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Thread: How Old Are The Races? Marvin Harris (1989)

  1. #1
    thenewbigthing
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    Arrow How Old Are The Races? Marvin Harris (1989)

    I regret that I must begin by making excuses. This is a tricky question to answer because the features that we depend on to identify whether a person is Caucasoid, negroid, or mongoloid, etc., are the superficial soft parts of the body. Lips, noses, hair, eyes, and skin do not fossilize. At the same time, the hard parts that do get preserved are not reliable markers because almost all of the skeletal dimensions of all the races overlap. But there is a more profound problem with trying to say how long the contemporary races have been in existence.

    Genes that determine features used for defining contemporary races need not form permanently associated hereditary bundles of traits. Variants of skin color, hair form, lip size, nose width, eye folds, and so on can be assorted and inherited independently of each other. This means that the traits that go together today did not necessarily go together in the past, or indeed even existed in the past, among the populations that were ancestral to today's racial groupings.

    Even today, there are so many different combinations of racial traits around the wood that no simple scheme of four or five major racial types can do justice to them. Millions of people with thin lips, thin noses, and wavy hair, but dark brown to black skin, live in North Africa. Native inhabitants of southern Africa, such as the San, have epicanthic eye folds (like most Asians), light brown to dark brown skin, and tightly spiraled hair. India has people with straight or wavy hair, dark brown to black skin, and thin lips and thin noses.

    On the steppes of central Asia, epicanthic eye folds combine with wavy hair, light eyes, considerable body and facial hair, and pale skins. Indonesians have a high frequency of epicanthic eye folds, light to dark brown skin, wavy hair, thick noses, and thick lips. Inhabitants of the islands of Oceania present combinations of brown to black skin, with contrastive forms and quantities of hair and facial features. An interesting bundle of traits occurs among the Ainu of northern Japan, who have light skin and thick brow ddges, and are the hairiest people in the world. In Australia, pale to dark brown skin color and wavy blond to brown hair are common.

    Ignorance or denial of the separability of traits used for racial identity can lead people to create strange biological categories. The distinction between blacks and whites in the United States, for example, ignores the obvious fact that individual blacks can have eyes, nose, hair, and lips that are indistinguishable from these features among whites. The reverse is also true of whites, among whom some individuals look more negroid than some blacks.

    These anomalies occur because Americans do not mean by race what people actually look like as determined by their genes, but by how their parents were classified. According to this conception of race, if one parent is 'black" and the other is 'white," their child is 'black," despite the fact that by the laws of genetics, half of a child's genes are from the black parent and half from the white. The practice of cramming people into these racial pigeonholes becomes absurd when black ancestry consists of only a single grandparent or great-grandparent. This produces the phenomenon of the white who is socially classified as 'black.'

    Most American blacks have received a significant portion of their genes from recent European ancestors. When samples of American blacks are studied, the assumption that they genetically represent Africans is incorrect. Perhaps we would do well to emulate the Brazilians, who identify racial types not by three or four terms but by 300 to 400, in proper deference to the fact that people whose parents and grandparents were a mixture of Europeans, Africans, and American Indians cannot be said to be either Europeans, Africans, or American Indians.

    Traits that we can see don't stick together with those we can't. Take the ABO blood groups. Between 70 percent and 80 percent of light-skinned Scots, black-skinned central Africans, and brown-skinned Aborigines of Australia all have type 0. If we could see type 0 blood groups the way we see skin color, would we put the Scots and the Africans in the same race? Type A is equally unmindful of skin-deep distinctions. Africans, East Indians, and Chinese all have IO percent to 20 percent frequencies of type A. Should we put them all in the same race?

    Another example of an invisible trait that blithely ignores conventional racial boundaries is the ability to taste PTC (phenyhhiocarbamide). In 1931, a laboratory researcher accidentally dropped a sample of this substance. Fellow workers complained about the bitter taste that ft produced in their mouths; others said they tasted nothing. Anthropologists now know that the world is divided into PTC-tasters and non-PTC-tasters. In Asia, nontasters range from 15 percent to 40 percent. There are twice as many nontasters in Japan as in China, and three times as many in Malaysia. Does this mean that each of these groups belongs to a separate race? If tasters could see nontasters, would they make fun of them and refuse to let them into their neighborhoods or their schools?

    New combinations and frequencies of genes have kept the species' racial types in a state of flux ever since populations of modem sapiens began to spread throughout Africa and Eurasia. Some of these changes reflect the workings of chance. During migrations by small groups into new regions, the seffiers by accident may happen to have had a high frequency for a gene that was rare in their ancestral population. Thenceforth, the new population had a high frequency of the variant. Such a scenario could account for the distinctive shovel shape of the incisors of Asian peoples.

    An accelerated flow of genes when migrants encounter genetically distinct populations is another essentially random process contributing to the evanescence of racial types. During earlier times, nothing quite so massive as the blending of races in the United States and Brazil could have happened, yet some degree of race mixture would have been unavoidable at the shifting boundaries between genetically distinct populations in remotest antiquity.

    Finally, as is generally true of all biological evolution, a major cause of the shifting distribution and frequency of genes conventionally used to identify racial divisions is natural selection. As populations move into different habitats or as environments change, selection for reproductive success leads to the appearance of new bundles of hereditary traits.

    Anthropologists have made a number of plausible suggestions relating racial differences to temperature, humidity, and other climatological factors. For example, long, narrow noses of Europeans may have been selected to warm extremely cold, damp air to body temperature before it reached the lungs. The generally rounded, squat bodies of Eskimo may also represent adaptation to cold-Bergman's rule again. A tall, thin body, in contrast, leads to maximum heat loss. And this may explain the tall, thin bodies of Nilotic Africans, who inhabit regions of intense and heat and whose descendants make some of the world's greatest basketball players.

    Ironically, traits whose frequencies are determined by natural selection are not very good markers for the purpose of reconstructing the history and antiquity of today's racial divisions. Suppose, for example, that people with short noses migrate from a tropical to a cold climate. Within a few-score generations, natural selection will increase the frequency of long noses among them. An observer noting the similarity between them and their long-nosed neighbors might readily conclude that they were descended from a long-nosed cold-climate race rather than a short-nosed hot-climate one. So the best markers of racial ancestry are traits that are accidental or nonadaptive, like the shovel-shaped incisors I mentioned a moment ago.

    Unfortunately, many of the traits that anthropologists once thought were the best markers of racial ancestry have turned out to have adaptive value in certain contexts. Blood groups were a particularly keen disappointment, for it turns out that the ABO series is linked to resistance to diseases that may affect reproductive success, such as smallpox, bubonic plague, and food poisoning by toxic bacteria. So the explanations for blood-type frequencies probably lie as much in the history of transient exposures of different populations to different diseases as in racial ancestry.

    Even a trait as cryptic and seemingly useless as the ability to taste PTC may not indicate common descent as much as similar adaptive responses by ancestrally separate populations. Chemically, PTC resembles certain substances that have adverse effects on the functioning of the thyroid gland. A common consequence of thyroid malfunction is goiter, a crippling, life-shortening disease. In populations at risk for goiter, the ability to taste foods containing the PTC-like thyroid-inhibiting substances would be selected for, rendering the distinction between taster and nontaster unreliable for reconstructing racial ancestry.

    Despite all of these reservations, it still remains possible to distinguish human populations on the basis of a large number of invisible genetic traits whose average frequencies cluster together to a statistically significant extent. The percentage of genes that these populations have in common can then be used to measure the genetic "distance" between them. Furthermore, on the assumption that the rate of genetic change has been uniform for all such populations, one can estimate the point in time when any two of them began to diverge and thereby construct a probable genetic tree that shows the sequence of their branchings through time.

    Anthropologist Luigi Cavaiii-Sforza has used these techniques to identify seven contemporary major populations: Africans, Europeans, Northeast Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, Australians, and New Guineans. The most probable genetic tree shows the first branching from a common African root stock and 35,000 years ago. The two major branches became three about 60,000 years ago; between 45,000 and 35,000 years ago three became five, including the split between Europeans and North Asians. The most recent divergences involved the separation of North Asians from Amerindians and Southeast Asians from the Pacific islanders.

    Only time will tell if Cavalli-Sforza's genetic tree will survive the gale of criticism that it has provoked. But bear in mind that the bundle of traits used to establish the tree does not include skin color, hair form, or any other conventional 'racial' trait and that the more remote the time period, the less likely we are to be talking about groups that look like the races as we know them today.

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    Well, the article seems a bit too politically correct and has a slightly biblical sound to it. The theory that races could have been distinctly difference and could have had different traits combined together sometime in the past sounds pretty absurd. If traits are a response to environment then why would individuals show traits dis-harmonious with each other?

    Also, they have pushed back the age of humans a lot farther since that article has been written and I predict they will continue to push it further and further back with new evidence.

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    Post Re: How Old Are The Races? Marvin Harris (1989)

    Is this essay from a published scientific text? It starts out with "facts" that are moronic and very untrue! You can tell the difference between human skulls even subracially, so of course you can tell the difference between a Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid or Australoid by looking at the skull.

    So, according to this "scientist" there is no difference between the Chinese and Australian aborigines, it's just skin and cartilage? LOL

    A forensic odontologist can classify the race from one single tooth.

    Originally posted by thenewbigthing
    I regret that I must begin by making excuses. This is a tricky question to answer because the features that we depend on to identify whether a person is Caucasoid, negroid, or mongoloid, etc., are the superficial soft parts of the body. Lips, noses, hair, eyes, and skin do not fossilize. At the same time, the hard parts that do get preserved are not reliable markers because almost all of the skeletal dimensions of all the races overlap
    :Ola

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    Quote Originally Posted by thenewbigthing View Post
    Blood groups were a particularly keen disappointment, for it turns out that the ABO series is linked to resistance to diseases that may affect reproductive success, such as smallpox, bubonic plague, and food poisoning by toxic bacteria. So the explanations for blood-type frequencies probably lie as much in the history of transient exposures of different populations to different diseases as in racial ancestry.
    It’s strange that textbooks don’t teach that the high frequency of B-type blood in Mongoloids would be an adaptation to deal with smallpox, which would affect the capacity to reproduce of a race who natural reproductive rate is very low. It’s hardly that politically incorrect, either - the absence of blood type B in Native American and Australian Aboriginal populations is almost certainly one reason they declined so quickly when Europeans invaded, which again contrasts with Negroids where blood type B was present in substantial quantities before farming first developed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by APFreimann View Post
    It’s strange that textbooks don’t teach that the high frequency of B-type blood in Mongoloids would be an adaptation to deal with smallpox, which would affect the capacity to reproduce of a race who natural reproductive rate is very low. It’s hardly that politically incorrect, either - the absence of blood type B in Native American and Australian Aboriginal populations is almost certainly one reason they declined so quickly when Europeans invaded, which again contrasts with Negroids where blood type B was present in substantial quantities before farming first developed.
    It is politically incorrect in the sense that it alludes to certain types of inferiority among certain groups, and flies in the face of the multiculturalist maxim "we are all the same"

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