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Thread: Are There Pure Races?

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    Post Are There Pure Races?



    WE thus see that the concept “race“ is plastic and relative. In what sense, if any, can there be said to be pure races? This question already has been largely answered. So frequent have been human migrations and so constant the contacts of tribes that a perfect purity could not be maintained. Purity of a very high degree could only be preserved in areas of geographic isolation, such as islands, mountain valleys, or desert oases. But, if one is interested in the rôle of race in cultural evolution, it must be evident that completely isolated groups have counted for naught. On the other hand, all those conditions which enable a race to play such a rôle have favored its commingling with other stocks. When, therefore, one thinks of those groups which have swept across the pages of European history in either prehistoric or historic times he must conceive them as being already more or less heterogeneous. The acquisition of the very cultural equipment which enabled them to migrate and conquer was doubtless due in large part to those contacts which, while facilitating a diffusion of culture, would also involve a crossing of strains. It is for such reasons taken in conjunction with the discussion of earlier pages 10 that we are warranted in holding on strong a priori grounds as well as on both recent and Palaeo-anthropological evidence that there has been no considerable area at any time inhabited by a simon-pure Nordic race.

    It is this universal hybridity which has made necessary the idealization of the type as illustrated by the terms Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean. Professor Ripley‘s discussion 11 makes it

    10 See supra, especially pp. 189 et seq.
    11 Races of Europe, New York, 1899, especially Chap. VI.


    clear as we have seen that the traits ascribed to these races are arrived at only in consequence of processes of elimination and idealization. It is wholly improbable that there is anywhere in Europe any sizable area inhabited by a people whose blood has remained since Neolithic times unmixed with that of some more or less different stock. The proof is in the fact that “at the present time rarely, if indeed ever, do we discover a single individual corresponding to our racial type in every detail.“ 12 Similar considerations apply to other areas and peoples. It appears on a superficial survey that there are vast groups of Europeans unmixed with negro blood, as also considerable areas of negroid and mongoloid stocks unaffected by European admixture. But within each grand division of mankind and even down to particular tribal bodies within them there has everywhere been an absence of that complete segregation of groups which would have given perfect homogeneity. Indeed, the facts presented by Dixon‘s survey of extant anthropological data show that everywhere on the globe, and at all times for which data are available, head-forms have been quite variable. This conclusion holds whether his theory of the original ingredients be correct or not. In almost exactly the same manner Fleure has shown that extreme dolichocephaly and certain associated characters are found in such widely separated places as Wales, Ireland, France, the Iberian Peninsula, North and East Africa, Australia (Aborigines), Fiji Islands and East Brazil. 13

    All this has an intimate bearing on one‘s conception of such populations as the assumed original Aryans, the Nordics, the Wiros. Thus Peake, Nordic Aryanist, while giving them rather typical traditional characteristics, admits their heterogeneity. In fact, he argues 14 that there probably has never been a human group living in complete isolation long enough to have produced a close homogeneity. Thus the evidence of Palaeolithic skulls of the steppe-folk of several thousand years ago, studied by Sergi

    12 Ibid., p. 112.
    13 H. J. Fleure, “Some Early Neoanthropic Types in Europe and Their
    Modern Representatives,“ Jour. Roy. Anth. Inst., vol. 50, 1920, pp. 12-40.
    14 Op. cit., pp. 154-6.


    and Bogdanov, show a range in cephalic index from 65 to 79 even with the exclusion of certain broad skulls found in the same burial mounds. This is more than a third of the whole human range and fully one-half the range of all but extreme forms; it is wide enough to include many sub-types. His conclusion is: “We can then imagine our Wiros as a somewhat variable race, with heads that conform to the narrow rather than the broad type, tall and robust, though probably neither so tall nur so robust as many of the modern Nordics. There is reason for believing them to have been fair, though it is likely enough that in coloration, too, there was considerable variation.“ 15 This is a circumspect statement, but one may add to its circumspection. The only evidences for blondness are scrappy bits of mythology. We do not know what proportion may have approached pure blonds. Peake is himself inclined to think the extreme blondness found among the Swedes is a later specialization. We do not know for certain whether in ancient times blondness was associated with the long heads or the round heads and in what proportions; nor do we know in what proportions tallness, blondness and long-headedness were found in the same persons. All the evidence presented by Peake indicates that his mythical Wiros, the possible ancestors of the Achaean heroes, of the Celts and the Teutons, were highly hybridized 5000 to 8000 years ago. It is doubtful whether they have ever been less so at any time since, except in small isolated areas, where they would be of no historical significance.

    We think then of a race as an ensemble of physical traits, each more or less variable, all inherited as an ensemble within their limits of variation, and sufficiently distinctive when taken together to mark off their possessors from other members of the human species. Such a conception is plastic and adaptable. It applies to all anthropological types, but in view of the excessive tendency toward crossing of lines such a concept of race makes it clear that such historical groups as the Aryan, Greek, Latin, German, or English cannot be looked upon as pure races, or even approximately pure. Such terms as Slav, Celtic and Teutonic, when applied to those tribes and peoples who have moved across the arena

    15 Op. cit., p. 156.


    of European history must be reserved for political and ethnological groupings rather than anthropological types. It should be clear also that if the term Nordic is to be used to designate one of the racial types entering into the composition of European peoples, then it should not be applied to historical groups. There have been and still are some groups containing more Nordic blood than others but no investigation has yet been made which shows how much such nations owe to their Nordic ingredients and how much to other elements.

    This does not mean that the fundamental races of Europe — Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean, or whatever classification of them be finally adopted — are equal in any sense. In so far as they are distinctive races they are quite truly different and hence unequal in the only possible sense. It follows that the populations made up of differing proportions of the fundamental races must also be different and unequal. But to this point of racial inequality we shall return. We may for the moment conclude the discussion of the question whether there are pure races by saying that purity as applied to a race is necessarily a relative term and that, so far as Europe is concerned, even moderately pure races exist, if at all, only in isolated areas here and there.

    Source: The racial basis of civilization, London 1931, by Frank H. Hankins

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