Ever since our hominid ancestors started walking upright, we’ve had the need to move things around with us from one place to another. The grip of our opposable thumbs was a huge benefit for carrying things, yet it was often necessary to use our hands to throw rocks or pick berries, while still holding something “on board” the body. This explains why one of the main factors leading to the invention of clothing (cloth-ing) was probably the need to provide wrappings, folds, pouches, or pockets where we could fit and secure objects–or infants–to be carried around on our persons. But for those of us who prefer to avoid clothes as much and as often as possible, what are the ergonomics of object transport on the nude body?
Since the neck and shoulder muscles gain strength simply from holding the head aloft, many cultures have built on that strength by practicing the transport of bundles or vessels on top of the head, without securing the loads in any way. Why don’t these loads fall off? Practice. That, and the sense of balance we have from our inner ears. The tumpline is another great example of using your head for transport. Especially in areas like ancient Mesoamerica, where there were no beasts of burden, the tumpline enabled a corps of workers–or, unfortunately, slaves–to retain the use of their hands while transporting stone or other construction materials from far away. The same nearly naked laborers could then climb with the materials right on up the steps of a building in progress like the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico.
|Use of the tumpline. Codex Mendoza, folio 62r.|
Here’s another good way to “use your head”: Tales are told of Africans fleeing slavery into the hinterlands of the Americas who carried seeds or grains of rice in their richly and densely curled hair. The seeds would be planted to sustain free societies (quilombos or cimarrón communities) far from the colonial European governments of the major cities. Certainly this is an ingenious logistical use of one of the body’s naturally occurring phenomena!
Another entirely natural “hack” that people use frequently, myself included, is to rest my pen over my ear. And of course, it’s very common to clamp items with our arms against our sides, or our chins against our chests, or we grip something in our mouths – usually for a very short period of time if whatever it is needs to stay dry! Finally, the nude gentlemen in the cartoon below are modeling a few more examples of natural perches. As you can plainly see, they’re wearing glasses that rest on their noses and ears, and one of the men is smoking a cigarette that can be held in his mouth:
Oh yeah – you may also have noticed that these 21st-century nudists are carrying their cell phones in their gluteal clefts. Ha! Hmm… pushing the limits of hygiene – but then again, if you wanted to keep your phone from falling, you’d end up with some seriously well-developed buttocks!