Have any of the six types of large bones from the arms1 or legs2 of human beings ever been used (to a significant or considerable extent), in ancient or prehistoric times, as measuring instruments for estimating lengths or distances ?

1 The humerus (upper arm), the ulna and the radius (forearm).

2 The femur (upper leg), the tibia and the fibula (lower leg).

  • 2
    Grab a rope with right hand, supporting it with the left, and extend arms. One fathom. With right hand drop rope; grab rope out of left hand; and extend arms again. Two fathoms. Repeat until desired length of rope has been measured. What's so "impractical" about that - it seems imminently practical to me. Note that fathoms are traditional units for measuring both ropes and such things as soundings that are in turn measured by ropes. Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 1:27
  • 4
    @Lucian I think the premise is flawed: "The “foot” defined as the sixth part of a fathom" - AFAIK, historically foot was defined as the length of a, well, human foot (probably in some kind of footwear, since the measurement unit tends to be slightly bigger than the average foot of a human in time and locale that unit was used in). Also, pre-XIX century fathom varied from 5 to 7 feet AND, when it was standartized, it was as 1/1000th of a nautical mile (6.08ft); the 6ft fathom was only used because it was simpler to measure. Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 2:46
  • 3
    The notion of internationally standardized units is new since the French Revolution's introduction of the metric System, and its subsequent export to the rest of Western Europe by Napoleon Bonaparte. Just in Germany alone there were dozens of different standards of length. Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 4:36
  • 2
    @LangLangC: I was wondering whether early humans, who are known to have employed animal bones in creating parts of various tools for millennia, might not have put actual human bones to such use.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 20, 2018 at 23:52
  • 2
    The ell is also an ancient measure of length. This is the length of the forearm. In German one of the bones in the forearm is the Elle.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 26, 2018 at 13:52


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