Anthropologists define races as historical communities of people having a common origin of kinship. This is seen in their hereditary morphophysiological characters and genetic isolatedness. Yet this very token is not confirmed by so many studies. It is pertinent to ask therefore: how legitimate is the notion of "race"? To answer this question, let's look back into our planet's distant past.
Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author. - Ed.
by Yuri GUK, Cand. Sc. (Technol.), Senior Researcher, Lomonosov Moscow State University
During the latest glacial period, that is about 12 to 80 thousand years ago, the glaciers - 2 to 3 km thick at the time - came down from the mountains into the valleys and covered vast expanses, absorbing an immense mass of moisture thereby. The ocean level went down, and so did evaporation. The climate became colder and drier everywhere. Savannas, or the treeless plains, which used to be the best hunting grounds for tribes living by the crook and the bow, turned into deserts and semideserts.* Such things as man's adaptability to new natural conditions as well as the random variability of people in isolation were bound to lead to certain distinctions in their look. Indeed, we can see that in the bone remains of equatorial races found in the 1970s and 1980s in the provinces Rorisbad (South Africa, the age of the finds, 39,000 years) and Nia (Kalimantan, Indonesia, the age of the finds, 40,000 years).
Now why did territories in these particular climes attract researchers' notice in the first place? Probably because during glaciation the belt of deserts, say, in North Africa, isolated tribes south of the Sahara where four areas of race formation came into being. The first was in savannas which had become deserts and semideserts. Adjusting to the arid climate, indigenous tribes acquired Bushman's features: black skin with a shade of yellow could well disguise them against a backdrop of sandy soil. The epicanthus, that is a small fold of skin on eyelids sometimes covering the inner corner of the eye, protected their eyes against sandstorms. Adipose deposits on thighs and buttocks (steatopyga) served as a natural store of nutrients against famine. This ancestral Bushman race populated a large part of Africa south of Sahara up until the end of the Ice Age.
The second race formation area covered districts bordering on rivers and lakes with high solar radiation and humidity This was the birthplace of the black race, Negroes, with very dark skin that absorbed the ultraviolet of the sun and protected the body against sunburns. The thick curly hair kept the head safe against a sunstroke; the large flat nose with large nostrils let in a free flow of hot air; the thick prominent lips ensured convective heat transfer; and the many sweat glands operated as a natural cooling device.
Yet another, third, isolated area is represented by the Ethiopian Plateau. The ever drier climate there contributed to the birth of another variety of the Negro race with less dark skin and a regular nose.
And last, the fourth racial seat is in the tropical forests of Central Africa, the cradle of the Negrillo race. Anthropologists do not agree yet on what caused this tribe of pigmies to come into being. But one thing is certain: short huntsmen had it easier in making their way in the jungle. Similar processes were afoot in tropical Asia as well.
That period saw natural changes in the temperate and arctic zones too. Plains, clear of ice, turned into tundra-steppes rich in fodder. High grasses, growing there during hot summers, became natural hay in autumn-the welcome feed for herbivores, mammoths among them, in harsh snowless winters. These animals were a coveted bag for hunters. Thus a single type of economy, hunting, took form over vast expanses from the Atlantic in the east to the Pacific in the west.**
Now, how did primitive people communicate with one another? What languages did they speak? According to the Danish linguist Halger Pedersen (1867-1953), there is a genetic connection between several language families and separate isolated languages considered to be not cognate. He called them nostratic.*** Included into this macrogroup today are the Indo- European, Semitic-Hamitic, Iberian-Caucasian, Uralic, Altaic, Chukchi-Kamchatka, Eskimo-Aleutian language families as well as the Yukagir, Ostjak (Keltic), Nivkhan, Korean, Japanese and some other isolated languages. H. Pedersen, upon studying the nostratic glossary compiled by the Russian linguist Vladimir Illich-Svit-ych, came to the conclusion that nostratic was spoken by all mammoth- hunting tribes.**** This factor, as we see it, midwifed the birth of a race which could be legitimately called nostratic. Those people were distinguished by a large and long nose (to warm the cold air inhaled) and fair skin implicated in the formation of the anti-rachitic vitamin D. You see, this vitamin, absent in mammoth's meat, the chief diet of the people of that age, is produced in the human organism under the effect of ultraviolet rays. Dark skin absorbs them, but fair skin lets them in.
* See: Yu. Suprunenko, "Where Are All the Mammoths Gone?", Science in Russia, No. 2, 1999. -Ed.
** See: "Why's the Neanderthal Gone?", Science in Russia, No. 4, 1997. -Ed.
*** With reference to a macrofamily of languages comprising language families and languages of Eurasia and Africa (Indo- European, Kartvelian (Iberian), Afro-Asian, Uralic, Altaic, etc.). - Ed.
**** See: Yu. Guk, "Mammoths' Mother Tongue", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1996. - Ed.
Let's follow the further course of events on our planet. The peak of glaciation occurred about 18 to 20 thousand years ago. At that time the rate of loess deposition increased dramatically (loess - a yellowish-brown, very fine-grained deposit of silt), with fierce sandstorms in its wake. The area of this phenomenon stretched in a broad belt all the way from Eastern Europe to China. In winter what remained of the dry grass there came to be out of reach for mammoths' trunks. That is why mammoths had to leave those parts, with some of the huntsmen following them. Those who remained had to adjust to new natural conditions. Their skin acquired a touch of yellow which disguised man against the background of loess soil. The narrow eye slits and the epicanthus protected the eyes against dust. The stiff lank hair, sparse beard, mustache and the snub nose likewise helped in keeping the dust off. These characters of the Mongoloid race, judging by archeological findings, appeared on vast expanses concurring with the area of intensive loess deposition. This fact is confirmed by other bits of evidence, namely that bone remains aged 20,000 years or so and bearing the same characters are not localized in one particular district but are found over Eurasia's vast areas. In my opinion, such rapid formation of the Mongoloid morphological complex could occur thanks to natural selection. The changed natural conditions in the regions of intensive loess deposition were responsible for the extinction of a greater part of the population. Only the fittest and most adaptable survived to pass down their newly acquired characters to subsequent generations.
The mammoth-hunting community continued north of the areas of intensive loess deposition. The severe climate during the glaciation peak provided a setting where white-skinned and fair-haired individuals could survive. The blue cornea of their eyeballs improved their sight. The long narrow nose warmed the cold air they breathed in, and their thin lips locked tight the mouth to keep it warm. As shown by the disquisitions of BalgangadaharTilak (1856-1920), a venerable scholar of India, those tribes of hunters spoke a protolanguage of the Indo-European family. Perusing the sacred books Avesta (Persia) and Rig-Veda (India), he came up with a hypothesis that the ancestors of the cattle- tending tribes, the Aryans, lived in the Far North. Some of the evidence to this effect is offered by a description of their pristine homeland on the shore of the "Milky Sea" (Arctic Ocean), ice- bound now and again, where all of the year consists of just one day and one night. This phenomenon is proper to the Far North of our hemisphere.
Consequently, it would be appropriate to call Indo-European the race that came to be in those latitudes. But the zone south of intensive loess deposition became the native land of the Caucasian and Semitic races that broke from the rest of their nostratic ancestors because of the language barrier.
The global climate changed a good deal after the Ice Age. The mammoths died out, and the herds of other herbivores contracted. Harsh droughts, a scourge of land- and cattle-farming, were no more. Some of the ancient huntsmen kept plying their old trade so as to procure victuals, while others shifted to land cultivation and stock-breeding. The population numbers soared. Why? As a rule a huntman's family had four children. Mothers sucked their kids until age three, when their organism became strong enough to assimilate coarse food. Hence the low fertility rate. During lactation only a few females became pregnant, and infants thus born were just killed off, for their mothers were unable to suck two babies at once. Such customs, even under favorable conditions, plus high infant mortality rates did not let a population increase go beyond 15-20 percent in a generation. But the tables were turned for land - and cattle-farming families that could afford to raise as many as eight children. Their mothers could supplement their natural fare with animal milk or food boiled from cereals. Small wonder that the birth rate was up - even given a 50 percent infant mortality rate, the population numbers doubled within one generation, and they increased thousandfold in ten generations.
The language barriers separating population groups during global glaciation came to be effaced little by little; this trend was likewise instrumental in the emergence of a common language which stimulated an intermixing of population groups and contributed to the formation of a single anthropological type.
The relevance of this hypothesis is now proved. Christopher Stringer, a British geneticist, includes many other peoples into the cognate group of Europoids (the majority of peoples inhabiting Europe since ancient times and speaking Indo-European languages), notably the Turkic-speaking Western Mongoloids (the aborigines of Western Siberia and Central Asia), and also the indigenous groups in North Africa and Sudan, speaking Semitic- Hamitic languages. What brought these peoples together? Before the peak of glaciation, Eastern Europe and Western Siberia were populated by mammoth-hunting groups that, owing to the absence of geographical barriers, formed a close-knit genetic entity. Then it broke up into races, for one, into the Indo-Europeans in the Far North, the Turkic race, which accommodated to the natural conditions of intense loess deposition; the Caucasian and Semitic races were further south.
Caucasia is one of the world's geographical centers which Academician Nikolai \^vilov pointed at way back in 1926 and where cultivated plants, wheat among them, have been known since ancient times. Caucasian hunters, with the natural cataclysms over, turned to land cultivation and, increasing their numbers, started settling territories suitable to their new occupation.
At first they used sticks and hoes in land tilling-loess soil was particularly good for that. Such soil was found in many regions of Europe where Caucasians moved in pursuit of livelihood. Over there they mixed with the hunting tribes of the nostratic race populating these territories since the Ice Age. This may explain the diversity of anthropological population types in Southern and Central Europe. The given proposition agrees with the teachings of Academician Nikolai Marr (1864/1865-1934), namely that formerly many European peoples spoke Caucasian (Japhetic) languages.
The Eurasian steppe, stretching from the Danube in the west to Altai in the east, with the animal world rich enough, came to be populated by the Indo-European, Turkic and Semitic races that learned to tend cattle. At the time of a sharp global warming, the so-called thermal peak (5th millennium B.C.), those tribes, going through natural selection, learned to consume animal milk and started multiplying their numbers dramatically. The Semites, who had domesticated cattle only (but not sheep and goats), were in the 4th millennium B.C. ousted from the steppe zone by Indo- Europeans who also domesticated the horse, an animal that later became a striking force of the host. Sumerian written records tell us: it was at that time that the cattle-tending Semites invaded Mesopotamia from northeast. Some of these nomads settled down, but others continued their thrust as far as the Sahara in the south, a thriving oasis at the time. But desert encroachment forced them to move to the Mediterranean coast and Sudan, where peoples of the Berber-Lybian group emerged. Horse-breeding became their staple economy, and that enabled them, as of the third millennium B.C., to press the Indo-Europeans out to the west and southwest. In Europe, the cattle-breeders subjugated the land- farming peoples of the Caucasian race; but being a minority, the conquerors then came to be dissolved among the land-tilling autochthons, even though the tongues they were speaking became state languages. It was only in Northern Europe, where hunting was still predominant, that the Indo-Europeans exterminated the aboriginal population to gain pre-eminence as an anthropological type.
Thus, as I see it, the latest Ice Age witnessed a large number of races taking body and form, with hunting being their stable mode of the economy. Those tribes that mastered land- or cattle-farming, became populous and settled territories fit for farming. Intermixing with the autochthonous population or with one another, they gave birth to all the various ethnic groups. But this process did not affect races living in geographical isolation or on territories no good for land-tilling and stock-breeding.
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