Why Human Societies Still Use Arms, Legs, and Other Body Parts to Measure Objects

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Body-based measurements may have survived because they are convenient and have ergonomic advantages over standardized units. From the report: Cognitive scientist Lupe Karonen, who studies cultural evolution at the University of Helsinki, said standardized units are often held to be superior to informal body measurements, but standardization has taken root in many societies. He points out that people continue to use their bodies in this way. To investigate how prevalent such practices have become in human history, Carlonen et al. I looked for descriptions of body-based units of measurement in a database called This database is the result of an international non-profit organization that has been collecting and managing ethnographic and anthropological literature since the 1950s.

The research team found that these systems are used in every culture studied, especially in the construction of clothing and technology. For example, in the early 1900s, the Karelians, an indigenous people of Northern Europe, traditionally designed their skis to be one fathom plus six handspans long. In the late 1800s, the Yupik tribe of the Alaskan coast records that they built a kayak with a length of 2.5 interrogations, plus a cockpit as long as a clenched arm. The team then examined a subsample of 99 cultures that developed relatively independently of each other, according to benchmarks widely used in anthropology. Fathoms, hand spans, and cubits were the most common body-based measurements, each occurring in about 40% of these cultures. The authors argue that it is possible that such units were developed and incorporated in various societies because they were particularly convenient for engaging in important daily tasks such as measuring clothes, designing tools and weapons, and building ships and structures. claims to be of high quality.

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