education.

The subject of anthropometry is of considerable interest to historians, not only because of its intellectual importance, but also because of the capacity of anthropometric measurements to shed new light on the health and well-being of past generations. In 1969, the French historian, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (b. 1929), showed that there was a close relationship between the average height of soldiers who were recruited by the French army in 1868, and their level of literacy. This work provided the initial stepping-stone for the development of a new field of historical enquiry, known as anthropometric history, in both Europe and the US. Some of the leading examples of this new field include Robert Fogel's work on the average heights of native-born white males in the US; Richard Steckel's investigations into the heights of American slaves; Roderick Floud, Kenneth Wachter, and Annabel Gregory's examination of the heights of British soldiers; and John Komlos' study of the heights of Austro-Hungarian soldiers under the Hapsburg monarchy.

The investigations conducted by historians, physical anthropologists, human biologists, and others have generated a vast amount of data on the history of human height, weight, and body proportions over the course of the last two centuries. It is now apparent that the average height of human beings in most parts of the world is significantly greater than that of their forebears 100–200 years ago. The extent of these changes is a further indication of the overwhelming importance of social and economic factors in determining average height, and the relatively minor role played by ‘racial’ differences. At the same time, it is also clear that some populations have experienced greater increases in height than others, and that there are still substantial variations in the heights of people living on different parts of the globe. The persistence of these variations highlights the need for further improvements in standards of diet and sanitation in order to ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve their full growth potential in the future.

Anthropometry in the twentieth century included estimation of the ration of fat to lean body mass — important in the study of energy balance and obesity — by measurement of body density or skinfold thicknesses, and more recently by the application of technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging and radioisotope studies.

Bernard Harris


Eveleth, P. B. and and Tanner, J. M. (1990). Worldwide variation in human growth. Cambridge University Press.
Harris, B. (1994). Health, height and history: an overview of recent developments in anthropometric history. Social History of Medicine, 7, 297–320.
Spencer, F. ed. (1997). History of physical anthropology. Garland, New York and London.
Tanner, J. M. (1981). A history of the study of human growth. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

See also anthropology; energy balance; obesity; phrenology.


views updated Jun 11 2018


The measurement of the human body, its component parts and relative dimensions, such as body weight, height, length of limbic bones, pelvic bones, skull , etc., is known as anthropometry. The word anthropometry comes from the Greek anthropos, meaning man, plus the word metron, meaning measure. Anthropometry is a scientific tool presently used in several fields including medicine , anthropology , archeology, and forensic science to study and compare relative body proportions among human groups and between genders. For instance, by comparing relative body and bone proportions between two groups of children of the same age, under normal and abnormal conditions, physicians can determine the impact of malnourishment upon the physical development during childhood. Anthropologists compare cranial and body proportions to identify sets of characteristics common to individuals of a given race and the morphological differences among races. Paleontologists are able to tell historical periods using anthropometrysuch as whether a set of skeletal remains pertains to a Neanderthal (man, woman, or child) or to a Homo Sapien.

Anthropology is the discipline that has developed anthropometrical comparison studies into a set of reliable standardized data and mathematical formulae, which are now useful for both modern forensic science and archeology. Presently, anthropometry is a well-established forensic technique, which uses anthropological databanks to calculate computational ratios of specific bones and skull features associated with differences between genders and with specific races. For instance, the size and conformation of pelvic bones and skull structures can indicate gender; the length of the long bones of limbs allows the estimation of height. The metric proportions of skull features, given by the size, shape, and relative position of structural bones such as the temporal bones and the mastoid process, superciliary ridge, supraorbital foramen, zygomatic bone, nasal bone, mandible, ocular orbits, etc., may indicate race (Caucasian, Asian, African, or Native American), age (fetus, newborn, child, young adult, etc.), and gender.

When a complete skeleton is available, the level of reliability in establishing sex, age, and race through anthropometrics is almost 100%. Pelvic bones alone offer a 95% reliability, while pelvic bones plus the skull result in an accurate estimation 98% of the time. Sex can be determined by studying the size and shape of some skull bones and by comparing them with the well-established dimorphisms (differences in shape) between human male and female skulls. For instance, the mastoid process, a conic protuberance forming the posterior part of the right and left temporal bones, is large enough in males for the skull to rest on it on the surface of a table. In the female skull, however, the mastoid process will tilt backward to rest on the occipital area or other portions of the skull. This happens because the mastoid process in the female skull is not large enough to keep it in a balanced position on a flat surface. Gender dimorphisms are also found in many other human bones.

Forensic anthropometry may also indicate the nutritional status of an individual, along with existing degenerative diseases or infections at the time of death. Such information may be combined with other kind of circumstantial and forensic data to identify human remains and to determine the cause of death .

Anthropometry was not always considered a true science, however, because it initially gave rise to several political and social pseudo-scientific assumptions, and even to some poorly based medical theories, especially during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cesare Lombroso (18361908), an Italian physician, published a series of essays, "The Criminal Man" (1875), "Algometrics of the Sane and the Alienated Man" (1878), "The Delinquent Man" (1897), and, in 1900, "The Crime, Causes and Remedies," stating that two types of criminal temperaments existed, the criminoid and the natural-born criminal. Lombroso claimed that some specific anthropometrical body proportions were associated with each type of criminal. According to Lombroso, the natural-born criminal, whose urge to commit crimes was beyond his own will due to a hereditary psychological illness and compulsion, had prominent, long jaws and low eyebrows. The criminoid type of criminal, such as pickpockets and petty thieves, had long narrow fingers and scanty beards. Through facial, skull, and hand anthropometrics, Lombrose developed what came to be known as these Lombrosian Types.

Paul Broca (18241880), a French surgeon interested in brain morphology, published his anthropometrical studies in his essays "General Instructions for the Anthropological Investigation" and "Craniological and Craniometrical Instructions." Broca declared that women should be denied higher education because their cranial volume was smaller than a man's. According to Broca, the reduced cranial volume of women indicated that human females were less intelligent than males.

Another example of pseudo-scientific use of anthropometrics involved claims by Nazi scientists during World War II (19391945) that they could establish racial profiles of pure Aryan populations, along with profiles of non-Aryans that they considered inferior, on the basis of measurements of skull and facial proportions and other body characteristics.

These unfounded misuses of anthropometrics gave way to more sound scientific approaches after 1950. Besides forensics, anthropometrics are now also used in industry for sizing clothing, machines, and other products to fit the people who use them.

see also Anthropology; Osteology and skeletal radiology; Pathology; Pseudoscience and forensics; Sex determination; Sexual dimorphism.

Count Karl Robert Nesselrode

views updated May 18 2018

Count Karl Robert Nesselrode

The Russian diplomat Count Karl Robert Nesselrode (1780-1862) served as minister of foreign affairs from 1814 to 1856.

Karl Robert Nesselrode was born on Dec. 14, 1780, in Lisbon, Portugal, where his father was Russian ambassador. Young Karl received his education in Berlin, Germany. At the age of 16 he entered the Russian navy, where he became naval aide-de-camp to Paul I. He then went into the army, received another court appointment, and at last entered the diplomatic service.

Count Nesselrode served at Russian embassies in The Hague and Berlin. In 1806 he went on a mission to southern Germany. His assignment was to report on French troops to Alexander I, who was turning away from Napoleon in his foreign policy. Nesselrode assisted Alexander I at the Peace of Tilsit in 1811, which, according to Mikhail Speranski, contained practically all the ingredients for a future war between Russia and France.

On June 24, 1812, the French army, without a declaration of war, crossed the Neman River and entered Russian territory. During the Franco-Russian War, Nesselrode served as diplomatic secretary to generals Mikhail Kamenski, Friedrich von Buxhowden, and Levin August Bennigsen. During the negotiations at the Congress of Vienna, Nesselrode succeeded Count N. P. Rumiantsev in August 1814 as Russian minister of foreign affairs.

Russia's design on Poland met with opposition from other powers, especially England and Austria. Nesselrode played a subordinate role and was seldom consulted by Alexander I on major issues. By the end of 1814, the discussions of the Polish and Saxon problems having reached an impasse, England and Austria made preparations for war against Russia. A compromise, however, averted another war. By the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna (June 1816), the greater part of the former duchy of Warsaw was given to Russia.

In November 1831 Mohammed Ali, Pasha of Egypt, revolted against Sultan Mahmud II, and by the following year Ibrahim Pasha, commander of the insurgent army, had conquered Syria and was threatening Constantinople. The Sultan asked the Western powers for help but met with indifference. Russia, however, was eager to provide Turkey with military assistance because the Turko-Egyptian War offered a golden opportunity for the consolidation of Russia's hold over Turkey. Nicholas I and Nesselrode, moreover, saw in Mehemet Ali a rebel against his suzerain (Mahmud) and a puppet in the hands of revolutionary France. Sultan Mahmud accepted Russia's military aid, which alarmed France and England. Peace was achieved between Mohammed Ali and Mahmud at the Convention of Kintayah, negotiated in April and May 1833.

Several months later Russia signed the Treaty of Unkiar Skellesi with Turkey on July 8, 1833. The importance of the treaty was the provision by which the two monarchs "promise to come to agreement without reserve on all matters concerning their respective tranquility and safety and for this purpose, mutually to lend each other material aid and most effective assistance." Nesselrode then wrote that "our intervention in the affairs of Turkey has acquired a basis of legality."

Nesselrode tried unsuccessfully to avert the Crimean War (1853-1856). After he concluded the Treaty of Paris, he retired as foreign minister but continued as chancellor, a post he had held since 1844. He died on March 23, 1862, in St. Petersburg.

Further Reading

For background on Count Nesselrode see Andrei Lobanov-Rostovsky, Russia and Europe, 1789-1825 (1947) and Russia and Europe, 1825-1878 (1954); A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918 (1954); Barbara Jelavich, A Century of Russian Foreign Policy, 1814-1914 (1964); and Patricia Kennedy Grimsted, The Foreign Ministers of Alexander I (1969). □