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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T14


Review of William Z. Ripley,
“The Races of Europe” 1

The primary object of Professor Ripley's studies is the explanation
of the present distribution of human types in Europe. Four factors
determine the same: heredity, environment, chance variation and

It is a difficult task to ascribe to each of these its proper sphere of
influence in the development of the human types inhabiting a continent
whose people have undergone so many changes of location as those
of Europe. Professor Ripley agrees with most authors in recognizing
three fundamental types in Europe: the long-headed, dark Mediterranean
; the short-headed, brunet Alpine; and the long-headed, blond
Teutonic type. The author rightly dwells on the fact that, on the whole,
human types are comparatively stable in given areas, and for this reason
prefers to give to the types geographical names (p. 128). He suggests
that it would have been desirable to designate the type of northwestern
Europe also by a geographical term — such as Deniker's “Nordic” —
rather than by a national term, such as “Teutonic,” which he uses
throughout. The prevalent types of various regions he explains largely
as due to mixtures of these fundamental types, and as modifications due
to environment, chance variation and selection.

The multiplicity of these causes and our lack of knowledge of the
mode of their action make all conclusions based on them very doubtful.
The causes may be combined in various manners to explain a given
phenomenon. The lower stature of mountaineers is explained by less
favorable influence of the highest region and said to be counterbalanced
by its selective influence, which eliminates the less vigorous elements of
the population. When the obscure effects of social or geographical
environments are insufficient to explain existing conditions, heredity
as expressed by mixture, and selection or chance variation, enter as
155convenient factors which enable us to find a plausible explanation. The
ease with which the extremely complex phenomena can be explained
by various combinations of these causes seems to me a reason of weakness
of the conclusions set forth by Professor Ripley. Our ignorance of
the conditions which influence modification of inherited form suggest
that before accepting a given theory we should seek for historical corroboration
of the same. This has been given in a few cases, as in the
discussion of the types of Britanny (p. 101); but sufficient historical
and archaeological evidence is not available or has not been given to
raise many conclusions beyond serious doubt. It would seem that combinations
of causes such as are brought forward to explain the conditions
in Burgundy (p. 144) are so uncertain that they cannot be
considered more than a very risky hypothesis. The uncertainty of this
method is also well illustrated in the discussion of the characteristics of
the types of the Alps. The author is led to explain in many places the
permanence of the Alpine types by the remoteness and unattractiveness
of Alpine valleys, while in others the high variability of the Alpine
population is explained by the assumption that the valleys contain the
“ethnological sweepings of the plains” (p. 106). Historical evidence is
just as much necessary in the study of physical types as it is in that of
geographical names, which are very liable to lead to erroneous results,
unless studied in their oldest accessible forms. Only when our knowledge
of the causes influencing human types is much more definite than
it is now may we hope to reconstruct the details of their history without
the corroboration of historical evidence. Many of the explanations contained
in the book are certainly plausible, and add much to its attractiveness;
but I should be inclined to emphasize the elements of uncertainty
much more than the author does.

On the whole, Professor Ripley considers economic attractiveness as
one of the principal causes that regulate the distribution of types.
According to his theory the fertile plains were always subject to foreign
invasion, while the less fertile hills contain the most ancient types. While
in historic times, when population had reached a considerable density,
this cause must have been very effective, we may doubt if it acted in
the same manner in early times, when the continent was sparsely settled,
when agriculture was not the only means of subsistence and when dense
forests and swamps, difficult of access, or steppes that are now fertile
covered the plains. The author calls attention to the fact that the invasion
of the Alpine type cannot be explained in this manner.156

I feel least in accord with Professor Ripley's ready resort to mixture
as an explanation of peculiarities of type. This view is closely connected
with the interpretation of what constitutes a type or a race. I do not
think the term “Races of Europe” a fortunate one, but, with Gerland
and Ehrenreich, I am inclined to reserve the term for the largest divisions
of mankind. The differences between the three European types
are certainly not equal in value to the differences between Europeans,
Africans and Mongols; but they are subordinate to these. The term
“type” appears most appropriate for the subdivisions of each race.

It would seem that if the author had given us in his work not only
an analysis of what differentiates the various types of Europe, but also
a description of what is common to them — a subject that would seem
eminently proper in a discussion of European man — his views might
have been somewhat modified. The important anatomical characteristics
of the race as a whole have found no place in his work; in the chapter
on European origins (pp. 457 et seq.), in which he deals with the
general question of race, only the anthropometric evidence and pigmentation
are treated. Considering the most generalized form of the European
race as it reveals itself in the child, we should be inclined to consider
it a highly specialized form of the Mongoloid type from which it departs
principally, by the peculiar development of the nose and adjoining parts
of the face and by a general decrease of pigmentation. On account of
the high degree of variability; of the originally limited distribution of
this type, and of the apparent tendency of hybrids with other races to
revert to the other parental race rather than to the European race, I
should be inclined to consider the European one of the latest human
types. In early times this race was probably slightly specialized in a
number of areas, each area exhibiting a considerable degree of variability.
The loss of pigmentation, and change in facial form, were
not equally pronounced everywhere, so that one region would be darker
colored or broader faced than another, although not by any means
uniform in itself. For this reason the occurrence of blonds or of narrow-faced
and elongated heads in an otherwise dark, broad-faced and shorthaired
region does not necessarily prove mixture. At present we have
no means of telling how stable these types had become before the
extensive mixture which certainly has taken place throughout Europe.
For this reason it seems a vain endeavor to seek for individuals representing
the “pure type,” even if there had been no mixture. In his discussion
of the “Three European Races” (Chap. VI) Professor Ripley
157acknowledges the variability without, however, discovering that it
makes conclusions as to mixture exceedingly doubtful, except in very
pronounced cases.

It does not seem to me justifiable to consider all the individuals that
are short-headed and brunet, although living in an area which, on the
average, is long-headed and blond, as belonging to the Alpine type,
and to explain their presence as due to mixture between the two types.
They may simply represent the remoter variations from the long-headed
blond type. This question has a most important bearing upon the
explanation of facts of social selection (pp. 537 et seq.) by the assumption
of different tendencies in the two types.

The problem can hardly be solved satisfactorily until we have acquired
a much better knowledge than we now possess of the variabilities
of the various types and of the degrees of correlation between the features
that characterize each type. This information is not yet available.
No method has yet been devised for measuring the variability of pigmentation.
The military selection, which vitiates so many anthropometric
results, unfortunately often obscures the actual variability entirely.
Thus all curves of stature in Livi's great work on Italy are asymmetrical
on account of the elimination of all individuals below 155 cm. and the
decreasing frequency of rejection correlated with increasing stature.
This selection increases all the averages, and lessens the variabilities the
more, the shorter the average of the type. Neither is it quite safe to take
the irregularities of curves of distribution as evidence of mixture, unless
they are subjected to a very careful analysis.

The author considers as the most valuable anthropometric characteristic
the form of the head as expressed by the cephalic index, and
deprecates the value of facial proportions and of absolute measurements.
We cannot quite agree with this view. The cephalic index is
often a most valuable means of distinguishing the types composing a
race, but not by any means the only one. Our selection of characteristic
measurements must always be guided by existing differences, whatever
these may be. Two types may have the same cephalic index and still
differ in the general form of the skull and of the face to such a degree as
to require separate treatment. Neither must we disregard the absolute
values of the diameters of the head. The great length of the Negro
cranium as compared to its small capacity has a meaning quite different
from the same length of the European cranium of large capacity. For
this reason we cannot accept the daring map of the distribution of the
158cephalic index the world over (p. 42) as signifying any racial relationships.
Cephalic index alone cannot be considered a primary principle
of classification.

Neither are cephalic index and pigmentation alone a sufficiently
broad basis for the characterization of racial types. The consideration
of these two features leads the author to designate the European race
as intermediate between the African and Asiatic races, without considering
the objections to this theory which are founded in the form of
the face, the size and form of the brain, the proportions of the extremities.
Neither do we feel it safe to explain the fine, wavy hair of the
European as due to a mixture between the frizzly African and the
straight Asiatic hair.

We most heartily concur with the author's emphatic demand for
treating physical, ethnographical, and linguistic methods separately.
The misconception of what constitutes a racial type, a cultural group,
and a linguistic stock has caused a vast amount of futile speculation.
The three methods may be used, each in its particular domain, for reconstructing
part of the history of mankind, and each may be used, to
a limited extent, as a check on the two others. When two groups of
people speak closely related languages the inference may be drawn that
they are in part related in blood, although the strain of common blood
may be so slight as to escape anthropometrical methods entirely. Cultural
similarity is no proof of blood-relationship, since culture may be
easily disseminated among tribes of different descent.159

1 Science, N.S., vol. 10 (September 1, 1899), pp. 292-296.