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Thread: The Problem of Racial Origins - Intro to the Origin of Races [C.S. Coon]

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    Arrow The Problem of Racial Origins - Intro to the Origin of Races [C.S. Coon]

    Intro to the Origin of Races - C.S. Coon

    THE PROBLEM OF RACIAL ORIGINS

    On the Antiquity of Races

    The dawn of history, which is another way of saying "beginning with Herodotus," literate people of the ancient world were well aware that mankind was divided into a number of clearly differentiated races. Even before that, racial differentia*tion can be traced back to at least 3,000 B.C., as evidenced in Egyptian records, particularly the artistic representations. We also have pictures of white people on the walls of western European caves which are as much as 20,000 years older.

    How many kinds of people there were in the world was not really known until after the voyages of discovery that tore the veil from the Americas, the Pacific islands, and Australia. Even then the problem of classifying the races remained, and it has not been settled to this day.

    For present purposes I am using a conservative and tentative classification of the living peoples of the world into five basically geographical groups: the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid, Con-2oid, and Capoid. The first includes Europeans and their overseas kinsmen, the Middle Eastern Whites from Morocco to West Paki*stan, and most of the peoples of India, as well as the Ainu of Ja*pan. The second includes most of the East Asiatics, Indonesians, Polynesians, Micronesians, American Indians, and Eskimo. In the third category fall the Australian aborigines, Melanesians, Papu*ans, some of the tribal folk of India, and the various Negritos of South Asia and Oceania. The fourth comprises the Negroes and Pygmies of Africa. I have named it Congoid after a region (not a specific nation), which contains both kinds of people. The term Negroid has been deliberately omitted to avoid confusion. It has been applied both to Africans and to spiral-haired peoples of southern Asia and Oceania who are not genetically related to each other, as far as we know.1 Negroid will be used in this book to denote a condition, not a geographical subspecies. The fifth group includes the Bushmen and Hottentots and other relict tribes, like the Sandawe of Tanganyika. It is called Capoid after the Cape of Good Hope. If this subspecies once occupied Morocco (see Chap*ter 13), the cape can be thought of as Cape Spartel. Either way, the term is appropriate.

    My aim in this book is to see how far back in prehistoric an*tiquity these human racial groups can be traced. Did they all branch off a common stem recently, that is, within a few tens of thousands of years, after mankind had evolved as a single unit to the evolutionary state of the most primitive living peoples? Or did their moment of separation lie lower down on the time scale, when long-extinct types like the so-called ape men of Java and China were still alive? If the second is true, much of the evolution of the different existing races may have taken place separately and in parallel fashion over a period of hundreds, rather than tens, of thousands of years. The first hypothesis is the one more commonly held, but it presents some impressive stumbling blocks.

    If all races had a recent common origin, how does it happen that some peoples, like the Tasmanians and many of the Australian aborigines, were still living during the nineteenth century in a manner comparable to that of Europeans of over 100,000 years ago? Either the common ancestors of the Tasmanians cum Aus*tralians and of the Europeans parted company in remote Pleisto*cene antiquity, or else the Australians and Tasmanians have done some rapid cultural backsliding, which archaeological evidence disproves.
    If the ancestors of the living races of mankind were a single people a few thousands of years ago and they all spoke a single language, how does it happen that the world contains thousands of languages, hundreds of which are unrelated to each other, and some of which even use such odd sounds as clicks? Some lan*guages are tonal and others are not, and the difference between a tonal and a nontonal language is basic and profound. Eskimo and Aleut, which are closely related languages, have been separated for about two thousand years. It takes at least twenty thousand years for two sister languages to lose all semblance of relation*ship.3 If, therefore, all languages are derived from a single mother tongue, the original separation must go back many times that figure. The only alternative is that more than one line of ancestral man discovered speech independently. Even so, the number of languages spoken by a single subspecies, the Mongo*loid, is great enough to imply a vast antiquity.


    All the evidence available from comparative ethnology, linguis*tics, and prehistoric archaeology indicates a long separation of the principal races of man. This is contrary to the current idea that Homo sapiens arose in Europe or western Asia about 35,000 B.C., fully formed as from the brow of Zeus, and spread over the world at that time, while the archaic species of men who had preceded him became conveniently extinct. Actually, the homines sapientes in question were morphologically the same as living Europeans. To derive an Australian aborigine or a Congo Pygmy from European ancestors of modern type would be biologically impossible.

    The current idea is based on the study of comparative anatomy without reference to evolution, and a misunderstanding of pale*ontology. One anatomist, Morant,4 found by means of a number of measurements taken on less than ten Neanderthal skulls that this ancient population differed in mean measurements from a number of modern populations more than the modern skulls differ from each other. The differences reflected mainly the fact that Neanderthal men had low, flattish cranial vaults and protruding faces; but these features could have come from a small number of genes concerned with adaptation to cold weather. Since 1927, when Morant's study was published, "progressive" and "transitional" high-headed Neanderthals have been unearthed in western Asia. These new discoveries suggest that the total extinction of that fossil race is unlikely. We now have fossil skulls from China, Af*rica, and Europe, found since Morant studied the Neanderthals, which closely resemble the modern races in features that seem to have evolved and been handed down locally. Such features in*clude the extent to which the face is flat or beak-like, the shape of the nasal bones, and the size ratio of front teeth to molars. If we grant that races, like the species to which they belong, can evolve, our problem becomes simpler.

    The misinterpretation of paleontology by nonpaleontologists came about naturally. Anyone who studies the family trees of various lines of animals over millions of years is bound to be im*pressed by the multitude of extinct species, and to notice that the living animal species are descended from very few ancestral ones. When this observation is applied to many forms of life over the span of geological time, it holds true; but for man it does not. Man is little more than a half million years old. Geologically speaking, We were born yesterday. The fossil men now extinct differed from each other in race, and were not members of separate species except in the sense that one species grew out of another.

    As human beings are animals, they are subject to the same laws of evolutionary change that govern the rises and falls of other species and their transmutations into increasingly complex and efficient forms. Therefore we have two jobs to do: (1) to survey the rules of species formation and the differentiation of races, in*cluding the composition of populations, systems of mating, dif*ferential fertility, and geographical adaptation at different ecolog*ical levels, as they may apply to man; and (2) to go over with a fine-toothed comb all the original evidence about fossil specimens of man and his predecessors which can be found. This includes actual specimens, casts, and technical reports, some lying on the bottom shelves of library stacks, with pages still uncut, and un*disturbed for decades. Because few textbook writers have bothered to consult these primary sources, few new ideas about the evolution of races have reached the public for a long time.

    The Problems of Human Taxonomy: the Genus
    Over two hundred years ago Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy,5 or systematics as he called it, initiated the practice of giving each species in nature an italicized double name, or binominal, one of which was Homo sapiens. The first word is the name of the genus and the second that of the species itself. In the species Homo sapiens he included all living peoples. At that time no fossil men had been discovered, and the genus Homo had therefore but a single species.

    Linnaeus used only one word to designate biological units smaller than the species: variety. At that time the concept had not yet arisen that the unit of inheritance and evolution is the population to which an individual belongs rather than the indi*vidual himself, and the exact meaning of variety was not clear. In recent years taxonomists, in reviewing the nomenclature of spe*cies, have found that many units given specific rank in the past were subspecies, or geographical races, of larger units, and that what had been called varieties were races of one magnitude or another, or even individual variants.
    In order to obtain material for classification, zoologists were kept busy collecting skins and skulls of many kinds of animals, and paleontologists removing bones, teeth, claws, and shells of ancient animals from the ground. Rarely did the paleontologists have whole skeletons to work with; and even when they did, characteristics studied by zoologists, such as hair form and color, skin structure, and the number of mammary glands, could not be determined except in a very few cases, as when mammoths were found frozen in the ground.

    Whereas zoologists could collect large numbers of contempo*rary specimens, paleontologists sometimes possessed only unique specimens, which had to be related to others from different times and different places. Often the time gap between apparently re*lated specimens was so great that it was unlikely that they could have belonged to a single species. Being cautious men, most paleontologists considered it more conservative to give separate generic names to unique or rare fossils of different periods than to assume their identity, particularly when in living animals such as the sheep and goat, which belong to different genera, the only difference visible in the skeleton is the relative lengths of the seg*ments of the forelimb. Paleontologists therefore formed the habit of giving new and unique specimens separate generic names, setting aside the finer classification of related species until more bones had been found.
    When, in the second half of the nineteenth century, paleontolo*gists and archaeologists began turning up the bones of fossil men, some of them applied this practice to the much more limited field of anthropology, and we find such designations as Pithecanthro*pus erectus, Sinanthropus pekinensis, and more recently, Atlan-thropus mauretanicus tagged to specimens some of which differ from one another no more than do individuals in the living species.

    Homo sapiens

    The final difficulty with this type of taxonomy is that it can*not be reconciled with our time scale. Simpson, Kurten, and others have shown that, within the geological periods with which we are concerned, a genus of mammals requires about eight million years to establish itself, and it usually makes no difference whether the animals are large or small, or fast or slow to mature.
    The oldest fossil-man remains that are definitely and indu*bitably Homo may be no more than 700,000 years old. If there really were, during the last 700,000 years, four genera of fossil men, including Homo, Pithecanthropus, Sinanthropus, and Atlanthropus, then these genera must have parted company early in the Pliocene, and we have neither manlike bones nor tools from this period.

    Later on, after tools had appeared, we find that both Atlan-thropus in North Africa and Homo in Europe were making stylis*tically similar stone implements. Although a great many claims can be made for parallel evolution, it is inconceivable that men of two distinct genera could have made similar tools.

    The concept that the fossil men so far found, who lived during the last half million years, belonged to more than one genus is impossible both anatomically and in terms of behavior, as re*vealed by archaeology. This concept must be abandoned, and indeed many zoologists and anthropologists have already dis*carded it. Of the names proposed for our genus, Homo has two centuries of priority, and Homo is what we are, what our known ancestors were, and what our unknown ancestors could have been for as long as eight million years.

    The Species Concept

    I n t h e whole field of taxonomy no identification is as impor*tant as that of the species of an animal. Higher categories, such as the genus, family, order, and so on, are subject to argument and revision, and lower categories, the subspecies and local race, are also more difficult to establish. The species, however, is the pivot of the entire structure because it is the unit of evolutionary change.

    In the early days of taxonomy, a collector would shoot a bird or animal, keep its skin and skull, compare it with others in exist*ing collections to determine whether it was something new, and if it was, he would write up a detailed description, giving the bird or animal a new name. It thus became the type specimen, or holotype, of its species, and future collectors would compare their discoveries with it. This practice was applied to the anthropologi*cal field. Blumenbach, whose classification of mankind in the familiar fivefold skin-color system is still used in some school geography books, selected a particularly handsome skull from a Eu*ropean collection as the type specimen of the white race, and as it had belonged in life to a native of the Caucasus Mountains, white people came to be called Caucasians, or Caucasoids, and still are. As late as 1912 Boule selected the skeleton of La Chapelle aux Saints as the type specimen of Neanderthal man, which he com*pared to the skeletons of one Frenchman and three anthropoid apes.

    As early as Darwin, however, it was recognized that a species is not just the specimen that happened to be killed or unearthed first, and others later found to resemble it, but a population. In*deed, Darwin based his theory of natural selection on his obser*vation that individuals of a species are variable, and that one need not be more typical than another. As time went on, it became clear that a species is a breeding unit or population, which has a gene pool of its own, and not just a collection of individuals, and that each population is a separate entity, living in two related states of dynamic equilibrium. The first regulates the balance be*tween the individuals that compose the population. The second governs its relations with the other species in its environment.

    Another early observation was that members of different spe*cies do not interbreed, at least in a state of nature. It was first thought that this was not for lack of trying but simply because each species was incapable of fertility with any other. However, early in the twentieth century the rising science of genetics made it clear that some animals of different species could produce fer*tile offspring if they could be made to come together. Sterile hy*brids like the mule were known from antiquity, and tiger-lion mix*tures have been produced in zoos, but hybridization, it was found, is not a common or important mechanism of evolutionary change in the higher animals, as it is in plants. Furthermore, as each spe*cies is in genetic equilibrium with its environment, the addition of new genes from an animal with a different kind of equilibrium could be expected to produce offspring less viable than either parent.

    The important distinction is that members of potentially inter-fertile species do not ordinarily interbreed either because their breeding periods fall at different seasons or because they simply do not attract each other: they do not recognize each other's mat*ing symbolsvisual, olfactory, auditory, or whatever.

    In any case, whether or not unconfined animals of different populations interbreed when given the opportunity is the critical test of a zoological species. Paleontologists, of course, cannot use this test, which may be another reason why they prefer to deal in the more readily identified unit of the genus. In the case of living human populations, we can confirm Linnaeus's decision that all men belong to the same species, not only because all races are in-terfertile but also because some individuals among them inter*breed, although others oppose mixture. In the case of early human populations unearthed by archaeologists, we cannot be sure whether interbreeding has or has not taken place; and at only one site, the Mt. Carmel caves of Palestine, is there any evidencea high degree of individual variability combined with a mingling of tool formsto suggest that the races were mixing, but even that is inconclusive. Therefore, the statements commonly made that Pithecanthropus, Sinanthropus, Neanderthal man, or a member of any other ancient population was unable to interbreed with his neighbors, if he had any, is speculative and cannot be demon*strated.

    These statements are based on the old idea that if in some char*acteristic the ranges of variability of two populations fail to over*lap, then these populations are different species. If this were true, then the Pygmies and Watusi of Ruanda-Urundi in Central Af*rica, who live near each other, would be different species on the basis of stature, and the black-skinned and white-skinned races of the world would also be different species.

    This obsolete concept of single-character taxonomy has long since been abandoned. Zoologists now base their decisions on all the characteristics they can identify and measure, characteristics which together give the animal its essential nature, its (to borrow a psychological term) gestalt. The determination of species can*not be made by feeding figures into a computer. It is in a sense an art, practiced by men of experience who know, first of all, how species are formed.
    The Spatial Requirements of Species and Their Geographical Differentiation

    Zoologists recognize two kinds of species, monotypic and polytypic.1 A monotypic species contains a single pattern of ge*netic composition, usually because it is a single population that occupies a single, environmentally unified lebensraum in which interbreeding is easy from one end of its territory to the other. Monotypic species are in the minority. A polytypic species, on the other hand, is broken up into a number of separate populations, each occupying its own territory. Usually these territories adjoin each other but are partially separated by environmental barriers. Gene flow across the barriers is infrequent enough to permit the development of separate genetic patterns but frequent enough to prevent the different populations from becoming individual spe*cies. When these barriers become absolute, local speciation can occur. Once a new species has arisen, it is likely to expand into a number of territories, where adaptation to new conditions will be rapid. This is undoubtedly what happened to our ancestors once they had acquired the erect posture and begun to use their hands for something beside locomotion and their mouths for something other than feeding and biting.

    Regional populations of a polytypic species, once it has become established and has spread, are normally allopatnc, a term which means simply "occupying different territories." If they were not allopatric, they would compete with each other for food, and one would drive out or absorb the other. Normally the one longest in situ has the advantage over newcomers because it has adapted it*self to its new environment by favorable genetic changes, unless a geographical principle is involved, as in the case of isolated popu*lations like those that arise on islands. Because they evolved with*out competition, such populations are usually vulnerable when their territories are invaded by newcomers which evolved on large continental areas where competition is keen.

    Related species, however, can be sympatric, which is zoologese for saying that they can occupy a single territory without inter*fering with each other, just as zebras, wildebeeste, and giraffes feed together on an African plain. Sympatric occupation is the rule for animals that belong to different genera, families, orders, and even higher categories of classification, which is why we have regional faunas. It is not very common among closely related spe*cies because they usually compete for food.

    Whether or not related species are sympatric or allopatric de*pends to a large extent on their eating habits. If a species special*izes in a narrow dietary range, it can coexist with another that specializes in a different range. The Australian koala lives essen*tially on the leaves of a few kinds of eucalyptus, the presence of which limits its range but allows it to coexist with other species of marsupials on the ground below; the giant panda of western China subsists largely on bamboo shoots whereas the smaller red panda eats a variety of foods.

    Animal species that specialize in food are called stenophagous, the Greek term for narrow-feeding. Those that eat many kinds of food are called euryphagous, or wide-feeders. Like any other spe*cialty, stenophagy permits a rapid expansion in a narrow milieu, but it is not the road to evolutionary success. Euryphagy involves an animal in heavy competition, but if it survives, it has a better chance of expanding over areas with differing food supplies, and of undergoing further speciation.
    In the case of man, he is euryphagous and always has been. Man can eat roots, succulent leaves, fruits, berries, eggs, and flesh. Except for grass, he can eat virtually everything that other ani*mals eat, and this puts him in competition with many other spe*cies and with other populations of his own and related species.

    The Subspecies

    The next taxonomic division below that of species is the sub*species. A subspecies is a regional population of a polytypic spe-
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