Although Albrecht Dürer (1471 -1528) made a number of carefully measured studies of differently proportioned men and women in the early 16th century, he appears to have found no particular pattern to the range of differences he discovered. Long before, the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377BC) had recognized only two distinct kinds of human body:
• the phthisic habitus, or tall, thin physique
• the apoplectic habitus, or short, thick physique
It was evident to later investigators that this did not cover the whole range, and so this division was expanded into three, four and more by various authorities in more recent times, with the introduction of the notion of a 'mixed' type by the Italian anatomist Viola. But not until the present century, when investigation of the variety of human body types was undertaken as part of the study of physical anthropology, was a system devised which has anything substantial to offer us here.
It was in the late 1930s that the US psychologist William Sheldon devised the modern system of categorizing body-types known as somatotyping. Sheldon identified three basic types of human physique: endomorphic, mesomorphic and ectomorphic. In simplest terms, they may be thought of as the fat (endomorph), the muscular (mesomorph) and the bony (ectomorph), although the differences are far from being as superficial as these descriptions may suggest: the total body structure is distinctive in each of the three types. The illustrations on the left show definitive examples of each of these three distinct types. Height is not significant in this system; each body type can occur throughout the normal human height range.
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