Popular Science Monthly/Volume 28/January 1886/The Varieties of the Human Species

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By Professor WILLIAM H. FLOWER, F.R.S.

THE most ordinary observation is sufficient to demonstrate the fact that certain groups of men are strongly marked from others by definite characters common to all members of the group, and transmitted regularly to their descendants by the laws of inheritance. The Chinaman and the negro, the native of Patagonia and the Andaman-Islander, are as distinct from each other structurally as are many of the so-called species of any natural group of animals. Indeed, it may be said with truth that their differences are greater than those which mark the groups called genera by many naturalists of the present day. Nevertheless, the difficulty of parceling out all the individuals composing the human species into certain definite groups, and of saying of each man that he belongs to one of other of such groups, is insuperable. No such classification has ever, or indeed, can ever, be obtained. There is not one of the most characteristic, most extreme forms, like those I have just named, from which transitions can not be traced by almost imperceptible gradations to any of the other equally characteristic, equally extreme, forms. Indeed, a large proportion of mankind is made up, not of extreme or typical, but of more or less generalized or intermediate, forms, the relative numbers of which are continually increasing as the long-existing isolation of nations and races breaks down under the ever-extending intercommunication characteristic of the period in which we dwell.

The difficulties of framing a natural classification of man, or one which really represents the relationship of the various minor groups to each other, are well exemplified by a study of the numerous attempts which have been made from the time of Linnæus and Blumenbach onward. Even in the first step of establishing certain primary groups of equivalent rank there has been no accord. The number of such groups has been most variously estimated by different writers from two up to sixty, or more, although it is important to note that there has always been a tendency to revert to the four primitive types sketched out by Linnæus—the European, Asiatic, African, and American—expanded into five by Blumenbach by the addition of the Malay, and reduced by Cuvier to three by the suppression of the last two. After a perfectly independent study of the subject, extending over many years, I can not resist the conclusion, so often arrived at by various anthropologists, and so often abandoned for some more complex system, that the primitive man, whatever he may have been, has in the course of ages divaricated into three extreme types, represented by the Caucasian of Europe, the Mongolian of Asia, and the Ethiopian of Africa, and that all existing individuals of the species can be ranged around these types, or somewhere or other between them. Large numbers are doubtless the descendants of direct crosses in varying proportions between well-established extreme forms; for, notwithstanding opposite views formerly held by some authors on this subject, there is now abundant evidence of the wholesale production of new races in this way. Others may be the descendants of the primitive stock, before the strongly marked existing distinctions had taken place, and therefore present, though from a different cause from the last, equally generalized characters. In these cases it can only be by most carefully examining and balancing all characters however minute, and finding out in what direction the preponderance lies, that a place can be assigned to them. It can not be too often insisted on that the various groups of mankind, owing to their probable unity of origin, the great variability of individuals, and the possibility of all degrees of intermixture of races at remote or recent periods of the history of the species, have so much in common that it is extremely difficult to find distinctive characters capable of strict definition by which they may be differentiated. It is more by the preponderance of certain characters in a large number of members of a group, than by the exclusive or even constant possession of these characters in each of its members, that the group as a whole must be characterized.

Bearing these principles in mind, we may endeavor to formulate, as far as they have as yet been worked out, the distinctive features of the typical members of each of the three great divisions, and then show into what subordinate groups each of them seems to be divided.

To begin with the Ethiopian, Negroid, or Melanian, or "black" type. It is characterized by a dark, often nearly black, complexion; black hair, of the kind called "frizzly," or, incorrectly, "woolly," i. e., each hair being closely rolled up upon itself, a condition always associated with a more or less flattened or elliptical transverse section; a moderate or scanty development of beard; an almost invariably dolichocephalic skull; small and moderately retreating malar bones (mesopic face[2]); a very broad and flat nose, platyrhine in the skeleton; moderate or low orbits; prominent eyes; thick, everted lips; prognathous jaws; large teeth (macrodont); a narrow pelvis (index in the male 90 to 100); a long fore-arm (humero-radial index 80), and certain other proportions of the body and limbs which are being gradually worked out and reduced to numerical expression as material for so doing accumulates.

The most characteristic examples of the second great type, the Mongolian or Xanthous or "yellow," have a yellow or brownish complexion; coarse, straight hair, without any tendency to curl, and nearly round in section, on all other parts of the surface except the scalp, scanty and late in appearing; a skull of variable form, mostly mesocephalic (though extremes both of dolichocephaly and brachycephaly are found in certain groups of this type); a broad and flat face, with prominent anteriorly projecting malar bones (platyopic face); nose small, mesorhine or leptarhine; orbits high and round, with very little development of glabella or supraciliary ridges; eyes sunken, and with the aperture between the lids narrow; in the most typical members of the group with a vertical fold of skin over the inner canthus, and with the outer angle slightly elevated; jaws mesognathous; teeth of moderate size (mesodont); the proportions of the limbs and form of the pelvis have yet to be worked out, the results at present obtained showing great diversity among different individuals of what appear to be well-marked races of the group, but this is perhaps due to the insufficient number of individuals as yet examined with accuracy.

The last type, which, for want of a better name, I still call by that which has the priority, Caucasian, or "white," has usually a light-complexioned skin (although in some, in so far aberrant cases, it is as dark as in the negroes); hair fair or black, soft, straight, or wavy, in section intermediate between the flattened and cylindrical form; beard fully developed; form of cranium various, mostly mesocephalic; malar bones retreating; face narrow and projecting in the middle line (pro-opic); orbits moderate; nose narrow and prominent (leptorhine); jaws orthognathous; teeth small (microdont); pelvis broad (pelvic index of male 80); fore-arm short, relatively to humerus (humeroradial index 74).

In endeavoring further to divide up into minor groups the numerous and variously modified individuals which cluster around one or other of these great types, a process quite necessary for many practical or descriptive purposes, the distinctions afforded by the study of physical characters are often so slight that it becomes necessary to take other considerations into account, among which geographical distribution and language hold an important place,

I. The Ethiopian or Negroid races may be primarily divided as follows:

A. African or typical negroes—inhabitants of all the central portion of the African Continent, from the Atlantic on the west to the Indian Ocean on the east, greatly mixed all along their northern frontier with Hamitic and Semitic Melanochroi, a mixture which, taking place in various proportions, and under varied conditions, has given rise to many of the numerous races and tribes inhabiting the Soudan.

A branch of the African negroes are the Bantu—distinguished chiefly, if not entirely, by the structure of their language. Physically indistinguishable from the other negroes where they come in contact in the equatorial regions of Africa, the Southern Bantu, or Caffres, as they are generally called, show a marked modification of type, being lighter in color, having a larger cranial capacity, less marked prognathism, and smaller teeth. Some of these changes may possibly be due to crossing into the next race.

B. The Hottentots and Bushmen form a very distinct modification of the negro race. They formerly inhabited a much larger district than at present; but, encroached upon by the Bantu from the north, and the Dutch and English from the south, they are now greatly diminished, and indeed threatened with extinction. The Hottentots especially are much mixed with other races, and, under the influence of a civilization which has done little to improve their moral condition, they have lost most of their distinctive peculiarities. When purebred they are of moderate stature, have a yellowish-brown complexion, with very frizzly hair, which, being less abundant than that of the ordinary negro, has the appearance of growing in separate tufts. The forehead and chin are narrow, and the cheek-bones wide, giving a lozenge-shape to the whole face. The nose is very flat, and the lips prominent. In their anatomical peculiarities, and almost everything except size, the Bushmen agree with the Hottentots; they have, however, some special characters, for while they are the most platyrhine of races, the prognathism so characteristic of the negro type is nearly absent. This, however, may be the retention of an infantile character so often found in races of diminutive stature, as it is in all the smaller species of a natural group of animals. The cranium of a Bushman, taken altogether, is one of the best marked of any race, and could not be mistaken for that of any other race. Their relation to the Hottentots, however, appears to be that of a stunted and outcast branch, living the lives of the most degraded of savages among the rocky caves and mountains of the land of which the comparatively civilized and pastoral Hottentots inhabited the plains.

Perhaps the Negrillos of Hamy, certain diminutive, round-headed people of Central and Western Equatorial Africa, may represent a distinct branch of the negro race, but their numbers are few, and they are very much mixed with the true negroes in the districts in which they are found. They form the only exceptions to the general dolichocephaly of the African branch of the negro race.

C. Oceanic Negroes or Melanesians.—These include the Papuans of New Guinea and the majority of the inhabitants of the islands of the Western Pacific, and form also a substratum of the population, greatly mixed with other races, of regions extending far beyond the present center of their area of distribution.

They are represented, in what may be called a hypertypical form, by the extremely dolichocephalic Kai Colos, or mountaineers of the interior of the Feejee Islands, although the coast population of the same group have lost their distinctive characters by crossing. In many parts of New Guinea and the great chain of islands extending eastward and southward ending with New Caledonia, they are found in a more or less pure condition, especially in the interior and more inaccessible portions of the islands, almost each of which shows special modifications of the type recognizable in details of structure. Taken altogether their chief physical distinction from the African negroes lies in the fact that the glabella and supra-orbital ridges are generally well developed in the males, whereas in Africans this region is usually smooth and flat. The nose, also, especially in the northern part of their geographical range, New Guinea, and the neighboring islands, is narrower (often mosorhine) and prominent. The cranium is generally higher and narrower. It is, however, possible to find African and Melanesian skulls quite alike in essential characters.

The now extinct inhabitants of Tasmania are probably pure but aberrant members of the Melanesian group, which have undergone a modification from the original type, not by mixture with other races, but in consequence of long isolation, during which special characters have gradually developed. Lying completely out of the track of all civilization and commerce, even of the most primitive kind, they were little liable to be subject to the influence of any other race, and there is in fact nothing among their characters which could be accounted for in this way, as they are intensely, even exaggeratedly, Negroid in the form of nose, projection of mouth, and size of teeth, typically so in character of hair, and aberrant chiefly in width of skull in the parietal region. A cross with any of the Polynesian or Malay races sufficiently strong to produce this would, in all probability, have also left some traces on other parts of their organization.

On the other hand, in many parts of the Melanesian region there ire distinct evidences of large admixture with Negrito, Malay, and Polynesian elements in varying proportions, producing numerous physical modifications. In many of the inhabitants of the great Island of New Guinea itself and of those lying around it this mixture can be traced. In the people of Micronesia in the north, and New Zealand in the south, though the Melanesian element is present, it is completely overlaid by the Polynesian, but there are probably few, if any, of the islands of the Pacific in which it does not form some factor in the composite character of the natives.

The inhabitants of the continent of Australia have long been a puzzle to ethnologists. Of Negroid complexion, features, and skeletal characters, yet without the characteristic frizzly hair, their position has been one of great difficulty to determine. They have, in fact, been a stumbling-block in the way of every system proposed. The solution, supported by many considerations too lengthy to enter into here, appears to lie in the supposition that they are not a distinct race at all, that is, not a homogeneous group formed by the gradual modification of one of the primitive stocks, but rather a cross between two already formed branches of these stocks. According to this view, Australia was originally peopled with frizzly-haired Melanesians, such as those which still do, or did till the recent European invasion, dwell in the smaller islands which surround the north, east, and southern portions of the continent, but that a strong infusion of some other race, probably a low form of Caucasian Melanochroi, such as that which still inhabits the interior of the southern parts of India, has spread throughout the land from the northwest, and produced a modification of the physical characters, especially of the hair. This influence did not extend across Bass's Strait into Tasmania, where, as just said, the Melanesian element remained in its purity. It is more strongly marked in the northern and central parts of Australia than on many portions of the southern and western coasts, where the lowness of type and more curly hair, sometimes closely approaching to frizzly, show a stronger retention of the Melanesian element. If the evidence should prove sufficiently strong to establish this view of the origin of the Australian natives, it will no longer be correct to speak of a primitive Australian, or even Australoid, race or type, or look for traces of the former existence of such a race anywhere out of their own land. Proof of the origin of such a race is, however, very difficult if not impossible to obtain, and I know nothing to exclude the possibility of the Australians being mainly the direct descendants of a very primitive human type, from which the frizzly-haired negroes may be an offset. This character of hair must be a specialization, for it seems very unlikely that it was the attribute of the common ancestors of the human race.

D. The fourth branch of the Negroid race consists of the diminutive, round-headed people called Negritos, still found in a pure or unmixed state in the Andaman Islands, and forming a substratum of the population, though now greatly mixed with invading races, especially Malays, in the Philippines, and many of the islands of the Indo Malayan Archipelago, and perhaps of some parts of the southern portion of the mainland of Asia. They also probably contribute to the varied population of the great Island of Papua or New Guinea, where they appear to merge into the taller, longer-headed, and longer-nosed Melanesians proper. They show, in a very marked manner, some of the most striking anatomical peculiarities of the negro race, the frizzly hair, the proportions of the limbs, especially the humero-radial index, and the form of the pelvis; but they differ in many cranial and facial characters, both from the African negroes on the one hand, and the typical Oceanic negroes, or Melanesians, on the other, and form a very distinct and well-characterized group.

II. The principal groups that can be arranged around the Mongolian type are—

A. The Eskimo, who appear to be a branch of the typical North Asiatic Mongols, who in their wanderings northward and eastward across the American Continent, isolated almost as perfectly as an island population would be, hemmed in on one side by the eternal polar ice, and on the other by hostile tribes of American Indians, with which they rarely if ever mingled, have gradually developed characters most of which are strongly expressed modifications of those seen in their allies who still remain on the western side of Behring Strait. Every special characteristic which distinguishes a Japanese from the average of mankind is seen in the Eskimo in an exaggerated degree, so that there can be no doubt about their being derived from the same stock. It has also been shown that these special characteristics gradually increase from west to east, and arc seen in their greatest perfection in the inhabitants of Greenland; at all events, in those where no crossing with the Danes has taken place. Such scanty remains as have yet been discovered of the early inhabitants of Europe present no structural affinities to the Eskimo, although it is not unlikely that similar external conditions may have led them to adopt similar modes of life. In fact, the Eskimo are such an intensely specialized race, perhaps the most specialized of any in existence, that it is probable that they are of comparatively late origin, and were not as a race contemporaries with the men whose rude flint tools found in our drifts excite so much interest and speculation as to the makers, who have been sometimes, though with little evidence to justify such an assumption, reputed to be the ancestors of the present inhabitants of the northernmost parts of America.

B. The typical Mongolian races constitute the present population of Northern and Central Asia. They are not very distinctly, but still conveniently for descriptive purposes, divided into two groups, the Northern and the Southern.

a. The former, or Mongolo-Altaic group, are united by the affinities of their language. These people, from the cradle of their race in the great central plateau of Asia, have at various times poured out their hordes upon the lands lying to the west, and have penetrated almost to the heart of Europe. The Finns, the Magyars, and the Turks, are each the descendants of one of these waves of incursion, but they have for so many generations intermingled with the peoples through whom they have passed in their migrations, or have found in the countries in which they have ultimately settled, that their original physical characters have been completely modified. Even the Lapps, that diminutive tribe of nomads inhabiting the most northern parts of Europe, supposed to be of Mongolian descent, show so little of the special attributes of that branch, that it is difficult to assign them a place in it in a classification based upon physical characters. The Japanese are said by their language to be allied rather to the Northern than to the following branch of the Mongolian stock.

b. The Southern Mongolian group, divided from the former chiefly by language and habits of life, includes the greater part of the population of China, Thibet, Burmah, and Siam.

C. The next great division of Alongoloid people is the Malay, sub-typical, it is true, but to which an easy transition can be traced from the most characteristic members of the type.

J). The brown Polynesians, Malayo-Polynesians, Maforis, Sawaioris, or Kanakas, as they have been variously called, seen in their greatest purity in the Samoan, Tongan, and Eastern Polynesian Islands, are still more modified, and possess less of the characteristic Mongolian features; but still it is difficult to place them anywhere else in the system. The large infusion of the Melanesian element throughout the Pacific must never be forgotten in accounting for the characters of the people now inhabiting the islands, an element in many respects so diametrically opposite to the Mongolian, that it would materially alter the characters, especially of the hair and beard, which has been with many authors a stumbling-block to the affiliation of the Polynesian with the Mongol stock. The mixture is physically a fine one, and in some proportions produces a combination, as seen, for instance, in the Maories of New Zealand, which in all definable characters approaches quite as near, or nearer, to the Caucasian type, than to either of the stocks from which it may be presumably derived. This resemblance has led some writers to infer a real extension of the Caucasian element at some very early period with the Pacific Islands, and to look upon their inhabitants as the product of a mingling of all three great types of men. Though this is a very plausible theory, it rests on little actual proof, as the combination of Mongolo-Malayan and Melanesian characters in different degrees to the local variations certain to arise in communities so isolated from each other and exposed to such varied conditions as the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands would probably account for all the modifications observed among them.

E. The native population (before the changes wrought by the European conquest) of the great Continent of America, excluding the Eskimo, present, considering the vast extent of the country they inhabit and the great differences of climate and other surrounding conditions, a remarkable similarity of essential characters, with much diversity of detail.

The construction of the numerous American languages, of which as many as twelve hundred have been distinguished, is said to point to unity of origin, as, though widely different in many respects, they are all, or nearly all, constructed on the same general grammatical principle—that called polysynthesis—which differs from that of the languages of any of the Old World nations. The mental characteristics of all the American tribes have much that is in common; and the very different stages of culture to which they had attained at the time of the conquest, as that of the Incas and Aztecs, and the hunting or fishing tribes of the North and South, which have been quoted as evidence of diversities of race, were not greater than those between different nations of Europe, as Gauls and Germans on the one hand, and Greeks and Romans on the other, in the time of Julius Cæsar. Yet all these were Aryans, and in treating; the Americans as one race it is not intended that they are more closely allied than the different Aryan people of Europe and Asia. The best argument that can be used for the unity of the American race—using the word in a broad sense—is the great difficulty of forming any natural divisions founded upon physical characters. The important character of the hair does not differ throughout the whole continent. It is always straight and lank, long and abundant on the scalp, but sparse elsewhere. The color of the skin is practically uniform, notwithstanding the enormous differences of climate under which many members of the group exist. In the features and cranium certain special modifications prevail in different districts, but the same forms appear at widely separated parts of the continent. I have examined skulls from Vancouver's Island, from Peru, and from Patagonia, which were almost undistinguishable from one another.

Naturalists who have admitted but four primary types of the human species have always found a difficulty with the Americans, hesitating between placing them with the Mongolian or so-called "yellow" races, or elevating them to the rank of a primary group. Cuvier does not seem to have been able to settle this point to his own satisfaction, and leaves it an open question. Although the large majority of Americans have in the special form of the nasal bones, leading to the characteristic high bridge of the nose of the living face, in the well-developed superciliary ridge and retreating forehead, characters which distinguish them from the typical Asiatic Mongol, in so many other respects they resemble them so much that, although admitting the difficulties of the case, I am inclined to include them as aberrant members of the Mongolian type. It is, however, quite open to any one adopting the Negro, Mongolian, and Caucasian as primary divisions, also placing the Americans apart as a fourth.

Now that the high antiquity of man in America, perhaps as high as that he has in Europe, has been discovered, the puzzling problem, from which part of the Old World the people of America have sprung, has lost its significance. It is quite as likely that the people of Asia may have been derived from America as the reverse. However this may be, the population of America had been, before the time of Columbus, practically isolated from the rest of the world, except at the extreme north. Such visits as those of the early Norsemen to the coasts of Greenland, Labrador, and Nova Scotia, or the possible accidental stranding of a canoe containing survivors of a voyage across the Pacific or the Atlantic, can have had no appreciable effect upon the characteristics of the people. It is difficult, therefore, to look upon the anomalous and special characters of the American people as the effects of crossing, as was suggested in the case of the Australians, a consideration which gives more weight to the view of treating them as a distinct primary division. III. The Caucasian, or white division, according to my view, includes the two groups called by Professor Huxley Xanthochroi and Melanochroi, which, though differing in color of eyes and hair, agree so closely in all other anatomical characters, as far, at all events, as has at present been demonstrated, that it seems preferable to consider them as modifications of one great type than as primary divisions of the species.

Whatever their origin, they are now intimately blended, though in different proportions, throughout the whole of the region of the earth they inhabit; and it is to the rapid extension of both branches of this race that the great changes now taking place in the ethnology of the world are mainly due.

A. The Xanthochroi, or blonde type, with fair hair, eyes, and complexion, chiefly inhabit Northern Europe—Scandinavia, Scotland, and North Germany—but, much mixed with the next group, they extend as far as Northern Africa and Afghanistan, Their mixture with Mongoloid people in North Europe has given rise to the Lapps and Finns.

B. Melanochroi, with black hair and eyes, and skin of almost all shades from white to black. They comprise the great majority of the inhabitants of Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Southwest Asia, and consist mainly of the Aryan, Semitic, and Hamitic families. The Dravidians of India, and probably the Ainos of Japan, the Maoutze of China, also belong to this race, which may have contributed something to the mixed character of some tribes of Indo-China and the Polynesian Islands, and, as before said, given at least the characters of the hair to the otherwise Negroid inhabitants of Australia. In Southern India they are probably mixed with a Negrito element, and in Africa, where their habitat becomes conterminous with that of the negroes, numerous cross-races have sprung up between them all along the frontier line. The ancient Egyptians were nearly pure Melanochroi, though often showing in their features traces of their frequent intermarriage with their Ethiopian neighbors to the south. The Copts and fellahs of modern Egypt are their little-changed descendants.

In offering this scheme of classification of the human species, I have not thought it necessary to compare it in detail with the numerous systems suggested by previous anthropologists. These will all be found in the general treatises on the subject. As I have remarked before, in its broad outlines it scarcely differs from that proposed by Cuvier nearly sixty years ago, and that the result of the enormous increase of our knowledge during that time having caused such little change is the best testimony to its being a truthful representation of the facts. Still, however, it can only be looked upon as an approximation. Whatever care be bestowed upon the arrangement of already acquired details, whatever judgment be shown in their due subordination one to another, the acquisition of new knowledge may at any time call for a complete or partial rearrangement of our system.

  1. From the President’s Anniversary Address to the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, January 27, 1885.
  2. Oldfield Thomas, in a paper read before the Anthropological Institute, January 13, 1885.