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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T05


New Evidence in Regard to the
Instability of Human Types 1

A number of years ago I carried on, under the auspices of the
United States Immigration Commission, an investigation on the
physical types of immigrants and of their descendants. One of the results
of this inquiry was the establishment of the fact that there is a difference
in appearance between the immigrants and their descendants. So far as
the bulk of the body is concerned, this information was not new. Analogous
phenomena had been observed in 1877 by H. P. Bowditch in
Boston, and by Peckham in Milwaukee. It was new, however, that there
is also a change in such features as the cephalic index and the width of
the face. It was found that on the average the heads of descendants of
immigrants of East European types are more elongated, and those of
the descendants of South Europeans more rounded, than those of their
parents. The data were obtained partly by a generalizing method, partly
by a comparison between parents and children.

The results of this inquiry have been attacked by many writers, on the
basis that they decline to believe that such changes can occur. I have
not found any actual criticism of my method and of the results, except
by Corrado Gini, who doubts the inferences drawn in regard to the
populations of Italian cities which also show a modification of the
cephalic index.

I think the hesitation of many authors to accept the results is due
largely to a misinterpretation of their significance. I may be allowed to
state concisely here what I think has been proved, and what inferences
seem justifiable.

The investigation has a direct bearing upon the question of the classification
of human local types, more particularly of European types.
Many attempts have been made to give a satisfactory classification of
the divergent types that occur in Europe. Pigmentation, stature, form
76of the head, and form of the face, show material differences in various
parts of Europe, notwithstanding the fundamental sameness of the whole
race. Authors like Deniker, and many others, have carried out on this
basis an elaborate classification of European types in a number of
“races” and “sub-races.”

In this classification the assumption is made that each race that we
find at the present time in its particular environment is an hereditary
type different from the others. In order to express this assumption, I
should like to use the term that these races and sub-races represent,
“genetic” types — genetic in the sense that their characteristics are determined
by heredity alone. The question, however, has not been
answered, whether these types are really genetic types, or whether they
are what I might call “ecotypes,” in so far as their appearance is determined
by environment or ecological conditions. If we include in this
term not only environmental conditions in a geographical and social
sense, but also conditions that are determined by the organism itself, we
might, perhaps, still better call them physiological types, in the same
sense in which the biologist speaks of physiological races. My investigation
then was directed to the question of how far a certain type of man
may be considered a genetic type, of how far a physiological type. If
there is any kind of environmental influence, it is obvious that we can
never speak of a genetic type per se, but that every genetic type appears
under certain environmental or physiological conditions, and that in this
sense we are always dealing with the physiological form of a certain
genetic type. The question, then, that demands an answer, is, in how
far genetic types may be influenced by physiological changes.

I believe, that, on the basis of the material that I collected, we must
maintain that the same genetic type may occur in various physiologically
conditioned forms, and that so far as stature, head form, and width of
face are concerned, the differences between the physiological forms of
the same genetic type are of the same order as the differences between
the races and sub-races which have been distinguished in Europe. I
must add, however, that these remarks do not refer to pigmentation,
for, contrary to a widespread belief, we have no proof of environmental
influences upon pigmentation. For this reason the classification of European
races cannot be considered as proving genetic differentiation.

The whole investigation which I carried on, and certain comparable
observations obtained from older literature, do not indicate in any way
to what physiological conditions the observed changes may be due.
77The only physiological causes in regard to which evidence is available
relate to the bulk of the body, and to a certain extent to the proportions
of the limbs. The size of the body depends upon the conditions under
which growth takes place. Growth depends upon nutrition, upon pathological
conditions during childhood, and upon many other causes, all of
which have an effect upon the bulk of the body of the adult. When
these conditions are favorable, the physiological form of a certain genetic
type will be large. If there is much retardation during early life,
the physiological form of the same genetic type will be small. Retardation
and acceleration of growth may also account for varying proportions
of the limbs. On the other hand, we have no information whatever
that would allow us to determine the cause of the physiological
diminution in the size of the face that has been observed in America,
nor for the change in the head index that occurs among the descendants
of immigrants.

Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate that these changes are in
any sense genetic changes; that is to say, that they influence the hereditary
constitution of the germ. It may very well be that the same people,
if carried back to their old environment, would revert to their former
physiological types.

In fact, it can be shown that certain features are strictly hereditary,
and that, although the physiological form of a genetic type may vary,
nevertheless the genetic type as such will exert its influence. Professor
von Luschan has repeatedly called attention to this fact as revealed
in the modern populations of Asia Minor, where, notwithstanding the
mixture which has continued for at least four thousand years, the characteristic
Armenian, Northwest European, and Mediterranean types
survive in the mixed population. Similar examples may be observed in
Italy. I have calculated the variability of the head form that is found
in different parts of Italy, based on the data collected by Ridolfo Livi.
The head form of the North Italians is excessively short. The head
form of the South Italians is decidedly elongated. In between we find
intermediate forms. In the Apennines, we have, in addition to the
mixture of these two Italian forms, a marked immigration from the
Balkan Peninsula, which introduced another short-headed type. As
a result of these long-continued mixtures, we observe low degrees of
variability in northern and southern Italy, high degrees of variability in
the central regions, particularly in the Abruzzi. These indicate permanence
of the component types of the mixed population.78

During the last few years some new data have been collected that
confirm my previous observations. I have pointed out several times
that changes of types have been observed in Europe wherever a careful
comparison between city population and country population has
been made. Generally the changes that occur there have been ascribed
to selective influences; but the intensity of selection would have to be
so great that it does not seem plausible that they can be explained by
this cause.

In conjunction with Miss Helene M. Boas, I have made a comparison
between the head forms of the city populations of Italy and of the
rural population in the areas surrounding the cities, and compared these
data with the information given in the Italian census in regard to the
immigration into cities. I found throughout that the variability of head
form in each city is smaller than would be found in a population in
which all the constituent genetic types were present without physiological
modification. This result has been criticized by Corrado Gini, on the
basis that in former times migration was less than what it is now. I
grant this point; but nevertheless it is quite obvious that, although no
exact data are available, the mixture of population in a city like Rome
or like Florence must be very great, since the political conditions for
the conflux of Italians, and even of individuals from outside of Italy,
have been favorable for a very long period. If this is true, we should
expect a very high degree of variability in Rome, which, however, is not

Turning to new data, I may mention the observation made by
Dr. Hrdlička, who, in a paper read before the Pan American Scientific
Congress, has stated that he found the width of face of Americans of
the fourth generation — that is to say, of descendants of Europeans
who had no foreign-born ancestor after the fourth generation back —
was materially decreased as compared to the width of face found among
European types. This conforms strictly with what I found among the
descendants of immigrants of all nationalities.

A year ago I had the opportunity to make an anthropometric investigation
of a considerable number of natives of Puerto Rico. This
work was carried on in connection with the Natural History Survey of
Puerto Rico organized by the New York Academy of Sciences. The
population of Puerto Rico is derived from three distinct sources — from
people belonging to the Mediterranean type of Europe, from West
Indian aborigines, and from Negroes. The Mediterranean ancestry of
79the Puerto Ricans leads back to all parts of Spain ; but among the more
recent immigrants, Catalans, people from the Balear Islands and from
the Canary Islands prevail. There are also a fair number of Corsicans.
The Spanish immigration has been quite strong even up to the present
time. Among the individuals whom I measured, 14 per cent had
Spanish-born fathers, some even Spanish-born mothers. From all we
know about the history of the people of Puerto Rico, we must consider
them essentially as descendants of male immigrants who intermarried
with native women. It is evident that in early times this must have led to
the development of a Mestizo population, in which, however, the
amount of Indian blood must have decreased very rapidly owing to the
continued influx of Spanish blood, and the elimination from the reproductive
series of the male Mestizo element. The Negro population is
settled particularly on the outer coast of the island; while the amount of
Negro blood in the interior is apparently not very great, except near
the principal routes of travel.

According to European observations, the Spanish ancestors of this
population, while living in Spain, are long-headed. The Negro element
is of mixed provenience, from many different parts of Africa, but, on
the whole, the Negro in Africa is also long-headed. The West Indian
element, judging from the few prehistoric crania that have been recovered,
represents a very short-headed type. The modern Puerto Rican
is short-headed to such a degree that even a heavy admixture of Indian
blood could not account for the degree of short-headedness. If we apply
the results of known instances of intermixture to our particular case,
and assume stability of type, we find that, even if the population were
one-half Indian and one-half Spanish and Negro, the head index would
be considerably lower than what we actually observe. There is therefore
no source that would account for the present head form as a genetic
type; and we are compelled to assume that the form which we observe
is due to a physiological modification that has occurred under the new
environment. The head form of those individuals whose fathers were
born in Spain is noticeably more elongated than that of the individuals
whose parents are both Puerto Ricans. The head index of the Mulatto
population is intermediate between the index of the native Puerto
Ricans and that of those whose one parent is Spanish. The average
index of the Puerto Rican is 82.5. The average index of the Spaniard in
Spain is less than 77. We find, therefore, an increase of five units here,
which can in no way be accounted for by genetic considerations.80

I may mention in this connection that the average stature of the
Puerto Ricans is apparently almost the same as that of the Sicilians in
New York, and that throughout the period of growth the stature follows
about the same curve as that represented by Sicilian children living in
America. If anything, the stature is a little lower, and there is no
indication of that acceleration of development which is so often claimed
to be characteristic of a tropical environment. Undoubtedly poor nutrition,
and probably also pathological causes, have a retarding influence
here, which might easily be overcome by better hygienic conditions.

It is unfortunate that we have no accurate statistics of Puerto Rican
immigration and emigration, which would enable us to state with much
greater definiteness what genetic type should be expected here. There
is a popular belief in Puerto Rico that in certain parts of the island, in
the so-called “Indiera,” Indian types have persisted to a greater extent
than elsewhere. I have not been able to find any definite indication of
a difference in type ; but I have measured only a few individuals from
these districts. The material that I have been able to study comes
from all parts of the island, but principally from the western-central
part. The phenomena here described occur with equal intensity in all
parts of the island.

The question of the degree of instability of human types seems to
my mind an exceedingly important one for a clear understanding of the
problems of physical anthropology. It would be particularly desirable
to study the problem among immigrants living in different rural communities
of the United States, and it would be even more desirable to
have information in regard to the types that develop among the East
Europeans and South Europeans who return to Europe and settle
in their old geographical environment.81

1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 2 (December, 1916),
p. 713.