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History of Somatotyping


For an extensive review of the historical development of somatotyping, the reader is referred to Chapter 1, History of somatotyping, in Carter and Heath (1990). Somatotype methods are described and compared in Chapter 2. The following summarizes the contributions of Sheldon, Parnell Heath and Carter over the decades since 1940.

William H. Sheldon, PhD, MD. (1898-1977)

Photo from: Hartl, E.M., Monnelly, E.P. and Elderkin, R.D. (1982). "Physique and Delinquent Behaviour". New York: Academic Press.

William H. Sheldon

William H. Sheldon was educated in the USA in psychology and medicine during the 1920s and 1930s. His books were major contributions to the relationships between physique, psychology and delinquency. In 1940 he published, along with S.S. Stevens and W.B. Tucker, "The Varieties of Human Physique". They described and coined the word "somatotype" and names of the three components, "endomorphy", "mesomorphy" and "ectomorphy". The components were rated on 7-point scales. Sheldon claimed that the components were derived from embryonic layers and that the somatotype was permanent. The method of photoscopic ratings, aided by some indices derived from the photos, was based on 4,000 college men. This book was followed by "The Varieties of Temperament" in 1942, in collaboration with S.S. Stevens, and in 1949 by "The Varieties of Delinquent Youth" in collaboration with E.M. Hartl and E. McDermott. In 1954 he published, along with C.W. Dupertuis and E. McDermott, "Atlas of Men". The latter book in particular served as a reference work for somatotyping men and reflected Sheldon's determination to continue with the constitutional approach of permanence of the somatotype. A proposed companion book, Atlas of Women, was never published.

Sheldon's concept of the three components of physique rated on scales from 1-7 was a unique break from the traditional categorical placement of all physiques into only 2, 3 or 4 categories. The three-number rating provided for a wide variety of possible somatotypes. As long as he maintained that the somatotype was "permanent morphogenotype", there were persistent criticisms of the method. Human biologists and others saw greater utility in the somatotype as a morphophenotype - one that could change.

In response to criticisms of the somatotype method, Sheldon developed a "new" method called the Trunk Index method (Sheldon, 1961, 1965; Sheldon et al. 1969). This consisted of planimetry of trunk areas marked on somatotype photographs, along with tables of maximal and minimal weight and stature, and a table of the somatotype height weight ratio and trunk indices. This method did not answer the main criticisms of the original method and has not been widely used.

Richard W. Parnell, MA, DM, FRCP. (1911-1985)

Photo by Lindsay Carter in 1977.

Richard W. Parnell

Richard W. Parnell was educated in medicine in Oxford and London, England. His research into physique and behaviour began at a pilot Student Health Service at Oxford University in 1948. He measured aspects of physique and related it to behaviour, achievement and temperament. Parnell developed a method that utilized anthropometry to estimate the somatotype and this led to his M.4 deviation chart method. He made age-adjusted scales for ratings of Fat (F), Muscularity (M) and Linearity (L). His book, "Behaviour and Physique" (1958) reported on extensive investigations into many different aspects of behaviour, health, occupation and sport. Much later he developed further studies in the heritability of physiques, parental disharmonies, and family mental stress and breakdown. These studies resulted in his book, Family, Physique and Fortune (1984).

Parnell's insight and articulate writings, and innovative approaches to analysis and interpretation of results served as an inspiration to those who followed. His use of anthropometry renewed interest in somatotyping and paved the way for others, especially Heath and Carter whose first modifications were derived from Parnell's M.4 approach (Carter, 1987).

Barbara H. Heath Roll, BA, PhD (Hon), DHC. (1910-1998)

Photo by Fred Roll, 1993.

Barbara H. Heath Roll

Barbara Honeyman Heath Roll, physical anthropologist, one of the world's leading authorities on somatotyping, and a long time colleague of the late Margaret Mead, died on 19 June, 1998, at her home in Carmel, California, USA. She was 88 years-old. Barbara Heath Roll was known to many in the field of kinanthropometry as the co-author of the Heath and Carter somatotype method. Some knew her well, and others felt like they knew her through her contributions.

Barbara was a pioneer in somatotype studies having worked with the originator of the method, William H. Sheldon, from 1948-1953. As part of her work she took somatotype photographs of about 2,000 male and female students at universities in the USA. She established lasting friendships with many leading physical educators and medical doctors during the 1950s and 1960s. The physical educators impressed her with their openness and willingness to consider new ideas. Later, she acted as a consultant for several large growth studies conducted by physical educators, as well as studies in other disciplines. In her role as a somatotype consultant, Barbara Heath made ratings of diverse populations: children, obese, diabetics, Eskimos, Manus, Nilotes, Japanese, soldiers, tunnel workers, female homosexuals, channel swimmers, Federal Aviation Administration trainees, athletes, and students, to name some. She made more photoscopic ratings than anyone else and was considered the foremost expert in the field. In the 1960s she published several articles critiquing Sheldon's concepts and developed, in collaboration with Lindsay Carter, a revised method of somatotyping which was to become the most universally used in the area of body typing. Barbara had a wonderful eye for observing variation in physiques and was unquestionably the élite photoscopic somatotype rater in the world. This expertise led to her collaboration as a consultant with colleagues from around the world when they needed criterion ratings of their photographs. Much of this work is reported in Carter and Heath (1990). Her last refereed publication was at age 87 years (Carter et al., 1997)!

Barbara Heath Roll visited the Soviet Union and Hungary several times, and was a visiting lecturer of physical anthropology at Moscow State University. She spoke Russian, and translated and published several articles in this language. As a physical anthropologist, she is best known internationally for her extensive work in the Pere Village of Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. In 1958, the prominent social anthropologist Dr. Margaret Mead asked Barbara to help her record the physiques (somatotypes) of the villagers. This collaboration resulted in 16 visits by Barbara to Pere over three decades. She took over the role of mentor to people in the village after Dr. Mead's death in 1978. In addition to her many visits to Pere, she and her husband Fred Roll (and former husband Dr. Scott Heath, deceased) hosted villagers at their home in Carmel, and funded scholarships for Pere students to go to high school in Lorengau, the capital of the province. As part of her work Barbara built on the genealogies of the villagers started in 1928 by Margaret Mead. This resulted in "Stori Belong Pere" (1982), a book in NeoMelaniesian which contains portrait photographs and genealogical record for the entire community. This is probably the most complete example of kinship records that exists for any preliterate community and its transition to the acquisition of literacy. Barbara not only believed in continuity but also in giving back to people from whom she learned so much. In 1983, she and Fred distributed 300 copies of the book (some 250 pages) to each of the families in Pere. Barbara became part of the people and learned to speak and write Pidgin English. The residents of Pere had a name for her "Meri oltaim lap" - the woman who laughs. She continued to add to the genealogies until early this year. Since the early 1980s Barbara and Fred have sponsored the field research in Manus of four successful Ph.D. candidates.

Barbara Honeyman was born in 1910 in Portland, Oregon, and was raised on a cattle ranch at the mouth of the Columbia River near Ilwaco, Washington. She was schooled at home by her mother before attending high school in Portland. She graduated with a B.A. in 1932 from Smith College. Although she never finished her Ph.D. at New York University, she was awarded honorary doctorates by Smith College, Northhampton, in 1989, and by Magyar Testnevelesi Egyetem, Budapest, in May, 1998. She did not follow the traditional academic route, but was at ease and accepted as an equal by university colleagues and researchers throughout the world. She had the advantage of independence from the usual confining organization, publication and promotion perils of permanent positions within universities. However, Barbara was an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and taught physical anthropology at Monterey Peninsula College for many years. She was a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for the Study of Human Biology, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Most of her professional notes and papers are housed in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, Northamption, Massachusetts, with copies of the Manus materials at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Those who knew her personally will remember her as generous, independent, optimistic, honest and a tough critic of opinions and philosophies. She was a wonderful hostess, had great humor and enthusiasm and was seldom without a smile and a laugh. A classy lady - she touched all who met her and we will miss her greatly.

J.E. Lindsay Carter (1932-).

Curriculum vitae summary.

Curriculum vitae Espanol

J.E. Lindsay Carter

Lindsay Carter was born in and grew up in New Zealand. After studying at the Universities of Otago and Auckland, he held research and teaching positions at the National School of Physical Education (University of Otago) in 1954-55. From 1956-59 he was a Fulbright Scholar and research assistant at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, U.S.A., where he obtained the Masters and Doctorate degrees.

On returning to New Zealand, Lindsay Carter taught for three years at the University of Otago. From 1962 to 1992 he was a professor in the Department of Physical Education at San Diego State University, San Diego, California, U.S.A., where he taught applied anatomy and kinesiology, biomechanics, growth and development, and kinanthropometry. Currently he is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at San Diego State University and continues his research in kinanthropometry, along with consulting, workshops and invited presentations.

Carter's research work has been focused on the structure and function of athletes and non-athletes. In addition, he is the co-developer of a method of assessment of somatotype, the Heath-Carter Somatotype Method, a method which is presently the most widely used in body build research. He has published about 120 articles and chapters, as well as being author or editor of nine books.

Carter was a key investigator in anthropometric studies of Olympic and World Championship athletes in Mexico City, 1968, Montreal, 1976, Perth, 1991, Uruguay, 1995, and Zimbabwe, 1995. He has served as a consultant or co-investigator for studies in 18 countries. In addition, he has given invited presentations and/or workshops in these countries.

Lindsay Carter is Past-President of the International Society for the Advancement of Kinanthropometry (ISAK), a Criterion Anthropometrist for ISAK, and he continues to serve as a course leader and external examiner for their international courses. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. In addition to other honors, Carter received an Honorary Doctorate degree from Magyar Testnevelesi Egyetem, a University in Budapest, Hungary, in May 1998, for his contributions to the study of physique, human performance and kinanthropometry. In June 2002, El Consejo Latinamericano y del Caribe de Ciencias Aplicadas a la Educación Física y al Deporte, awarded Dr. Lindsay Carter, the Order "Enrique Romero Brest", special class, for his contributions to physical education and sports sciences.

Other contributors

There are many others who have made contributions to the history of somatotype and its methodology. See Carter and Heath (1990). Only a few are listed here (in alphabetical order).

A.R. Behnke, H.H. Clarke, T.K. Cureton, Jr., A. Damon, C.W. Dupertuis, W. Duquet, E.H. Hooton, C. Hopkins, C.H. McCloy, D. Roberts, W.D. Ross, C.C. Seltzer, J. Stepnicka, and J.M. Tanner.

For research and other papers on somatotyping from 1988 to the present please refer to Somatotype Bibliography II and Lindsay Carter's recent publications.

Selected References

Carter, J.E.L. (1980). The Heath-Carter somatotype method. (Third Edition). San Diego State University Syllabus Service, San Diego.

Carter, J.E.L. (1987). A tribute to Richard W. Parnell - Physique and Health - in memorium. Journal of Sports Sciences, 5:35-37.

Carter, J.E.L. and Heath, B.H. (1990). Somatotyping - Development and Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carter, J.E.L., Mirwald, R.L., Heath-Roll, B.H. and Bailey, D.A. (1997) Somatotypes of 7- to 16-Year-Old Boys in Saskatchewan, Canada. Amer. J. Human Biology, 9:257-272.

Carter, J.E.L., Ross, W.D., Duquet, W. and Aubry, S.P. (1983). Advances in somatotype methodology and analysis. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 26, 193-213.

Heath, B.H. (1963). Need for modification of somatotyping methodology. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 21, 227-233.

Heath, B.H. and Carter, J.E.L. (1966). A comparison of somatotype methods. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 24, 87-99.

Heath, B.H. and Carter, J.E.L. (1967). A modified somatotype method. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 27, 57-74.

Parnell, R.W. (1954). Somatotyping by physical anthropometry. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 12, 209-239.

Parnell, R.W. (1958). Behavior and Physique. Edward Arnold, London.

Parnell, R.W. (1984). Family Physique and Fortune. Parnell Publications, Sutton Coldfield.

Roll, B.H. (1982) Stori Belong Pere. Monterey: Published by author.

Sheldon, W.H. (1961). New developments in somatotyping technique. Lecture delivered at Childrens Hospital, March 13, Boston.

Sheldon, W.H. (1963). Constitutional variation and mental health. In Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Volume 2, pp. 355-366. Franklin Watts, New York.

Sheldon, W.H. (1965). A brief communication on somatotyping, psychiatyping and other Sheldonian delinquencies. Paper delivered at the Royal Society of Medicine, May 13, London.

Sheldon, W.H. (with the collaboration of C.W. Dupertuis and E. McDermott). (1954). Atlas of Men. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Sheldon, W.H. (with the collaboration of E.M. Hartl and E. McDermott). (1949). Varieties of Delinquent Youth. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Sheldon, W.H., Lewis, N.D.C. and Tenney, A.S. (1969). Psychotic patterns and physcial constitution. In Schizophrenia, Current Concepts and Research, ed. D.V. Siva, pp. 839-911. PJD Publications, Hicksville, New York.

Sheldon, W.H. (with the collaboration of S.S. Stevens). (1942). The Varieties of Temperament. Harper and Brothers, New York.

Sheldon, W.H. (with the collaboration of S.S. Stevens and W.B. Tucker). (1940). The Varieties of Human Physique. Harper and Brothers, New York.