Measurements of the living human are made using well-defined anatomical landmarks. Somatoscopy is useful to compare different populations, designing aircraft, spaceships, furniture, and uniforms for defense and paramilitary personnel; assessing nutritional status; studying the effect of interventions; developing non-invasive markers for diagnosis; formulating policy and; understanding the micro-evolutionary process as they are reflected in genetic and morphological traits in human populations.

Variations in human body dimensions are hypothesized to be due to the interaction of the environment with biological, nutritional, economic, and cultural factors.

Somatoscopy is one of the qualitative methods of anthropology that uses a descriptive characterization for the evaluation of various human body features to study the biological variation in human beings. Somatoscopic studies in India have shown that on average Indians have a medium height (163.06 cm), mesocephalic (Cephalic index: 76.06); mesorrhine (nasal index: 75.53), and mesoprosopic (facial index: 86.34).

Clinical applications include the reconstruction of deformed body parts and the identification of abnormalities for example Edward‘s cleft lip/cleft palate syndrome. Morphological methods are useful to study the correlation between the structure and function of the human body. For studying the morphological traits among human populations, close-up photographs are taken and humans are classified.

Human beings can be classified into different groups based on somatotopic variables like body postures, upper and lower extremities with hand and foot, fingers, foot, toes, skin color, hair, head and face, eyes, nose, lips, etc.

Somatoscopic observations earlier were used to classify humans into races and to study variations among human populations. Somatoscopic observations are human traits that cannot be presented in numbers but can be described using standard charts and models developed by pioneers like Brown, Steindamm, Ackermann, Martin, Saller, Erhardt, Schultz, and Ziegelmayer.

Instruments Used in Somatoscopy

1. Anthropometer


This instrument consists of four calibrated segments. The first segment is called Rod Compass. All segments when combined show a scale of 200cm. It has two sleeves i.e. upper fixed sleeve and a movable sleeve. Cross bars are inserted through the sleeves and the measurements are made.

2. Sliding Caliper

Sliding Caliper
Sliding Caliper

The slider caliper is used for measuring breadths of short distances. The fixed and sliding arm have both sharp and blunted ends. The sharp ends and blunted are for measurements on a skeleton and a living human being, respectively.

3. Spreading Caliper

Spreading Caliper
Spreading Caliper

This instrument is available in two sizes i.e., 25 cm and 60 cm. The spreading calipers are made with blunt or rounded ends and sharp or pointed ends. The spreading caliper with rounded or blunted ends is used to make measurements of living human beings. 

4. Skinfold Caliper

Skinfold Caliper
Skinfold Caliper

The caliper is used for measuring the thickness of skin fold at various sites of the body and provides information about the amount of subcutaneous fat at each measurable site.

Somatoscopic Parameters

  1. Skin Colour: To study the skin color of human subjects, the observable body parts are the forehead, cheeks, chest, abdomen above the navel, shoulder blades, axis of the upper arm, inner side of the upper arm, palm, and inner side of thigh and sole. Human skin color differs from dark in Africans to very light or weight in Celtics. Various factors influence skin color such as melanin, hemoglobin, the level of blood oxygenation, chromophores, oils, soaps, the presence of wrinkles, larger growth of hair, disease, malnutrition, and change in climate have been shown to affect skin color.
  2. Hair: Form, color, texture, quantity, and presence of whorls in hair can be used to classify human subjects. The body parts where hair can be observed include hair on the head, beard, genitals, eyelashes, eye-brow ridges, and face.
  3. Head and Face: Human beings can be classified into different somatoscopic groups based on vertex, occiput, total face, and forehead features in the head and face:
  • Vertex

(a) Curve: Flat or Slight or Medium or Well-arched
(b) Shape: Ovoid or Pentagonoid or Elliptical or Sphenoid

  • Occiput

(a) Projection: Flat or Moderate bulging or Strong bulging
(b) Shape: Barrel or Gable shape

  • Total Face

(a) Height: Long or Medium or Short
(b) Diameter: Narrow or Medium or Broad or Very Broad

  • Eyes

Human beings can be classified based on the eye-opening axis, direction, and folds of the eye.

(a) Eye Opening Axis: Horizontal or Slanting or Oblique
(b) Direction: Outwards or Inwards
(c) Eye folds: Slight or Heavy or Deckfalte or Mongoloid or Epicanthous

  • Nose

There are seven observable variables in nose structure such as nasal root, nasal bridge, the tip of the nose, nasal wings or alae, nasal septum, nasal cavity, or surface of the nasal cavity.

  • Nasal Root Upper and Lower Extremities

(a) Height above the Inner Angle of the Eye: High or Medium or Low
(b) Depth from Glabella: High or Medium or Deep
(c) Breadth: Broad or Medium Broad or Narrow
(d) Shape: Quite Flat or Flat or Medium or High or Very High.

  • Upper and Lower Extremities with Hand and Foot

a) Width: Narrow, Medium, or Fat.
b) Symmetry: Symmetrical, or Asymmetrical.
c) Defects: Any muscular defect on the elbow or knee. The left hand should be checked as it is less affected by the environment.

Forensic Applications of Somatoscopy

  • Somatoscopy is used in forensic anthropology to evaluate the different body measurements of the deceased.
  • Somatoscopy is helpful in determining the stature of the deceased
  • It is applicable to determine the race and sex of the deceased
  • If only skeletal remains or dismembered body parts are found at the crime scene then somatoscopy is helpful in establishing the identity of the deceased.


Somatoscopy is an anthropometric method that uses different body measurements to establish the identity of an individual, ethnic group, and population. There are various instruments used in the somatoscopic method to measure different body parts and estimate the identity or ethnicity of an individual.

In forensics, somatoscopy is identified as a part of forensic anthropology which helps in determining the stature, sex, and race of the deceased.

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