1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anthropometry
ANTHROPOMETRY (Gr. ἄνθρωπος, man, and μέτρον, measure), the name given by the French savant, Alphonse Bertillon (b. 1853), to a system of identification (q.v.) depending on the unchanging character of certain measurements of parts of the human frame. He found by patient inquiry that several physical features and the dimensions of certain bones or bony structures in the body remain practically constant during adult life. He concluded from this that when these measurements were made and recorded systematically every single individual would be found to be perfectly distinguishable from others. The system was soon adapted to police methods, as the immense value of being able to fix a person’s identity was fully realized, both in preventing false personation and in bringing home to any one charged with an offence his responsibility for previous wrongdoing. “Bertillonage,” as it was called, became widely popular, and after its introduction into France in 1883, where it was soon credited with highly gratifying results, was applied to the administration of justice in most civilized countries. England followed tardily, and it was not until 1894 that an investigation of the methods used and results obtained was made by a special committee sent to Paris for the purpose. It reported favourably, especially on the use of the measurements for primary classification, but recommended also the adoption in part of a system of “finger prints” as suggested by Francis Galton, and already practised in Bengal.
M. Bertillon selected the following five measurements as the basis of his system: (1) head length; (2) head breadth; (3) length of middle finger; (4) of left foot, and (5) of cubit or forearm from the elbow to the extremity of the middle finger. Each principal heading was further subdivided into three classes of “small,” “medium” and “large,” and as an increased guarantee height, length of little finger, and the colour of the eye were also recorded. From this great mass of details, soon represented in Paris by the collection of some 100,000 cards, it was possible, proceeding by exhaustion, to sift and sort down the cards till a small bundle of half a dozen produced the combined facts of the measurements of the individual last sought. The whole of the information is easily contained in one cabinet of very ordinary dimensions, and most ingeniously contrived so as to make the most of the space and facilitate the search. The whole of the record is independent of names, and the final identification is by means of the photograph which lies with the individual’s card of measurements.
Anthropometry, however, gradually fell into disfavour, and it has been generally supplanted by the superior system of finger prints (q.v.). Bertillonage exhibited certain defects which were first brought to light in Bengal. The objections raised were (1) the costliness of the instruments employed and their liability to get out of order; (2) the need for specially instructed measurers, men of superior education; (3) the errors that frequently crept in when carrying out the processes and were all but irremediable. Measures inaccurately taken, or wrongly read off, could seldom, if ever, be corrected, and these persistent errors defeated all chance of successful search. The process was slow, as it was necessary to repeat it three times so as to arrive at a mean result. In Bengal measurements were already abandoned by 1897, when the finger print system was adopted throughout British India. Three years later England followed suit; and as the result of a fresh inquiry ordered by the Home Office, finger prints were alone relied upon for identification.