Morphometrics/Kinanthropometry

I chose to explore the website of the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK), that is the study of the measurement and composition of the human body. In our lecture it was referred to as “Morphometrics” This subfield of biological anthropology has a troubled history measurements of kinanthropometry have been used in the past to make the case for racism, eugenics and discrimination. In modern times Kinanthropometry is used to track nutritional status and check for malnourishment, to track athletes body composition for performance sports and to compare health and physical capability of human populations.

I think Morphometrics/Kinanthropometry contributes most to the cultural, archeological and biological/physical themes of anthropology. It is easiest to see morphometrics as it relates to culture and especially race. In a long quest to quantify different species of humans many people from different parts of the world were measured on their phenotypic traits. This large scale gathering of information ultimately backfired and provided the evidence that is now used to prove that there is only one human race expressing a fantastic variety of phenotypes. Yet even today we live in a highly racialized society where many people self-identify on racial lines that have no scientific or genetic validity, only a cultural one. I find it most amusing that the spirit of scientific research prevailed and saved this branch of anthropology from becoming a pseudo-science tool for racists.

The origins of morphometrics had more to do with the scientific inquiry of the archaeological branch of anthropology. Finding the bones of ancient people would naturally make any scientist want to know right away, were they taller? Shorter? Different shaped than people are now and if so why? Gathering and quantifying data on people who have passed on is a very good use of morphometrics as it draws comparisons that hopefully lead to theories about where we came from both culturally and physically.

The modern uses of morphometrics which has apparently been rebranded as kinanthropetry is all about the biological and physical side of anthropology. It focuses on athletes or the manourished which are subsets within populations all over the world. As we saw in the lecture height (and also growth-rate tracked by height) is a major determinate of malnourishment in any population. Keeping long running data on these markers of starvation will allow other scientists to know if their interventions to get food to the needy have been effective and on what scale or if they need to change their approach. The tracking of athletic development and performance may seem to have less relevance but I think given the link we listened to on humans evolving to reproduce not to be healthy, this study is also of great scientific interest. I think measuring clear determinates of health and performance in athletes is paving the way for more people to achieve higher levels of health by following the example of athletes while only having to adopt the most effective of their lifestyle choices and not spend all day training and competing at the highest level.
Before I saw the ISAK website I thought morphometrics was a dead arm of anthropology, left by the wayside because the needs of modern science had outlived its methods, and yet after reading about it, it is easy to see that kinanthropometry is a vital and necessary subset of anthropology that continues to be of great value scientifically to the poorest among us, to the most elite in many societies, and to the continued study of our shared past, ancestors and related species.

4 thoughts on “Morphometrics/Kinanthropometry

  1. Hey Diana,
    Neat choice in organizations, I think this is the subfield people (or at least me) knows fewer about! So thanks for writing about it, because now I know a little more about the specific studies it’s involved in. I don’t know if your familiar with the studies in the past where scientists / anthropologist thought the shape of your head dictated certain things like intelligence and characteristics. I believe it’s known as phrenology and it got quite a bad rap in the past, like you were saying about the troubled history.
    I would agree with you completely about how this subfield contributes most to the cultural, archaeological and biological themes of anthropology. But you did a great job defending your opinion on that too.
    Overall I thought it was an awesome entry and taught me a good deal about the subfield I knew least about! And I can now see how it can provide a great deal of useful information, like your examples about athletes and malnutrition studies.
    Cassie Larrivee

  2. Hello Diana
    Thank you for your insightful post!
    I found this entry to be especially interesting due to the fact that I, too, thought that morphometrics was a “dead arm” of anthropology. However, after reading this and going to the website, I am now convinced that it is one of my favorite (if not my only) subcategories of anthropology.
    Many of my classes have centered around the idea of race and the fact that it is a social construct. I also enjoy how this form of anthropology in the past has been used to instill racism, but now proves that there is no biological categories of human race, but rather a continuous variation (as discussed in the lecture). Score one for irony.
    Not only does kinanthropology provide insight on situations like this though, but, as you said, it can also provide crucial information on malnourishment, athletic performance, and a myriad of other topics.
    Thank you again for your marvelous post.
    -Summer Ort

  3. Hi Diana!
    As I mentioned in my blog which focuses on forensic anthropology, anthropologists in this field tend to shy away from race and instead focus on ancestry. Using ancestry, they place people into three broad demographics in order to identify the skeletal remains of said person. The three demographics are European, Asian, and African. Based on bone structure, scientists believe they can narrow down the identity of the skeleton and thus create a profile for the person.

    In addition to this, I am curious to know if forensic anthropologists work alongside anthropologists in the field of kinanthropetry to determine the health of the skeletal remains of a person; or if they are able to tell the person’s stage of health at all at the time of their death? I don’t recall seeing anything specifically on the ABFA’s website, specifically. However, great post, especially in regards to culture and racism!

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