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anthropometry (ănthrəpŏmˈətrē), technique of measuring the human body in terms of dimensions, proportions, and ratios such as those provided by the cephalic index. Once the standard approach to racial classification and comparing humans to other primates, the technique is now used for deciding the range of clothing sizes to be manufactured and determining the nutritional status of people.


See A. Montagu, A Handbook of Anthropometry (1960); R. McCammon, Human Growth and Development (1970).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a combination of methodological procedures in anthropological research, consisting of the measurement and description (anthroposcopy) of the entire human body and its individual parts, thereby yielding a quantitative index of their variability.

The comprehensive nature of anthropometric research permits the evaluation and comparison of feature variability among different racial, age, professional, and sexual groups based on measurements from a large number of individuals. The origin of anthropometry as a scientific method dates to the 19th century and is associated with the well-known French anthropologist P. Broca. Significant contributions to its further development were made by foreign (R. Martin and others) and Soviet anthropologists (V. V. Bunak, A. I. Iarkho, and others). Features are distinguished by measurements and by description. The former are determined with the aid of anthropological instruments (anthropometers, spreading and sliding calipers, tapes, and so forth). A measurement is taken between precisely fixed anthropometric points which represent parts of the external body structure that are relatively

easily accessible for observation. Total dimensions of the body (body length, mass, and chest circumference) and partial dimensions (width of the foot, length of the wrist, and so forth) are selected. Determination of descriptive features (shapes of body parts, facial features, skin pigmentation, hair and eye coloring, hair structure, and so forth) is done with the aid of scales, molds, and schematic drawings constructed on the basis of precisely delimited criteria. For example, V. V. Bunak’s eye-color scale allows for 12 variations of iris pigmentation, and the Fisher-Sailer hair-color scale differentiates 40 shades. The methods of anthropological photography find wide application in anthropometry.

There is a characteristic tendency in anthropometry to replace descriptive features with more precise measurements and to introduce modern methods of analysis (X rays, ultrasonics, and labeled compounds). The selection of anthropometric methods, points, and features is dictated by the aims of the specific anthropological study. In race studies and ethnic anthropology the head, face, cranium, and body length are measured, and color scales are used for the eyes, skin, hair, and so forth, in order to differentiate racial types. In human morphology, and particularly in the study of physical development, the characteristics of bulk, body length (growth), and other measures of length, diameter, and circumference are taken into consideration. On the basis of these measurements, scales are constructed that enable one to determine the degree of physical development in individuals and in different population groups.

The data gathered in the process of an anthropometric investigation are subject to statistical variation (biometric) analysis and are presented in the form of tables, graphs, and diagrams. The standardization of articles for mass production (for example, clothing and footwear) and the efficient layout of work spaces are also based on anthropometric data. In addition, anthropometric data are used in criminal law for the description and identification of criminals.


Bunak, V. V. Antropometriia: Prakticheskii kurs. Moscow, 1941.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Description of the physical variation in humankind by measurement; a basic technique of physical anthropology.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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