THE HIJACKING OF FRANZ WEIDENREICH: How the Writings of an Anti-racist Anthropologist were Misrepresented by Racists and Anti-racists (Part 1 of 3)

THE HIJACKING OF FRANZ WEIDENREICH: How Writings of an Anti-Racist Anthropologist were misrepresented by Racists and Academic Purists (Part 1 of 3)

Note to readers: If you observe any shortcomings in this essay, let me know and if possible give me the citations from primary (not secondary) sources that support your argument. This digital blog is not a journal article printed on paper and so, if need be, I can update it.

(Initially posted: 8/20/16, Revisions: None)

Summary: While researching the theories of the German anatomist and anthropologist Franz Weidenreich, I located a largely unknown paper he published in 1931 in Der Morgen magazine (Figure 1) during the Nazi rise to power in Germany. In this paper, he examined blood types of Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, and found that they were quite similar to each other, and not similar to the blood types of Middle Eastern populations. His findings – which concluded that German Jews were not a separate race from non-Jewish Germans – refuted the Nazi racial ideology. After fleeing Nazi Germany, Weidenreich relocated to China where he described the fossilized remain of Homo eructs. By comparing Homo erectus remains from Europe, China, and Indonesia, Weidenreich proposed that these far flung populations were also intermixed, even though they had somewhat different shaped skulls and teeth. To date, no one has made the connection between Weidenreich’s early anti-Nazi writings and his later publications on the diversity among Homo erectus. After Weidenreich died, his research was misrepresented by his critics, and in an ironic twist, bogusly used by 20th century race supremacists to promote the idea that West Africans (and by extension African Americans) had evolved from apes well after the rest of humanity. Weidenreich, who risked his life apposing Nazi racism, ended up being hijacked by America racists who argued against de-segregating public schools.W 2016 Fig1

Weidenreich has been Forgotten (Mostly)

Franz Weidenreich (1873-1948) holds an unusual position in the history of both physical anthropology and anti-racism in that he was an innovative pioneer in these two arenas, yet he is largely forgotten. Spencer (1997:1107) noted that Weidenreich developed the ‘polycentric theory’ of human origins which ‘anticipated the multi-regional theory of human modern origins that is one of the present explanations for human species unity in the face of regional diversity’.  Put into layman’s terms, back in the 1940s Weidenreich propose that what we now call ‘races’ were not distinct separated lines of humanity, but rather  a network of integrated populations in a constant state of change. Furthermore, he proposed that human had always been that way, such that humans interbred with Neanderthals, who also interbred with their ancestral forms. Although Weidenreich used the word ‘race’, his view of the concept of race was not simply unrelated lines of humanity. Rather, he asserted that races were population with porous boundaries, which is how variation occurs within many animal species. Thus, Weidenreich theory was consistent with the findings of Mayr and Dobdzhansky who observed that some species are monotypic (where all individuals share one largely uniform set of physical traits) while others are polytypic (showing a diverse spectrum of traits). This theory originated with Mayr’s (1964:111) studies of birds and Dobzhansky’s (1947:70) studies of Eurasian ladybugs. Dobzhansky (1962:221) asserted that ‘mankind is a polytypic species’. Weidenreich’s proposal that all modern human population were intermixed also pre-dated later anthropologists who regarded human polytypic variation as a racial spectrum. Livingstone’s (1962:279) contented that ‘there are no races, only clines’, which was endorsed by Dobzhansky. Skull anatomist C. Loren Brace, wrote that ‘there is a spectrum of variation’ in humans that is ‘rarely taken into account in appraisals of human evolution in general’ (Brace and Hunt 1990: 341).

In many ways, the views of Weidenreich (who studied anatomy) paralleled that of his contemporary Ruth Benedict (who studied human cultures). She also used the word ‘race’ while at the same time observing that the very concept did not sufficiently reflect a natural phenomenon. In 1940s, Benedict (1962:33-34) proposed that:

‘Whether the physical anthropologist measures of Swedes or Algerians or Chinese or Greeks, the same difficulty presents itself. Over and over again he discovers the obvious consequences of the great interim mixture that has occurred, or he discovers that the universality of the “ideal” type he set out to investigate in a given group is an illusion. If he compares his findings in his own group with those of another investigator in a different group – comparing, for example, Swedes with Sicilians – he finds that none of his traits are utterly lacking in individuals of the other group. The statistical distribution is different; that is all. He set out to isolate an anatomical variety as he would isolate a species of birds, but the facts he has gathered proved only that the human situation does not correspond to the situation among birds’.

Today, Benedict is still remembered by certain academics, but she has long been overshadowed by her more well-known friend and colleague, Margaret Mead. Her argument that the very notion of a pure ‘race’ was an illusion laid the groundwork for Ashley Montague’s (19442) influential and successful book Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Although Benedict has not been forgotten as much as Weidenreich, they still dwell in shadows of academic obscurity. Current authors who write books about race and how it was perceived throughout history often fail to mention them. In general, anthropologists and biologists who write books about race do not mention of Benedict. Meanwhile, social scientists and historians tend to overlook Weidenreich. Figure 2 presents a survey of 80 years’ worth of books on race, and only two of these publications mention both Benedict and Weidenreich.W 2016 Fig2


The Early Discoveries of Homo Erectus

The focus of this essay will be Weidenreich and how his anti-racist outlook both shaped, and was shaped by, his anatomical research.  This research focused both on living human populations and the fossilized remain of archaic humans, a term currently used to describe those ancestors of modern humans who walked upright and manufactured chipped stone tools. The most well-known archaic humans were the Neanderthals, whose remains were first discovered and described in 1856 in Germany (Roberts 2001:152). As more, Neanderthal bones were uncovered, and the scientific community largely accepted that modern humans had evolved from some sort of pre-human ancestor. However, there was disagreement as to where humans first evolved: Africa, Europe, or the Far East?

In the 1890s, Eugene Dubios had discovered fossil bones of an archaic human in Indonesia which he called Java Man. This fossil is now known to be a form of Homo erectus. Eventually, Dubios gave up on the idea that Java Man was an archaic human and instead claimed that it was a giant gibbon-like animal. Dubois also appears to have suffered some mental problems. At one point, he buried his Homo erectus fossils under his kitchen floor. (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:1). Nonetheless, his discovery still suggested the possibility that humans first evolved in Asia, which seemed plausible since some large apes (orangutans) still lived there. The question remained: did humans come from the Far East, or some other place that still had apes, like Africa?

The possibility of an African origin for humanity got a boost in 1925, when a human-like skull was discovered in South Africa by an Australian-born South African named Raymond Dart. Dart’s fossil came from an upright walking primate species called an australopith. Because Dart’s find belonged to a young child, it was called the Taung Baby. Although the Taung Baby was not a modern human, it was human enough to suggest that humans originated in Africa, as Darwin had assumed. (Spencer 1997:314). However, there was also evidence (of a sort) that humans originated in Europe. In 1912, broken fossils of a large-brained, human-like skull with an apelike jaw were discovered in Piltdown Commons in East Essex, England. These remains were hailed as a human ancestor and kept away from view until 1953. It was only then that anthropologists determined that the skull fragments were only a few hundred years old. They were simply human remains, likely dug up from a grave. The jaw was that of recently deceased orangutan that had been fraudulently stained to look like a fossil (Spencer 1997:832).

The Piltdown hoax, and its suggestion that humans originated in Europe, was accepted by the famed British anthropologist, Sir Arthur Keith (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:204). Keith’s lasting contribution to anthropology was that he determined that the overbite – which is common today but was unusual in the 18th century – was due to diet and the use of forks, not genetics. (Brace 2005:230) He is also notable for having authored the book The Antiquity of Man, published in 1915 and revised in 1925. Keith also felt that evolution did not occur at the individual level as Darwin had proposed. Rather Keith felt that groups of animal evolved as a unit, and that within the human species, each race evolved as a unit. (Brace 2005:231) For Keith, the tribe was the smallest unit of human evolution. Furthermore, tribal evolution would lead to racial evolution, but only when the tribe or race was isolated from the rest of humanity. According to Keith, war, prejudice, and race prejudice in particular were a positive good that pushed human evolution to advance and progress. (Brace 2005:232) In 1931, he published an essay called The Place of Prejudice in Modern Civilization in which he asserted that ‘Our modern masters of football have but copied the scheme of competition which Nature had set up in her ancient world. Her League of Humanity had its divisions – white, yellow, brown, and black’ (Quoted in Brace 2005:232). Keith then praised the existence inter-ethnic conflict as an evolutionary benefit to humanity, writing that:

‘Nature endowed her tribal teams with this spirit of antagonism for her own purposes. It has come down to us and creeps out from our modern life in many shapes, as national rivalries and jealousies and as racial hatreds. The modern name for this spirit of antagonism is race-prejudice’ (Quoted in Banton 1961:169).

The Piltdown hoax was embraced in America by Henry Osborne, the famed paleontologist and president of the American Museum of Natural History. Osborne was also a supporter of Madison Grant, the lawyer-turned author who was an officer in the American Eugenics society. According to Gossett (1997:254), Grant proposed that:

‘the superior races in the United States were in danger of being overwhelmed by inferior immigrants. For twenty five years Grant was a vice president of the Immigration Restriction League. His purpose in in writing The Passing of the Great Race was to alert Americans to the danger of the nation losing its essentially “Nordic” racial character, a loss he was certain could only be followed by the decline and ultimate extinction of its civilization’.

Osborn wrote the preface to Grant’s overtly white supremacist book, The Passing of the Great Race: or the Racial Basis of European History (Grant 1918:ix). Gossett (1997:389) noted that ‘Osborn enthusiastically joined with Madison Grant in the campaign to restrict immigration upon racial grounds’ because Osborn ‘assumed as obvious that racial inequalities of intelligence and temperament exist, that they are enormous, and that civilization itself’ depended on it. And, indeed Osborne wrote that:

‘The true spirit of American democracy that all men are born with equal rights and duties, has been confused with the political sophistry that all men are born with equal character and ability to govern themselves and others, and with the educational sophistry that education ad environment will offset the handicap of heredity. In the United States we are slowly waking up to the consciousness that education and environment do not fundamentally alter racial values’ (Quoted in Gossett, 1997:389).

Osborne asserted that human origins lay not in Africa, but in central Asia. Such a notion had been promoted through the 19th century by linguists and historians who supported what Gossett (1997:123-124) has called Cult of Aryanism. This cult would later become a core element Nazi ideology. Aryanism was based on the mistaken belief that members of a priesthood who the ancient Rig Vedas referred to as ‘Arya’, were an ethnic group – the so-called ‘Aryans’ –that once ruled India, and later migrated to Europe (Gossett 1997:123-124). The famed German embryologist and advocate for evolutionary theory Ernst Haeckel (1873:Plate XV) endorsed Aryanism such that he published a map (Figure 3) which proposed that humans evolve from apes in a now submerged land mass south of India. In order to prove that humans originated in the east, Osborne organized an expedition to uncover human remains in Mongolia. His field researchers found none, but instead discovered some significant dinosaur fossils. (Lebovics 2014:267).

W 2016 Fig3

The Lost Bones of Choukoutien (Formerly called ‘Peking Man’)

Although early 20th century researchers failed to find ancient human remains in Central Asia, they did uncover human-like bones near the city of Beijing, in Northeastern China. These finds were discovered largely through the efforts of the Canadian anatomist, Davison Black, whose work was funded through the Rockefeller Foundation. Black was native of Toronto, Canada who studied medicine at the University of Toronto, and then taught anatomy at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. While on sabbatical, he studied anthropology at England’s University of Manchester. When the First World War began, Black had intended to serve in the military, but instead was allowed to take a post as an anatomist at Peking Union Medical College in China (Spencer, 1997:181). It was there that he began to seek out fossils, which the local Chinese referred to as long gu or dragon bones. Fossilized bones were commonly ground up into a powder and used in traditional Chinese medicine. (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:4)

The first Europeans to investigate the possibility that Chinese fossil beds included human ancestors were Swedes. In 1914, a Swedish explorer and geologist named J. Gunnar Andersson (1874-1960) visited China looking for coal, oil, and valuable ores. In 1918, he visited the village of Choukoutien (now Zhoukoudian) located 50 kilometers southwest of Beijing. While there, he saw a pillar of limestone rich with fossilized bones. Although much of the stone near it had been quarried, the villagers told him that this area, called Chicken Bone Hill, was untouched. Local lore held that centuries ago foxes had lived in a cave and collected chicken bones. Some of the foxes later transformed into evil spirits. When a man tried to drive the foxes from the cave, the evil spirits drove him mad. Thus, the site was cursed and none of the locals would dig there. Andersson and his colleagues began investigating the site while staying a Buddhist temple. Soon enough, the locals grew tired of these European interlopers desecrating the temple. One of the villagers – whose name is lost to history – convinced the Europeans that they should instead dig at a location called Dragon Bone Hill or Longgushan. It was here that Andersson and his co-worker, the Austrian paleontologist Otto Zdansky excavated a productive fossil bed that Chinese dragon bone diggers (which was an actual profession) had known about for centuries. Eventually, Zdansky paid dozens of these bone diggers to work as excavators, muting the complaints those villagers who wanted the Europeans to leave (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:6-8).

The Longgushan site produced fossils of many mammals. However, it was not until 1921, and again in 1923 that it yielded what appeared to be three human-like teeth. These teeth had been found by Zdansky, who hid them from Andersson, a man whom he disliked. Eventually, Andersson succeeded in publishing a paper on these teeth in which he argued that they came from a human ancestor that what would later be called Peking Man. (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:10-11). By the time Black had arrived in China, both Andersson and Zdansky were moving on to other projects, and so Black filled the void. Black had already done a fine job of running the Peking Union Medical College hospital, which was greatly appreciated by the Rockefeller Foundation. Thus, he managed to convince the Foundation to support the paleontological dig at Longgushan, as a sort of quid-pro-quo condition for his remaining at the hospital. Although the hospital administration was generally opposed to Black’s anthropological diversions, the foundation agreed to create the Cenozoic Research Laboratory with Black as it honorary director (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:18). As a result, digging continued, which was no easy task given that Chinese warlords were fighting over the very territory that contained the dig site. Undaunted, Black diligently conducted all his studies at night after his hospital shift, perhaps to stay out of the gaze of his less-than-supportive hospital supervisors (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:16).

On December of 1929, the last day of the field season, on a day so cold that pails of water at the dig site were frozen, one of Black’s research team, a young German-educated Chinese archaeologist named Wenzhong Pei, excavated a skull of what is now known as Homo erectus (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:24). Pei (often cited as W. C. Pei) would go on to become a major anthropologist in China describing some 17,000 stone artifacts from Loggushan (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:69). Upon discovering the skull, young Pei feared that the priceless fossil might be stolen by corrupt officials manning the many checkpoints in the area. To protect that skull, he covered it in a quilt to disguise it as common baggage, and smuggled it over to Black’s lab in Beijing (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:24-25). Pei’s skull would later be called Sinanthropus pekinenis or Ape Man of Peking. It would be the first of many Homo erectus bones unearthed from the Longgushan site. Indeed, Black’s efforts had succeeded but at a grave cost. He had heart disease which often left him exhausted. After a mild heart attack, he came to realize that he might not have long to live. Yet, Black chose not to retire. On March 15, 1934, at the age of 49, he was found slumped over at the desk in his lab, with two fossil skulls on either side of him (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:26). With Black’s passing, the Rockefeller Foundation needed a replacement. They picked Franz Weidenreich.

Weidenreich Life: Three Times an Exile   

Although Weidenreich led an amazing life, no biography has been written about him. It can be a challenge to find even basic biographical information about him. And because his life was so upended by the chaos both World Wars, he had little time to sit for interviews. The few available pictures of him were taken late in his life. In these images, Weidenreich is presented as a bald man with a blunt nose dressed in a well-centered, drab necktie, even when he is digging up fossils (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:28, 52, 140). Because most of Weidenreich’s publications were published after 1923, they are not in the public domain (as set forth in the Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, January 2015). Therefore, this blog post contains newly re-drawn versions of illustrations published by Weidenreich.

According to Wolpoff and Caspari (2007:197), Weidenreich regarded all human forms, living and extinct, as a single species for two reasons:

‘1. Even the most distinct geographic races were not distinct types but graded into each other with numerous intermediate forms.

2. The whole of human variation is less than that of domesticated species, for most characters overwhelmingly less’.

Weidenreich’s life began normally enough. He was born in 1873 in a village near Edenkoben, Germany not far from what is now the French Border. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:180). Edenkoben was located in a region call the Palatinate or the Rhenish Palatinate. Unlike most of Germany, this region was conquered by the Romans and so it developed a somewhat Romanized culture, more like that of the French. The German-speaking people of the Palatinate, known as Rheinlanders, were of Franconian descent. They were traditionally oriented more towards the cities France than Germany. This region was always a borderland; a liberal meeting place crossed by trade routes were the French culture met German culture and Catholics intermingled with Protestants (Minihan 2002:1581-1582). Edenboken even had a synagogue dating to 1780. It served a Jewish community which existed as far back as the 1600s (Spector and Wigoder 2001:345).

Much of what we know about Weidenreich family comes from the writings of his nephew, Peter Wyden, who became a journalist in the United States. In 1996, Peter’s son, Ronald was elected as the U. S. Senator from Oregon. (Stone 2011:395-396). Peter (1992:33) described his uncle Franz as ‘Pleasant but distant, with an egg-shaped head like most of the males on my father’s side’. According to Wyden (1992:33), the Weidenreich family had a ‘pedigree going back, in tiny market towns of southwestern Germany, to the fifteenth century, when the family name was Weil’. This name was changed to Weidenreich, which means ‘Willow-rich’, because the family became weavers of willows baskets (Wyden 1992:33). Weidenreich’s father was initially a hat maker, but took on a job as a cemetery superintendent after his haberdashery business failed (Stone 2011:396).

In 1899, Weidenreich received his medical degree from the University of Strasbourg, which is now in France, but was then in Germany. The city of Strasbourg is the capitol of the Alsace Loraine, a border region that became part of France in 1735. However, it was transferred to the Germans in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War. In 1918, France again acquired it after the German’s lost the First World War (Tucker 2014:81). After graduating from university, Weidenreich became a professor of anatomy specializing in blood and lymph cells. He became a professor at Strasbourg, were he became known as ‘blood Weidenreich’ due to his field of research. In 1918, he was dismissed from this post because he was an ethnic German. The French officials who took over the province at the end of the First World War purged all the ethnic Germans. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:178) Weidenreich’s role as the president of the Alsace-Lorraine Democratic Party – which advocated for the region becoming an independent nation – was likely another strike against him. (McHale, 1983:417). It took him three years before he again found employment (Gregory 1949:1).

While at Strasbourg, Weidenreich became a friend and colleague of Gustave Schwalbe, a celebrated German evolutionist and devotee of Ernst Haeckel. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:178, Spencer 1997:917) Schwalbe promoted the use of precise measuring techniques in the study of human anatomy and the fossilized bones of Neanderthals and Homo erectus. Spencer 1997:916-917) Beginning in 1906, Weidenreich began to publish research into physical anthropology, but he did not agree with all of Schwalbe’s theories. Weidenreich always had an independent streak. While other scholars, like Sir Arthur Keith, embraced the Piltdown hoax, Weidenreich called it a fraud labeling it a ‘chimaera’ that should be ‘erased from the list of human fossils’ (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:204).

Weidenreich’s early work focused on the anatomy of the chin (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:181). Modern humans are the only primates who have a chin (Schwartz and Tattersall 2000:367). Neanderthals had no chin, and chins are missing in all archaic humans, only some of whom evolved into modern humans. In the late 20th century, some anthropologists suggested that the chin was a structural ridge used to strengthen the jaw from the outside. This external buttressing allows more room on the inside of the jaw. This roomier inside of the jaw could then be filled with all the muscles that are used by the tongue and throat to generate speech. Thus, the presence of a jaw may be related to the ability to speak, in which case, Neanderthals may not have been able to speak, or at least not as well as we moderns do. Recent findings of well-preserved Neanderthal neck bones, specifically the hyoid bone, indicate that Neanderthals might have been able to talk (Schwartz and Tattersall 2000:368)

After losing his job in Strasbourg, Weidenreich spent seven years as a professor at Heidelberg University, where he studied the structure of human bones. He was interested in the shape of the pelvis as it related to walking on two legs. Humans walk most the time, except when crawling or climbing, which we do slowly and gracelessly. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:181) Conversely, chimpanzees mostly climb and crawl on all fours. They are slow and ungraceful on those occasions when they walk upright, which they do when carrying things (Stefoff, 2004: 47). During the 1920s, Weidenreich studied the foot, spine, limbs, and hands. He noted that there were key differences between apes, modern humans, and archaic humans.

In 1928, Weidenreich took a position the University of Frankfurt am Main. There he researched archaic human fossils, including remains found in what is now Zambia and Israel. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:182). Like his colleague, Aleš Hrdlička of the Smithsonian Institute, Weidenreich thought that humans were descended from Neanderthals. Weidenreich’s goal was to determine what kind of relationship there might have been between them. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:183). There are many notable differences between humans and Neanderthals. In general, Neanderthals had more strongly muscled limbs relative to modern humans. Their rib cage was big at the bottom such that they had no waist. They had larger jaws, teeth, eyebrow projections, and brains than modern humans. Neanderthal thumbs were also a bit longer, which presumably gave them a better grip (Roberts 2011:153).

THE HIJACKING OF FRANZ WEIDENREICH: How the Writings of an Anti-Racist Anthropologist were Misrepresented by Racists and Anti-racists (Part 2 of 3)

(Initially posted: 8/20/16, Revisions: None)

Weidenreich Refutes the Nazi’s so called ‘Race purity’

During the late 1920s, Weidenreich published papers that opposed the notion of racial purity as espoused by the Nazi party. At that time, the Nazi party had not yet taken control of the government. In his 1927 book, Race and Body Form, Weidenreich argued that racial variation gradually changed based on geography and that the number of races was arbitrary. According to Caspari and Wolpoff  (2007:185), Weidenreich recognized that race differences were:

‘not stable, and that the races themselves were not of great antiquity because they were constantly changing. Thus there were never were “pure” races. As he wrote later: “Any search for stable archetypes… will be condemned to failure… Crossing [racial mixing] is not a late human acquisition which took place only when man had reached his modern phase, but must have been practiced ever since man began to evolve.” The races were all hybrids, and always had been’.

In 1927, Weidenreich wrote that some famed Germans – like Beethoven, Goethe, Kant, Liebnitz, and Schiller – did not possess the ideal ‘Nordic” features that supposedly marked the superior German race (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:185). He also publicized studies which found that very few German’s actually possessed the supposedly diagnostic Nordic features. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:207) These arguments were not well received. At that time, increasing numbers of German academics were supporting the Nazi eugenic concept called race hygiene. Weidenreich admitted that his teachings ‘contradicted Nazi ideals’ (Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:185). Soon enough he was under threat of being fired, or worse. Although Weidenreich was a non-believer who did not regard himself as being a Jew, was ethnically Jewish (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:185). According to Weidenreich’s family, he once asked his student, the famous Albert Schweitzer to baptize his daughters. Schweitzer agreed to do so, but only if Weidenreich agreed to be baptized as well, an offer Weidenreich turned down. As the story goes, ‘Weidenreich declined to give up one religion he did not believe in, to enter another he did not believe in’ (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:379). Although Weidenreich did not see himself as being a Jew, the Nazis did. In 1934, at the age of 61, he fled to the United States (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:186). Two of his daughters were sent to concentration camps but survived (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:186). His son in law, an officer in the Italian Navy, was shot and killed for anti-Mussolini activities (Gregory 1949:23).

In 1931, Weidenreich (1931:78-95) wrote an article entitled ‘Das Problem Der judischen Rasse’ which translates word-for-word as, ‘The Problem of Jewish Race’. If it were published today it might be entitled something like ‘Designating Jews as a Race is Problematic’. This obscure paper, which is rarely cited by modern historians of anthropology, provides an important insight into Weidenreich’s views on race, anti-Semitism, and human evolution. This article was published in a monthly magazine called Der Morgen (The Morning), which was published from 1925 to 1938 by the Central Organization of German Jews. This organization was founded in 1893 to fight anti-Semitism and to emphatically promote the idea that German Jews were full-fledged Germans, whose history traced back to the old Germanic states from which 20th century Germany was created. Their magazine, Der Morgen, was oriented toward both Jewish and Non-Jewish intellectuals, so as to explain the Organization’s positions to all sectors of Germany’s cultural elite (Kolmar, 2004:184).

Weidenreich’s article pointed out the logical flaws in the Nazi’s contention that Jews constituted a distinct biological race. He even used the word Rassenfanatiker (race fanatics) to describe those who claimed that Germans were a pure race (Weidenreich 1931:96). A key feature of Weidenreich’s argument was his analysis of blood types found in various populations from Europe and the Near East. Figure 4 presents his findings in tabular form. First, Weidenreich noted that there is a variation in blood types within European cities, so that one finds differing blood types in Heidelberg, Vienna, and Kaliningrad (formerly Konisgberg) in Russia. Then, he presented the blood types of some Middle Eastern peoples, namely Armenians and Arabs. Since Jews migrated from Palestine (as he called it), and supposedly did not mix with non-Jews, one would expect Jews to have similar blood types as Middle Eastern peoples. However, when Weidenreich compared the blood types of Jews and non-Jews from four locations in Europe, he found that the both populations were consistent with each other (1931:93). In other words, the early Jews who migrated into Europe had interbred with non-Jews over the centuries to create a mixed population.

W 2016 Fig4Weidenreich also proposed that Jews from differing places had differing levels of admixture with the non-Jews who live with them. He discusses how Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews have differing admixture of ‘Palestinian’ and ‘Norse’ ancestry which reflects their different historical migrations. Weidenreich (1931:91-92) wrote:

‘Anyway, the racial components that were added to the Jews are the same as those of the remaining central [European] and especially, southern-European population. The differences are only based on their percentage shares. [Wie dem auch sei, die Rassenkomponenten, die in den Juden stecken, sind dieselben wie die der übrigen mittle – und besonders der südeuropäischen Bevölkerung. Die Unterschiede beruhen nur auf ihren prozentualen Anteilen.]’

‘Das Problem der judischen Rasse demonstrated that even before he left Germany, Weidenreich had accepted that human populations migrate and have sex with each other, even when it was a cultural taboo. Given that Weidenreich grew up in a region where cultures met and merged, it does not seem strange that he could envisage Jews and non-Jews having sex, whether it was officially sanctioned or not.

Weidenreich’s life history provides an excellent example of the complex way that a person can be influenced by his multiple cultures and sub cultures. If we were to ask what culture influenced Weidenreich, would the answer be: German? After all, he was so thoroughly steeped in German society and academic life that he lost his job as Strasbourg because the French found him to be too German. Yet, during World War II, the Germans found him to be too Jewish for their liking. Which culture shaped him; the imperialistic Germans or the stateless Jews? Then again, was he even a German? As a young man he advocated independence for Alsace-Lorraine. He grew up in the Rhenish Palatinate, an area that was culturally distinct from the rest of Germany. And as Weidenreich noted, there are different subgroups within European Jews; the Ashkenazi and the Sephardim. One could argue that Weidenreich was a secular Jew, or perhaps belonged to an even smaller subculture. If we were to stereotype Weidenreich, would we say he was a typical German, a typical Jew, or a typical Rheinlander-secular-educated-Jew? What was his type? Answer: He had none. There was no single culturally-generated cause that (mono-causally) influenced him. Weidenreich was an individual with many influences. He should be judged based on what he did, not based on ‘his culture’ as we in the modern era choose to define it.

Weidenreich Argues that Homo erectus was a Polytypic Species

Weidenreich’s cultural background – or more accurately backgrounds – appears to have influenced the unique and innovative way that he viewed human evolution and the racial spectrum. In his later years, Weidenreich proposed that one of the species of archaic humans (Homo erectus) had racial variation that was similar in many ways to that of modern humans. He argued that Homo erectus consisted of differing but interlinked racial forms living in East Africa, Southern Europe, Central China, and Indonesia. He wrote that:

‘the tendency of man is to interbreed without any regard to existing racial differences… this is so today; it has been so in historic times, and there is no reason to believe that man was more exclusive in this respect in still earlier times’ (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:202).

Figure 5 is based on drawings that Weidenreich made of two Homo erectus skulls, one from Indonesia and one from China. These skulls are clearly different, mostly when it comes to the shape of the braincase. Nonetheless, Weidenreich said they were the same species, which was a unusual approach at the time. During Weidenreich’s era it was common for anatomists to view the minor surficial differences in human skin and hair color as evidence that races were distinct units. Yet, Weidenreich proposed that these two skulls with obvious differences were just one species. [It is now known that these two skulls are from different time periods.] (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:189) The story of how Weidenreich came to be an expert on Homo erectus populations was – like that rest of his life – a tale of exile and recovery.W 2016 Fig5

After fleeing Germany, Weidenreich found himself in the United States in need of a job. This was about the same time that the Rockefeller Foundation was looking for someone to replace the recently decease Davidson Black, whose lab had discovered numerous Homo erectus fossils in China. Weidenreich was named as Black’s successor and went to China, which placed him in a very unique position. Because Black was both an anthropologist and hospital administrator, he created a team of local Chinese anthropologists who worked on their own when Black was at the hospital. So when Weidenreich arrived, he had a staff who already knew what they were doing. His main task was therefore to write descriptions of the fossils, which he did as a full time job, unlike Black, who also ran a hospital.

Weidenreich’s Chinese research was well received. It was lauded by men such as Teilhard de Chardin, who initially dismissed the notion that a genuine Homo erectus had been found in China. De Chardin wrote that ‘Weidenreich is studying perfectly the old and new material of Sinanthropus, and reaches many new, well based, conclusions concerning the exceptional primitive characters of the form’ (Quoted in Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:36). Weidenreich continued working in China, even after it was invaded by the Japanese. In 1937, the Japanese army seized control of Beijing and its countryside. During that year, Weidenreich also visited Java where he visited with the German archaeologist, Ralph von Koenigwald who had been working in Indonesia. A number of Indonesian Homo erectus fossils had been discovered by Koenigwald. Soon after, Koenigwald joined Weidenreich in China. Koenigwald brought his Homo erectus bones with him, and in 1938 the two men jointly authored a paper regrding a newly discover Homo erectus skull (Gregory 1945:2). However, this collaboration was cut short. Technically speaking, Weidenreich was employed by the same hospital that had employed Black. However, the hospital administration viewed Weidenreich’s research as unimportant. In July of 1941, they fired Weidenreich and he went back to New York (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:39-40). He took plaster cast of the Longgushan Homo erectus bones with him, and continued his work there. Although he had tried to arrange to take the original fossils with him, the he could not get approval do so from the local officials (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:38-39).

Five months after Weidenreich left China, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World War II. His colleague, Koenigswald wisely buried his Homo erectus fossils were the Japanese could not find them. Soon after, the Japanese captured Koenigswald. He spent the rest of the war in a prison camp, and upon being released, dug up the fossils. (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:62). Unfortunately, some of the Chinese staff at the dig site did not fare as well. Three of the dig staff, Wanhua Zhao, Zhonggyuan Dong, and Yuanchang Xi, were forced to cook for the Japanese troops who had taken over the local temple. Zhao, Dong, and Xi were then tortured by Japanese hoping to get information in anti-Japanese guerrillas. These three men were executed along with a group of some 30 prisoners bayonetted to death by new Japanese recruits as part of their battle training (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:33-35).

During this chaotic time, other dig workers crated up the Longgushan fossils, hoping to protect them by shipping them out of China. However, the crate disappeared, never to be found. (Boaz and Ciochon, 2004:38-39). The now legendary Longgushan bones may have been stolen and sold to a pharmacist who ground them up for medicine. They could also have been buried by someone who died, stowed away in ship that was torpedoed, or stored in a building that was later fire bombed. Today, Weidenreich’s casts, photos, and descriptions are all that remain of them.

Weidenreich spent is final years in New York, writing papers in English. In these articles, he used the term ‘race’ to describe the anatomical differences found in Homo erectus skulls from various corners of the world. He proposed that specific human racial traits, like tooth shape, originated with Homo erectus, and then were passed on to modern humans. To explain Weidenreich’s view, we must first discus human teeth. In humans, the shape of the incisor (or front teeth), is flat and smooth. When you smile, your front teeth are rather flat. However, the back side of these teeth – where your tongue rests – is somewhat concave. In some people, this concave area his nearly flat, but in others it is almost like a spoon, or an old-fashioned coal shovel (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:195) As a result, these more concave teeth are called shovel-shaped incisors. They are most common in Far East Asians (like the Pacific littoral Chinese) and Native Americans. Weidenreich found that the incisors of the Homo erectus skulls from China and Indonesia also had shovel shaped incisors. He found a number of other skulls traits – the mandibular body, the Inca bone, and the sagittal keel – which also seemed to be shared by both modern humans from the Far East, and ancient Homo erectus fossils dug up in the Far East. (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:195)

The notion that Homo erectus fossils might show racial variation that paralleled modern humans was an innovative idea, and one which Weidenreich was uniquely qualified to document. Unlike most early 20th century university professors, who generally lived and worked in one nation, Weidenreich was forced to travel to three continents. Thus, he had the opportunity to view the fossil collections of Germany, New York, China, and Indonesia (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:193). Nowadays, an anthropologist can hop on an airplane to study fossils on different continents. But in the early 20th century, travel was slower and – during the World Wars – dangerous. Indeed, Weidenreich was ahead of his time, not because of some inborn genius but rather because of his unplanned wanderings. Based on his unique observations, Weidenriech (1946:30) concluded that there were four centers of human evolution: Western Asia, Northeast Asia, Austral-asia, and Africa. In other words, there were four locations on planet earth were humans partially evolved, and then these groups migrated and interbred with each other. Thus, there were four roots to humanity, like a river that is fed by four streams. Or to use the terminology of historians, humans were ‘poly-causal’. Weidenreich described humanities multiple roots this way:

‘More and more I am coming to the impression that, just as mankind of today represents a morphologic and genetic unity in spite of being divided into manifold races, so it has been during the entire time of evolution. While man was passing through different phases, each one of which was characterized by certain features common to all individual of the same stage, there existed… different types deviating from each other with regard to secondary features. These secondary feature divergences have to be races and regional differentiation, and, therefore, as correspondent to the racial dissimilarities of present man’ (Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:191).

There are two ways to interpret the last sentence of the above quote:

  1. Weidenreich proposed that the current races of humanity existed as distinct units back before Homo erectus evolved into modern humans. Thus, each existing race of humanity evolved separately from a distinct subspecies (or race) of Homo erectus.
  1. Weidenreich proposed that the racial traits currently found in humanity existed back before Homo erectus evolved into modern humans. Thus, each existing races of humanity inherited racial traits from the various races of the Homo erectus But also from more modern humans who intermixed with them.

It is second interpretation that best reflects Weidenreich’s views, which he had previously expressed in his article ‘The Problem of the Jewish Race’. As noted above, this paper spelled out Weidenreich’s belief that German Jews and non-Jewish Germans were both descended from multiple population who had migrated into Germany and then mixed with (which is to say has sex with) the local population. German Jews and non-Jews both had multiple roots that originated in different lands. Weidenreich fully accepted that modern human beings had sex with people from different ethnic group. Thus there were no ‘pure races’ anywhere on planet earth and there never were.

Weidenreich acceptance of ethnic intermixture would also come into play when he interpreted the teeth and bones of Homo erectus fossils. In his view, not only did different races have productive sexual relations, but also different species, as long as they were what Mayr (1964:151) would later called ‘sibling species’. Mayr used the term ‘sibling species’ to describe closely related animal species – like coyotes and wolves or polar bears and grizzly bears – who can interbreed in the wild (Bozarth 2011:1070, Ellis 2009:308). Thus, a Homo erectus woman in China might have had sex with a migrating male archaic human (like Heidelberg Man) whose great-great-great grandfather lived in Africa. Their child would have inherited both its mother’s shovel shaped teeth, and the large African brain of its father. Generations later, this child’s decedents might have migrated to Siberia, where one of them impregnated a Neanderthal, whose child passed the shovel-shaped tooth to her descendants. The end result was that that the shovel-shape tooth that first appeared in Homo erectus was retained by the modern human populations of East and North Asia, but not so much in modern Africans.

Wolpoff and Caspari (2007:194) have argued that the fossil record supports Weidenreich general ideas. They wrote that Weidenreich ‘did not think that from ancient times there was once pure races that had come into grade evenly into each other because of hybridization’.  Also, he also did not believe that there was ‘just one place where human characters evolved and then spread’. As Weidenreich put it:

“There must have been, not one, but several, centers where man developed. But we should be completely at a loss if someone should ask on which special spot the decisive step was made that led from a simian creature to man. There was not just one evolutionary step. Evolution went on wherever man may have lived, and each place may have been a center of both general development and special racial strains’ (Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:194).

In other words, Weidenreich was proposing that evolution is a complex (perhaps even a messy) affair in which populations are constantly mixing, like a network of individual computers all exchanging information through the Internet. He illustrated this network approach to human evolution with a diagram (Figure 6), in which there is no evolutionary tree, as popularized by Haeckel. There is no single original root population of humanity which – like Adam and Eve – branches off to create distinct races through sons of Noah. Instead there is a lattice-like net or ‘trellis’. Each population is mixing with its neighbors, and passing genes over the land. With Weidenreich’s approach, one does not ask, ‘what species was Peking Man?’ But rather, ‘where did Peking Man lie on the trellis network of archaic humans?’ Similarly, one could ask where modern day Mongolians (East Asians) or Africans lie on this network. As the chart shows, Mongolians were descended from the lost Longgushan bones of ‘Choukoutien’, but then again so were Africans and Europeans.

W 2016 Fig6At the bottom of Figure 6, Weidenreich listed Gigantopithucus as the species that gave rise to all humans. As its name implies, Gigantopithicus was an extremely large ground ape that stood some ten feet tall and lived in Asia (Coichon,1991:54–62). Weidenreich incorrectly thought that this giant ape gave rise to humans. For him, the story of human evolution was one in which the size of the body got smaller over time (Weidenreich 1946:61). Thus, he also thought that modern humans had smaller brains (by absolute volume) than their ancestors. That view made Weidenreich unique for his time. Most scholars born in the 19th century assumed that humans had the largest brains of any primate. Although Weidenreich proposed that there was mixing between human sibling species, he did accept that at some point, a branch could break off and give rise to a completely new species. Figure 7 shows his notion of how gorillas, chimpanzees and other great apes branched off from human and human-like like species (such as australopiths).

W 2016 Fig7

In recent years, DNA evidence has shown that modern humans and Neanderthals did interbreed (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory 2016). Thus, Weidenreich was at least partially correct in concluding that both racial mixing and sibling species mixing has occurred as part of human evolution. There is also fossil evidence that may indicate just such a mixture. One Neanderthal skull known as the Tabun Neanderthal has a chinless, Neanderthal-like face, but his (or her) braincase is round like a modern human. Similarly anther ancient skull, called Skhul 4, has many Neanderthal-like facial features, but also a chin (Stringer and Gamble, 1998:101). These skulls could be admixed Neander-humans, or Neanderthals who were evolving into humans without mixing. Or they could be Neanderthals who evolved chins independently of humans, just like seals and dolphins independently evolved fin-like limbs. Regardless, it is clear that Weidenreich’s overall vision of human evolution as a complex process with some level of mixing was correct. It is very possible that archaic humans had a racial spectrum that operated like the racial spectrum does today, but with a different set of races that no longer exist.

How Weidenreich was Hijacked by Racists

Despite being the man who introduced Homo erectus to the world, Weidenreich has been largely forgotten in the public sphere. Because he was on the run during his most productive years, he had little time to teach or mentor students. As a result, Weidenreich did not have a stable of PhD students to carry on his legacy, or explain his research (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:209). In theory, he could have taken on students in the United States, but by the time he settled there he was rather old, and his thick accent made him difficult to understand. It was reported that, Weidenreich and the Czech born anthropologist Aleš Hrdlička once got into a conversation in English that dealt with the biology of dogs. But because they both had such thick accents, there was comical confusion as to whether they were talking about dogs or ducks (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:175).

When Weidenreich died, he had no disciples to explain or defend his theories. Thus, when anthropologists wrote about Weidenreich incorrectly, there was no one to stop them. As a result, Weidenreich work was misinterpreted by the Carleton Coon, an outspoken physical anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Coon was educated at Harvard under Earnest Hooton, a highly influential American anthropologist educated in England by Sir Arthur Keith, the race supremacist. Although Hooton did not promote the race supremacist outlook of Keith, Hooton did accept that there were a small number of distinct human races (Brace 2005: 234). Coon also agreed that there were distinct races, but he further argued that each of these races evolved separately from five distinct Homo erectus populations. As Brace (2005:237) described it, Coon’s theory was that:

‘each of the “races” crossed the line into H. sapiens at a different time. His “Caucasoids” and “Mongoloids” crossed first and got a head start on exhibiting sophisticated and fully “modern” human characteristics. Caucasians were the first to cross the line and presumably, therefore are the most advanced.’

In 1962 Coon, spelled out this notion in his book The Origin of Races, which he dedicated to the now deceased Weidenreich. Coon (1962:657) wrote that

‘My thesis is, in essence, that at the beginning of our record, over half 1 million years ago, man was a single species, Homo erectus, perhaps already divided into five geographic races or sub species. Although erectus then evolved into Homo sapiens not once what five times, as each sub species, living in its own territory, past a critical threshold from a more brutal to a more sapient state’.

Coon (1962:657) goes on to say that his ‘point of view is not wholly original’ and that he was ‘guided’ by ‘Weidenreich’s interpretation of the Sinathropus’ finds, which were the Peking Homo erectus fossils that Weidenreich described. However, Brace (2005:237) emphatically charged Coon with ‘seriously misrepresenting’ Weidenreich’s conclusions. Brace (2005:237) asserted that:

‘The reason he [Coon] dedicated his book posthumously to widen right was that Weidenreich had defended a view that human populations across the world reached their modern appearance in situ in each of the regions they inhabited. This was at the heart of Keith’s approach, but there was a huge difference. In Coons view the status of H. sapiens had been reached independently and at different times in the various parts of the world because the inhabitants in each separate region has remained isolated from each other… Weidenreich’s regional continuity scheme, however, showed what would be called “gene flow” between adjacent populations throughout the entire world of human occupation’.

Coon’s overarching argument was essentially that Europe and far Eastern Asia  possessed environments which permitted Homo erectus species to independently evolved into modern humans more quickly than could occur in Africa or Australia. Coon (1962:663) wrote that:

‘Caucasoids and Mongoloids live in their homelands and in recently colonized regions, such as North America, did not rise to their present population levels and positions of cultural dominance by accident. They achieved all this because their ancestors occupied the most favorable of the Earth’s zoological regions… These regions had challenging climates and ample breeding grounds and were centrally located within the continental landmasses.’

Coon’s 1962 book also contains a number of passages which showed a race supremacist leaning in favor of Europeans and Far Eastern peoples at the expense of West Africans and native Australians.  For example, on one page, Coon (1962:Plate XXXII) presented two photographs: One of a bare breasted native Australian woman and one of a Chines man in traditional Chinese clothing. The caption for these photographs ranks these two individuals thusly:

‘The Alpha and Omega of Homo sapiens: an Australian aboriginal woman with a cranial capacity of under1.000 cc (Topsy. A Tiwi); and a Chinese sage with a brain nearly twice that size (Dr. Li Chi, the renowned archaeologist and director of Academia Sinica).’

Coon’s book also included six line drawings of human faces based on Paleolithic cave art that was painted into the walls of caverns in France. Coon (1962: 586) claimed that these cave painting ‘show both that Upper Paleolithic Europeans were Caucasoid and that they had a sense of humor’. However, Coon’s drawing were based on only six of the images presented in Paolo Gaziosi’s 1960 book Paleolithic Art, which contains over 300 photographic plates (Graziosi 1960:Plate 1-306). Only one of Coon’s line drawings – also shown in Gaziosi (1960:Plate 25b)  – shows a man with what appears to be a full beard with straight hair, as is common among Europeans. However, Coon failed to mention that in Gaziosi’s book, there are numerous cave paintings or sculptures of woman with steatopygia, an accumulation of body fat found on the buttock of some women (Plates 9, 12a, 12b, 10b, 11a. 150, 151). The presence of steatopygia is most common in peoples of far Southern Africa, which Coon well knew because he published a paper in it in 1955 (Spencer 1997:575-576). Yet, Coon ignored the extensive evidence that ancient Europeans shared traits with current South Africans, while noting the sparse evidence linking Ancient Europeans to the population that now live there.

Coon’s race supremacist outlook would eventually put an end to his career. In 1962, when Coon was serving as the president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA), the AAPA membership voted to condemn a race supremacist publication called Race and Reason: A Yankee View written by Carelton Putnam, a former head of Delta Airlines. Putman’s meandering 44-page long essay addressed topics such as ‘Anthropology and Intermarriage’ and ‘Sociology and Communism’. Putman’s (1961:43) conclusion equates the push for equal rights as a fallacy, arguing that:

‘Unquestionably a major common denominator of fallacy in the many-sided equalitarian ideology was the suppression of the truth concerning the genetic foundation of life. We saw this truth around us every day, in the color of our children’s eyes, in the structure of their bones, in the cast of their countenances, in the qualities of mind and heart that paralleled these elements, yet trance-like we clung to the belief that it did not exist. We had every reason to understand that equalitarian scientists would attempt to suppress it, that the equalitarian virus must strike here, if nowhere else, to bring its victims down. Yet in the vogue of the times, the left-wing drift at home, the growth of socialism in Europe, the success of communism in the East, we dropped our guard, lost our discernment, and succumbed.

Putman’s (1961:44) also asserted that the nation was facing a dangerous mulatto initated conspiracy in which:

‘The mulatto who was bent on making the nation mulatto was the real danger. His alliance with the white equalitarian often combined men who had nothing in common save a belief that they had a grudge against society. They regarded every Southerner who sensed the genetic truth as a bigot and every tactic of deceit and every balance-of-power position to teach and vote a genetic fallacy. Here were the men who needed to be reminded of the debt the Negro owed to white civilization. If Africans were to be brought to America to observe and learn, let such mulattos be taken to the Congo to observe and learn.’

This publication had been widely distributed throughout the South by the pro-Eugenics Pioneer Fund, and was designated by the Louisiana State Board of Education as required reading for all professors. Although Coon’s writings were characterized by extensive lab data and highly profession scholarly citations, decided to take a position in support of Putnam’s amateurish publication. When the AAPA voted to condemn Putnam’s text by a vote of 91 to 1, Coon stormed out of the meeting and resigned his post. He then resigned his position at the University of Pennsylvania. Decades later, historians reading Coon’s personal letters which were stored at the Smithsonian Institution, discovered that Coon had been working behind the scenes to undermined school desegregation following the 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education (Brace 2005:236-237).

The race supremacist bent of Coon’s book was disconcerting to the community of physical anthropologists. Morris Oppler of Cornell wrote that ‘it is easy to see why Coon’s theories should make him the darling of… racists everywhere (Quoted in Jackson 2001:269). Margaret Mead wrote that ‘The use that is being made of Carlton Coon’s book by racists is very disturbing to us all’ (Quoted in Jackson 2001:269). Sheldon Washburn’s critique of Coon’s book included a defense of Weidenreich. Washburn included Weidenreich’s lattice diagram (Figure 6 above) as proof that, contra Coon, Weidenreich proposed that modern and archaic human races had been perpetually intermixing for millennia. Washburn (1966:1166) wrote that ‘In marked contrast to Weidenreich, Coon…stresses the early separation of racial lines with little mixture,’ and that Coon’s proposed ‘crossing of a sapiens frontier at very different times is a concept totally foreign to Weidenreich’.

Washburn’s defense of Weidenreich was also part of a larger movement in anthropology during in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, a new generation of physical anthropologist sought to make the field more consistent with biology and zoology, which had undergone a transformation due to new discoveries like genetics and DNA. As Quintyn (2010:191) has noted:

‘the “new physical anthropology” was a rebellion by some Harvard PhDs (e. g. Sherwood Washburn) against the Harvard school of thought in physical anthropology or a break from the Hooton philosophy of ambivalence and insensitivity to race and social issues.’

The fact that Washburn edited and published a collection of Weidenreich’s less well known papers, testifies to the value that Washburn places on Weidenreich’s research (Washburn and Wolffson 1949). Washburn’s attempt to correct Coon’s misinterpretation of Weidenreich was largely, but not completely, successful. As recently as 2004, Proctor mistakenly characterized Weidenreich’s views on race as being in the same category as that of Coon and also Gerhard Herberer, a former Nazi SS officer. Proctor (2004:485) claimed, without a footnoted citation, that Weidenreich was ‘a Jewish emigre anthropologist from Germany’ who:

‘carried an implicit polygeny over into American physical and paleanthroplogy, one in which humans were understood to have diverged into separate racial groups prior even to the transition from erectus to sapiens’.

THE HIJACKING OF FRANZ WEIDENREICH: How the Writings of an Anti-Racist Anthropologist were misrepresented by Racists and Anti-racists (Part 3 of 3)

(Initially posted: 8/20/16, Revisions: None)

How Weidenreich became a Straw Man

The most prolific interpreter (or mis-interpreter) of Weidenreich was the Harvard anthropologist William W. Howells, a respected scholar who was interested in all the modern developments in genetic and DNA research. However, Howells was still a proponent of the anthropological approach of his mentor, Earnest Hooton who as we saw above, also taught Coon. Unlike Coon, Howells was did not assist race supremacists, but instead ardently opposed them. Howells (1959: 262, 168) derided the ‘groundless philosophy’ of ‘ancient Aryan purity’, and openly expressed his utmost contempt for Nazism and its racist ideology, noting that Hitler will pay his dues on ‘Judgment Day’.

In 1959, Howells (1959:5) wrote a book called Mankind in the Making, which he dedicated ‘In Memory of Hooton’. In this publication, Howells traces human evolution beginning with fishes on up to mammals and primates. He even dedicated a chapter to Java Man, Peking Man, and Neanderthal man, about whom Howells (1959:190) wrote:

‘They first appear in the Third or Last Interglacial… Then they come to an abrupt end, in the mild phase which followed, being replaced everywhere by men like ourselves. This replacement actually took many centuries. Seen against their history of perhaps a hundred thousand years, however, the disappearance of the Neanderthals is such that they might as well have been herded together and pushed over a cliff’.

In other words, Howells viewed Neanderthals as an evolutionary dead end, which did not evolve into modern humans or intermix with them. It was this position which put him in conflict with Weidenreich. Howells also regarded Java Man and Peking Man – now both accepted as forms of Homo erectus ­– as separate populations. For Howells, Weidenreich’s notion that there was racial (or polytypic) variation in the Homo erectus population was mistaken. Howells (1958:168-169) wrote that ‘Weidenreich was an extraordinary gifted describer of fossils man’, however:

‘Let us say first of all that Pekin Man is Java Man’s brainy brother. The two are closely related – very much that same kind of man. Weidenreich said they were merely two kinds of races, though most others think this is a slight exaggeration, when it is taken to mean that they differ no more than two of our races today’.

Howell’s 1959 book also includes a chapter dealing with each major modern race. The chapter on ‘white’ Europeans is called ‘The Europeans’, which is followed by ‘Asians and Americans’. The next chapter, about black Africans is more dramatically entitled, ‘Dark Continent, Dark Past’. In this discussion of African peoples, he describes ‘Negroes’ as being ‘of medium build and well-muscled, not lanky’ (Howells 1958:303). However, when he comes to describe the tall large headed peoples of east Africa he notes, ‘their skulls are more White in type’. His conclusion is that they are ‘but a White contingent which has been affected by Negro admixture’ (Howells 1958:304). However, this conclusion is based on some weak reasoning. Rather than saying all dark skinned people in Africa are related – which would make sense because they live so close to each other – Howells claimed that only the large ones (who do not conform to his definition of Negro as being medium height), were actually part white. Yet later, he says that ‘Pygmies seem to be a branch of the Negro stock, typical in all ways except that they have become reduced in height’ (Howells 1958:304). So for Howells, a tall Negro was not a Negro, but a short one still was. Simply put, Howells’ rationale for classifying people was arbitrary.

Although Howells was not race supremacist, his examination of human variation was based on the notion that there were a small number of distinct races. This same sort of arbitrary delineation of humanity into subsets was endorsed by Hooton, as well as by the majority of the scholars of the 19th century. Thus, Howells was not especially original or innovative. He basically made the same sort of arguments as those physical anthropologists who came before him, namely Hooton and Keith.

Although Howells was generally cautious, he did occasionally proposed some ideas which stretched the boundaries of anthological theory. For example, Howells (1958:334) wrote that:

‘Some racial distinctions came into being slowly: we can be sure that Whites and American Indians existed long ago. But the strongly specialized (flat-faced) Mongoloids are very likely more recent (middle Wurm?), and it is possible that the Negroes are also not of massive antiquity. (I am afraid I am being appropriately vague.)’

While one can appreciate Howells avuncular willingness to confess his vagueness, this theory of his seems to defy common sense. He appears to be proposing that Europeans (whose ancestors came from Africa) were older than Africans, while Native Americans (whose ancestors came from Siberia) were older than Siberians. Such views seem to contradict the largely accepted pattern of human global migrations. Regardless, it is quite clear that Howells regarded human races as distinct and separate naturally occurring populations, which was not the way Weidenreich viewed human polytypic variation.

In recent years Howells has been criticized for misinterpreting Weidenreich, which Howells (1997:229) engaged in from the 1950s through the 1990s. Much of Howells’s misrepresentation of Weidenreich focused on the grid-like trellis diagram (Figure 6). Weidenreich used this diagram to illustrate how racial mixing took place throughout human evolution. In his book Mankind in the Making, Howells included a graphic (Figure 7) which supposedly reproduced Weidenreich’s trellis diagram. As Figure 8 shows, Howells referred to Weidenreich’s diagram as a ‘The Candelabra’ because that is how Howells drew it. And indeed, Howells’s ‘Candelabra’ looks like a candlestick holder with four candles. However, it does not look like the trellis diagram that Weidenreich drew. Simply put, Howells redrew Weidenreich’s diagram with so many edits that it no longer expressed the information it was originally designed to communicate.

W 2016 Fig8To Howells credit, he did admit to modifying and exaggerating Weidenreich’s graphic (Howells 1958:236). However, by modifying and exaggerating Weidenreich’s, graphic, Howells created an entirely new graphic. Howells should not have labeled it as being a creation of Weidenreich. It was as if Howells described the Greek god Poseidon as human being, albeit modified and exaggerated. But Poseidon is a character from mythology who lives under the sea and creates storms, which no mortal humans ever did. Thus, Poseidon is not a human, and the graphic Howell published was not Weidenreich’s. It was inappropriate for Howells to claim to be presenting Weidenreich’s diagram when in fact he presented a substantial modification of it.

Howells’s misrepresentation of Weidenreich’s table is an example of a debating technique known as a Straw Man. Among lawyers, a Straw Man is viewed as an unfair attack that modifies the truth, but not so much as to be a bold-faced lie. The American Bar Association’s Section of Litigation describes a Straw Man as a false argument or ‘fallacy’ which:

‘occurs when an advocate describes an opponent’s position in an oversimplified or extreme form and then refutes this distortion of the opponent’s position instead of addressing the opponents real position. By setting up a straw man that can be blown away, the advocate creates the misleading impression that he has destroyed the opposing argument, when, in fact, he has failed to meet the argument squarely… Richard Nixon used this tactic during his 1952 vice-presidential campaign in the “Checkers Speech,” in which Nixon responded to accusations that he had improperly appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use. Instead of responding directly to accusations involving money, Nixon talked about another gift [of his young daughters’ cocker spaniel] he had received during the campaign… Of course, Nixon’s accusers had never suggested that his daughters be deprived of their beloved dog’. (Waicukauski 2001:60-61)

Political attack ads often employ Straw Man arguments. For example, the mayor of a city may cut funding for schools, which includes reducing teacher’s pay, new book purchases, and low cost meals. Her opponent will then run an add asking ‘Why does the mayor want to starve our school children?” The opponent has metaphorically erected a Straw Man, an easily assailable caricature that looks very much like the mayor, but is not in fact, the mayor.

Howells set up a Straw Man when he redrew Weidenreich’s trellis diagram, but then changed it to look like a candelabra. Howells (1958:235). further misrepresented Weidenreich’s ideas by stating (with my bold):

“His [Weidenreich’s] central idea, however, which he expressed in a diagram of parallel vertical lines, is the one I described. It has its virtues… But Dr. Weidenreich had at least four different evolving human varieties, living far apart, moving ahead by fits and starts, producing their own specific peculiarities of form, until they were far more distant than races are today. Yet these four careers at last converged to produce the same kind of man everywhere.”

According to Weidenreich’s diagram, archaic human populations were evolving in different places while constantly mixing. They did not separate into isolated populations and only then join together produce ‘the same kind of man everywhere’. As Weidenreich described it, races ‘continuously change their character in the course of time’ (Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:175). This continuous change described by Weidenreich was the sort of movement ‘by fits and starts” as described Howells. Furthermore, Weidenreich (1946:91) did not say that humans were originally separate groups that eventually merged, but rather were a constantly changing swirl of mongrels. Or as he put it, ‘the overwhelming majority of mankind consists of ‘hybrids’. Weidenreich (1946:90) stated quite unequivocally that ‘it can be taken as a fact that no human group which ever made its appearance as a cultural and political unit is composed of only one racial element, either in the past or today’.

Hawks (2011) has asserted that Howell’s refutation of Weidenreich had its roots in Howells’s ardently-held belief that Neanderthals went totally extinct and were not the ancestors of modern humans. In other words, if Weidenreich’s theory of human and Neanderthal mixing was right, then Howells’ own theory, was wrong. This disagreement was part of an ongoing dispute between Howells and Weidenreich. In 1942, Howells wrote a paper stating that among anthologists, ‘everyone agreed’ that Neanderthals were not the ancestors of modern humans (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:176). Weidenreich, then a very old man, wrote a paper refuting Howells claim. These two men also differed in their overall outlook on the practice of anthroplogy. A major achievement of Howells’s research involved taking extensive measurements of 2,100 of human skulls, and then analyzing these data from a statistical standpoint (Friedlander, 2007:12-13). Contrast this with Weidenreich, who once complained about anthropologist ‘who spent all their time finding new measurements’, yet never demonstrated that such measurements were ‘of any diagnostic value’ (Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:178). After Weidenreich died, Howells accused him of drawing too many conclusions from just a few fossil remains (Wolpoff and Caspari 2007:178). Both men raised valid points, but with Weidenreich dead, Howells’s arguments won out.

Howells was not an ideologue like Coon. Rather, Howells hijacked Weidenreich’s table to further Howells’s own genuinely-held view of nature. In the final analysis, Howells withheld not all, but some of the truth. And in science, one is not supposed to do that. When a scholar misrepresents another’s research, be it even for noble reasons, it is still unacceptable.

In the last few pages of Mankind in the Making, Howells (Howells 1958:338) wrote, ‘I believe Homo sapiens to be a generally unified and uniform stock of man, not the accidental result of parallel evolution everywhere, as Weidenreich did’. But, that is an incorrect Straw Man representation of Weidenreich, who said that races mixed and evolved as part of a complex interconnected network spanning from Africa to Indonesia. Weidenreich (1946:84) wrote (with his italics):

‘Considering all this evidence, it seems that there must have been, not one, but several, centers where man has developed. But we should be completely at a loss if someone should ask on which special spot of the earth the decisive step was made that led from a simian creature to man. There was not just one evolutionary step. Evolution went on wherever man may have lived, and each place may have been a center of both general development and special racial strains’.

Weidenreich believed that evolution was slow and gradual. He was unlike Herbert Spencer proposed that evolution would stop for periods called ‘dynamic equilibrium’ where everything would be stable until some environmental event caused evolution to speed up (Ruse 2002:72). Weidenreich proposed that humans, including ancient humans and modern races, were constantly evolving and then mixing. As a result, a trait that evolved in China might spread through intermixing to Europe and Africa. Oddly enough, Weidenreich was not what we would now call a strong Darwinian. Wolpoff and Caspari (2007:231), who are great admirers of Weidenreich, wrote that he accepted neo-Lamarckainism and orthogenesis which Darwin did not. Furthermore, Weidenreich felt that Natural Selection placed a minor role in evolution (Wolpoff and Caspari  2007:232). In many respects, Weidenreich remained a student of the 19th century scholars who taught him as a youth. Weidenreich also hung onto old terms like ‘race’, using it like it would have been used by his European predecessors. In his writings, he described differing races that evolved at different rates in different places. (Wolpoff and Caspari  2007:206) Thus, it was (and still is) easy for someone who is casually reading Weidenreich text to conclude that he regarded some races as more evolved – and thus more superior – than others.

Howells’ misinterpretation of Weidenreich was adopted other anthropologists, including Ian Tattersall, the curator of the division of anthropology at the New York’s Museum of Natural History from 1981 to 2010 (AMNH, 2015). In 1995 Tattersall (1995:212) wrote that Weidenreich developed a theory that:

‘the various major modern groups of mankind (he explicitly recognized four: Australian, Mongolian, African and Eurasian) had distinct origins going back to the time of Pithecanthropus and beyond. Each of these lineages had evolved independently, at its own pace’.

However, Tattersall’s statement just the opposite of what Weidenreich said. For example, when discussing the evolution of native Australians, Weidenreich wrote that there was once an Austral-Asian form of Homo erects that was ancestral to (with my bold):

‘the Australian aborigines of today. This does not mean, of course, that I believe all the Australians of today can be traced back to [the Austral-Asian Homo erectus] or that they are the sole decedents of … [that] line.’ Quoted in Wolpoff and Caspari, 2007: 201)

Thus, as Weidenreich saw it, the natives Australian were descended from at least two populations of Homo erectus: one which was living somewhere near Australia, and another who migrated there from the west. This is a variation of the scenario Weidenreich had earlier proposed for the ancestry of the Jews of Germany, who he argued were a mixture of native Europeans and the Jews who migrated there from the east.

In regards to Weidenreich’s lattice diagram, Tattersall (1995:222) noted that ‘For some reason’, Weidenreich chose to represent the illustration of his theory in the form of a ‘virtually unreadable, densely gridded, and rectangular geometric diagram’. Tattersall (1995:222) then described how he had attended an anthropological conference in which he was ‘astonished’ to find himself attending a session devoted entirely to:

‘how badly Harvard’s Bill Howells had misconstrued Weidenreich’s view in his book Mankind in the Making. In this volume Howells had dubbed Weidenreich’s view the “candelabra” model of human evolution, based on a simplified version of Weidenreich’s diagram that looked something like a candlestick bearing four candles… Howells sin was to have made the diagram readable by eliminating the diagonals of Weidenreich’s original. Many of those present at the conference were upset by this…’

For many years, Tattersall disputed those 20th century scholars like Weidenreich, who proposed that humans and Neanderthal interbred. In 1995, Tattersall (1995:226) wrote that, ‘The idea of a gigantic blissful late Pleistocene love-in among morphologically-differentiated hominids simply defies every criteria of plausibility, however much we might wish to imagine otherwise’. Instead, it was Tattersall’s (1995:226) contention that any encounter between moderns and Neanderthals would be a violent conflict akin to ‘the appallingly nasty ways that invading modern peoples have tended to treat each other’.  However, now that DNA testing has rigorously confirmed that modern humans and Neanderthals did interbreed (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory 2016), Tattersall has taken a more appreciative view of Weidenreich. In 2015, Tattersall (2015:15) wrote that ‘Weidenreich must be commended for his explicit articulation of what he believed to be an underlying pattern of human evolution, even as other experts continued to expound their set-of-the-pants conclusions’.

Weidenreich Should be Recognized an Innovator and a Champion of Anti-Racism

The evidence herein supports those scholars who were (and still are) ‘upset by’ Howells’ treatment of Weidenreich. After all, Weidenreich was willing to publish a paper – in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party – asserting that Jewish Germans and Non-Jewish Germans were related intermixed populations. It would seem hard to believe that Weidenreich would then make such a philosophical about-face (after fleeing for his very life), and claim that ‘pure’ European, Asian, African, and Australian races all evolved from separate populations of archaic humans. As a young man, Weidenreich examined human blood samples.  From this he determined that German Jews and German non-Jews were both mixed populations who shared a central European ancestry, admixed with other populations. As an old man, Weidenreich examined Homo erectus bone specimens. From this he determined that East Australian and African humans were mixed populations who shared a modern human African ancestry, admixed with other Homo erectus populations. Throughout his life, Weidenreich was consistent. He presented theories founded on rigorously documented observations that did not conform to the cultural or scientific norms of his day. Although it is not surprising that his ideas were misinterpreted in the past, it is incumbent upon modern authors to correctly represent his ideas, Weidenreich deserves credit both as an active anti-racist and as one of the 20th century’s most original innovators in the field of physical anthropology.


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A Letter to Nathan Cofnas: Please Stop Misrepresenting my Research.

In February of 2015, my 1988 paper was cited in a paper by Nathan Cofnas, a professor with the Department of Philosophy, Lingnan University, Tuen Mun, Hong Kong. His paper, entitled “Science Is Not Always “Self-Correcting,”” was published in the Journal of the Association for Foundations of Science, Language and Cognition. The abstract to this paper reads:

“Some prominent scientists and philosophers have stated openly that moral and political considerations should influence whether we accept or promulgate scientific theories. This widespread view has significantly influenced the development, and public perception, of intelligence research. Theories related to group differences in intelligence are often rejected a priori on explicitly moral grounds. Thus the idea, frequently expressed by commentators on science, that science is “self-correcting”—that hypotheses are simply abandoned when they are undermined by empirical evidence—may not be correct in all contexts. In this paper, documentation spanning from the early 1970s to the present is collected, which reveals the influence of scientists’ moral and political commitments on the study of intelligence. It is suggested that misrepresenting findings in science to achieve desirable social goals will ultimately harm both science and society.”


After reading this paper, I felt that Prof. Cofnas had misrepresented my 1988 research. And so, I sent the following letter to the magazine editor, but did not get a reply.

March 6, 2015

Diederik Aerts, Editor
Foundations of Science
Journal of the Association for Foundations of Science, Language and Cognition

Dear Mr. Aerts,

The February 2015 edition of your journal included a paper by Nathan Cofnas (Science is Not Always “Self-Correcting”) which referenced my 1988 article, “A New Look at Morton’s’ Research.” Unfortunately, Cofnas has misrepresented the conclusions of my paper to make it appear that my findings verified the craniological research and overall conclusions of Samuel George Morton. Although my re-measurements of the Morton collection of skull did indicate that Morton’s measuring technique generated data that was “reasonable accurate,” I also prominently noted that the way in which Morton classified human into races (as he defined the term race) was “meaningless.” Thus, Morton was measuring arbitrary subsets. As a result, his anthropometric research was pointless. Morton might as well have been accurately measuring the skulls of twenty-four categories of humans whose names began with different letters of the alphabet. I am dismayed that Cofnas has failed to mention the most important aspect of my research. It is only recently that I found out Cofnas’ colleague, Neven Sesardic also misrepresented my work in a similar way in his 2005 book Making Sense of Heritability.

I would also like to note that in Cofnas’s paper, he uncritically refers to “black” and “white” Americans. Both of these categories are arbitrary subsets. In the New World, most “blacks,” (a term with different meanings in different nations like Haiti and Brazil) are descended from both Europeans and Africans. Also, a substantial number of American whites, including myself, have some small African ancestry. American blacks and whites are genetically one creolized population which ranges from darker to lighter. Thus, Cofnas’s paper, which appears to endorse the statistical evaluation of arbitrary subsets, perpetuates the same arbitrary terminology as found in Morton’s flawed research; Stephen Jay Gould’s poorly executed 1978 critique of Morton’s research; and Sesardic’s somewhat excessive 2005 critique of Gould.

To reiterate, Morton’s research was flawed because he regarded races as distinct units of population, and failed to view human variation as a constantly evolving racial spectrum (one of many naturally occurring biological clines), in which there are gradual physical changes from one location to the next. Sadly, Gould, Sesardic, and now Cofnas have also made the same fundamental mistake, thus rendering their discussions of Morton’s research, invalid. Like other human talents, the ability to score well on an IQ test may or may not be influenced by genetic factors and so warrants investigation. However, using arbitrary subsets of human populations as part of that investigation is a wasted effort, just as Morton’s evaluation of internal cranial capacity was a wasted effort.

John S. Michael


Since I did not get a reply from the editor, I emailed a copy to Prof. Cofnas and a number of the board members of the journal that published his paper. On March 11, 2015, Prof. Confas then sent a reply in which he argued that he had not misrepresented my paper. (Note: After I posted the above letter and a summary of his response, Confnas contacted me on March 22, 2015 and requested I post his letter in full. Readers should be aware that Mr. Confas owns the copyright to his letter and has given me written permission it post it in this blog.)  Prof. Cofnas’s response letter read:

Dear Mr. Michael,

In “Science Is Not Always ‘Self-Correcting'” (in press at Foundations of Science), there are two sentences about your paper:

Michael (1988) actually did remeasure more than 20% of Morton’s skulls (the collection has been preserved), and found no evidence of bias on Morton’s part. Gould repeated his accusation against Morton in the revised edition of The Mismeasure of Man (1996) without mentioning Michael’s study.

In Michael (1988), you write:

Of the crania measured by Morton, 201 were randomly selected for remeasurement. (p. 351)

Contrary to Gould’s interpretation, I conclude that Morton’s research was conducted with integrity….He was attempting to understand racial variation and not, as Gould claims, trying to prove Caucasian racial or intellectual superiority. (p. 353)

Although Gould is mistaken in many of his assumptions about Morton and his work, he is correct in asserting that these tables are scientifically unsound. He fails, however, to mention the overriding reason for rejecting them, namely, Morton’s acceptance of the existence of race. Most anthropologists feel that there is too little evidence to conclude with certainty whether the concept of race is a biological reality or simply an artifact of classification (Weiss and Maruyama 1976:47). If race does not really exist, then Morton’s samples are meaningless…. (p. 353)

As you can clearly see, you make two claims in your (1988) paper: (1) Morton accurately measured the skulls; (2) the concept of race has no biological reality. (1) is an empirical finding. (2) is your opinion. In my FOS paper, I quote you in connection with (1). It is absurd to say that I “misrepresented the conclusions of [your] paper to make it appear that [your] findings verified the craniological research and overall conclusions of Samuel George Morton.” Even if you consider your assertion that race is “meaningless” to be the “most important aspect of [your] research,” it is not misrepresentation for me to cite your empirical claim without discussing an opinion that you express in the same paper.

If you want to submit an article on the biological unreality of race to FOS or any other journal, I suggest that you do more than simply point out that races (human groups–whatever you want to call them) overlap. Even Neven Sesardic and I know that.

Also, you write in your response to me that “the ability to score well on an IQ test may or may not be influenced by genetic factors and so warrants investigation.” If you submit this for publication, it is likely that referees will take issue with this statement. The influence of genetic factors on IQ has been investigated extensively (spoiler alert: there is a big influence).

Best wishes,

The way I see it, Cofnas chose to mention that Morton accurately measured skulls, which Cofnas regarded as an empirically derived finding. Cofnas then stated that he chose NOT to mention that I stated that the concept of race is biologically meaningless because, as Cofnas viewed it, such a concept was simply my personal opinion, and nothing more. I do not agree with him on this. Since I did cite Weiss and Maruyama (1976:47), no one can say that I was expressing my own opinion. One might disagree with Weiss and Maruyama, but to say that their findings are my personal opinion is not correct.

I then wrote the following response:

Prof. Cofnas,

The notion that human races exist as distinct biologically-valid units has been disproved by DNA studies. That observation is not my opinion. Although races do not exist, there is indeed clinal racial variation within humans, akin to the variation of ladybugs as documented by Dobzhansky long ago. I would propose that it is in fact YOUR OPINION that races exist as distinct units that have statistical significance. Clearly, you and I are not in agreement on this issue. Hopefully the editors of FOS will publish my letter so that their readers may judge whether your arguments are more convincing than mine.

By failing to present those aspects of my paper which you personally deem to be “my opinion,” you are in fact misrepresenting my paper. If my paper is, as you indicate in your last email, flawed by my “opinion,” then why quote it at all? Lewis et al. deemed my paper to be “uninformative,” which you fail to mention. At least they were consistent in their critique, which you were not. If you think that my paper is of value, then you should present all of my findings, and not just the ones with which you agree. You should note what you perceive to be its substantial flaws, as Lewis et al. rightly did. If you feel my paper is too flawed to be of value, then do not cite it at all.

You have indeed misrepresented my paper. As Gould did in so much of his research, you have cherry-picked only those findings that you personally deemed worthy of mention. In so doing, you have given the false impression that my paper as a whole supports your position. Hopefully, my letter will be published by FOS, so that it can be openly reviewed by the journal’s readers. If these readers come to regard my views as misinformed and naïve, so be it. At least they will get an honest representation of my views, and not your selectively-edited misrepresentation.

I would also argue that the word “empirical” should not be used to describe the measurements I made of the Morton Collection. I accurately measured the Morton skulls, as did Morton. However, the racial classifications he used (and the ones I used as well) were arbitrary subsets. I have never claimed otherwise. In summary, I do not regard measuring meaningless samples as an “empirical” endeavor, even if each measurement is reasonably accurate.

Lastly, as someone who is quite familiar with Morton’s writings and has worked with his arbitrarily-gathered skull collection, I would caution you to refrain from suggesting that Morton’s research was a useful contribution to science. He was an overt racist who endorsed the bogus theory of Arrested Development, a fact which Gould never mentioned. Morton’s publications were riddled with mathematical and factual errors, not just the few that Gould cherry-picked. Darwin even warned Lyell not to trust Morton’s research. Morton’s publications were fatally flawed by sloppy research, as were Gould’s. The tacit implication in your paper and the writings of Sesardic is that Morton was “right” and Gould was “wrong.” In reality, both were wrong.


John S. Michael


A FINAL THOUGHT: I doubt Prof Cofnas and I will ever agree on this issue. Since he is an academic, who publishes in journals, and I am not (and thus cannot realistically hope to publish in a journal), it is difficult for us to communicate. I write blogs, which are quickly posted, and sometime quickly refuted, while his works are more carefully considered over a period of years. Unfortunately for me, when my 1988 paper is misrepresented – as it has been in the past few decades – that misrepresentation spread quickly through the internet. The sad reality is that even if a journal were to publish a letter from me, few people would read it. So, in order for me to restore my tarnished on-line reputation, I have to act quickly.  I am not sure who has the upper hand; Cofnas with his slow but respectable journals, or me with my fast but non-peer reviewed internet blogs.  Regardless, this is the only media outlet I have, so I just have to make due.

Is it Better to Measure a Skull with Seed or Lead Shot? Answer: Neither.

This blog is based largely on text from Chapter 27 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

In this blog post I will answer a question that has been nagging me for nearly thirty years. In 1986 I measured the cranial capacity (braincase) of some 200 skulls from the Morton Collection of Human Crania. To measure those skulls, I filled them with acrylic plastic balls. However, when Morton measured them in the mid-1800s he used either seeds or lead shot. In 1839, he measured 256 skulls, by his count, with seed. In Crania America he described this seed as “white pepper seed” which was “selected on account of its spherical form, its hardness, and the equal size of the grains. It was also sifted to render the quality still greater.” Some years later, Morton remeasured most of these skull and a few hundred more using lead shot. Morton explained his reason for changing from peppercorn to shot in a notice published in the April 1841 Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia:

“Morton made some observations on a mode of ascertaining the internal capacity of the human cranium, by means of the tin tube and graduated rod as described by him in Crania Americana…The material hitherto used by Dr. Morton for the purpose of filling the crania, was white pepper seed, which was selected on account of its spherical form, and the general uniformity in the size of the grains… Dr. Morton then tried leaden shot of the size called BB measuring 1/8th of an inch in diameter which being perfectly smooth and spherical of uniform size and therefore not liable like the seeds to variations from packing”

Eight years later, in 1849, Morton published a catalog describing all the skulls in his collection which included a note explaining that:

“All the measurements in this Catalogue, both of the facial angle and internal capacity, have been made with my own hands. I at one time employed a person to aid me in these elaborate and fatiguing details; but having detected some errors in his measurements, I have been at the pains to revise all that part of the series that had not been previously measured by myself. I can now therefore vouch for the accuracy of these multitudinous data, which I cannot but regard as a novel and important contribution to Ethnological science.

It is necessary to add, that the measurements originally published in the Crania Americana were made with seeds, which will explain the discrepancy between the numbers observable in that work and this catalogue. The measurements of the Crania Aegyptiaca having been originally made with shot, require no revision: nor can I avoid expressing my satisfaction at the singular accuracy of this method since a skull of an hundred cubic inches if measured any number of times with reasonable care will not vary a single cubic inch.”

In other words, Morton hired an assistant to measure the skulls, but did not get what Morton regarded as good results. So, he tried to correct this situation by doing all the measurements himself, and also by using shot which he regarded as a better medium for measuring the skulls.

Although Morton was enthusiastic about the accuracy of his measuring technique, later scholars were not as impressed. Later in the 19th century Carl Vogt, agreed with Morton’s overall findings but not Morton’s measuring technique. In 1864, Vogt praised Morton for concluding that whites had larger skulls than black, thus disproving Tiedemann. Vogt dismissed the “erroneous results formerly propagated by Tiedemann,” which “asserted that the cranial capacity of the Negro was not less than that of the European.” Yet, Vogt faulted Morton for not sufficiently compressing the lead shot when filling the skull, which was a technique used by French anatomist Paul Broca (1824-1880). Vogt wrote that Morton’s skull measurements:

“… as well as those of Welcker, were made with small shot, with which the cranium was filled, and shaken until no more could be introduced. Broca has observed, that no exact measurement is obtained by this method, the differences arising when the same skull is measured several times, amounting to from twenty to thirty five cubic centimeters owing to the fact that, in many skulls, some parts of the internal cavity of the cranium rise above the level of the occipital foramen, through which the shot is introduced. Broca, therefore, by means of a long cuneiform instrument, presses the shot in every direction, until no more can be introduced. His results, though comparable with each other present therefore somewhat higher numbers. Again, the skulls examined by the American observers were selected specimens, whilst those of Broca were obtained from disturbed churchyards.”

Simply put, Vogt felt that Morton should have compressed the shot. Vogt also seems to hint that that Morton’s samples were “selected specimens” rather than a random sample exhumed from a grave. Vogt did however reference Morton’s measurements of Malay skulls to refute claims that they were nearly as large as Europeans. So it seems that Vogt supported those of Morton’s findings that confirmed his own conclusions. Indeed, confirmation bias is an indelible part of the human condition.

Vogt proposed that Morton improperly failed to compact the lead shot that he used to measure skulls. A century later, Stephen Jay Gould postulated that Morton did not compact the skulls with shot, but did compact the skulls when he was measuring them with peppercorns. As Gould wrote in the Mismeasure of Man (page 97)

“I assumed that measures by seed would be lower. Seeds are light and variable in size, even after sieving. Hence, they do not pack well. By vigorous shaking or pressing of the thumb at the foramen magnum (the hole at the base of a skull), seeds can be made to settle, providing room for more. Measures by seed were very variable; Morton reported differences of several cubic inches for recalibrations of the same skull. He eventually became discouraged, firing his assistants, and redid all his measurements personally, with lead shot. Recalibrations never varied by more than a cubic inch, and we may accept Morton’s judgement that measures by shot were objective, accurate and repeatable – while earlier measures my seed were highly subjective and erratic.”

Later on the same page, Gould speculated as to how Morton’s seed measurements may have generated different results from the shot measurements. Gould wrote:

“Plausible scenarios are easy to construct. Morton, measuring by seed, picks up a threateningly large black skull, fills it lightly and gives it a few desultory shakes. Next, he takes a distressingly small Caucasian skull, shakes hard, and pushes mightily at the foramen magnum with his thumb. It is easily done, without conscious motivation; expectation is a powerful guide to action.”

In a 1984 PBS Nova program, Gould was filmed explaining that he had reanalyzed “Morton’s data one summer a few years back. And I discovered that his ranking of whites, Indian and blacks was based more on his hopes than any reality of his data.” Gould then went on to accuse Morton of under-measuring black skulls and over-measuring white skulls, saying:

“Morton picks up the skull of a black man. Gee, it looks kind of disconcertingly large, he’s a little worried about it. You pour in the mustard seed, you shake it very gently try to get it to settle, pour it out again. Then you pick up a white skull which is disconcertingly small and you pour in the mustard seed. You take your thumb and you push on the foramen magnum as hard as you can, you push down, you pour some in some more. It’s… it’s not hard. I mean that must have been what happened.”

In the video, Gould can be seen pantomiming Morton using his thumb to push more seed into Caucasian skulls. And also note that Gould referred to “mustard seed,” not white pepper.

It should be noted that neither Vogt nor Gould actually re-measured Morton’s skulls and Gould never even laid eyes on them. So, both of these men were making assumptions. The question I had for many years was: Were these assumptions true? Does lead shot actually generate more reliable measurements than pepper seed?

In 2014, I decided to run a test. I bought a plastic model human skull from a medical supply store. I measured it with white pepper seed, lead shot and some other materials, like millet which was used by Tiedemann. I bought the white a pepper seed at a Korean grocery store. Shot is hard to find and expensive, so I bought used scuba divers’ weights which are filled with shot. I did not sift the shot or any of the seed materials, so my findings are not “lab quality.” Also, I measured the plastic skull and its contents with my kitchen scale. I invite any enterprising undergrad to re-run this test. If I’m wrong, so be it. My results should therefore be viewed as PRELIMINARY. I would however note that I actually have experience measuring skulls and this is not my first time conducting such research.

My methodology was quite simple. I measured the cranial capacity of my skull in three ways with the assumption that I would get three different results.

1. I measured the skull by filling it with material and only shifting the skull from side to side. One must tilt a skull a bit fill it up. My goal was to try to avoid any settling or compaction of the materials. I call this technique “NOT SHAKEN.”

2. I measured the skull by filling it with material and then I shook it to make it settle. But, I did not push my fingers into the skull to compact it. This is the normal way that modern researchers measure a skull, and this was the technique I used for my 1988 paper. I call this technique “SHAKEN ONLY.”

3. I measured the skull by filling it with material and then I shook it to make it settle and then pushed my fingers into the skull to compact it. I call this technique “COMPACTED.”

I then repeated this process using five different materials: White Pepper, White Mustard,
Millet Seed, White Rice, and Lead Shot. I repeated the measurements for each type and technique ten times. I then took all my data and determined a coefficient of variance (CV) for each type of material and technique. CV is a standard statistical measurement. In very broad terms, a lower CV indicates a more consistent measurement. At the end of this blog I have posted my raw data and calculations.

Once everything was finished, I had generated the fifteen CVs that are presented below:

CV – Material, Technique
0.6 – White Pepper, Compacted
0.8 – Yellow Mustard, Compacted
0.9 – Millet Seed, Not Shaken
1.0 – White Rice, Compacted
1.1 – Lead Shot, Shaken Only
1.1 – Millet Seed, Compacted
1.1 – Lead Shot, Compacted
1.3 -Yellow Mustard, Not Shaken
1.4 -Yellow Mustard, Shaken Only
1.8 – White Pepper, Not Shaken
1.8 – White Pepper, Shaken Only
2.0 – White Rice, Shaken Only
2.2 – Millet Seed, Shaken Only
2.8 – White Rice, Not Shaken
3.2 – Lead Shot, Not Shaken

The main conclusion is that shot is not an especially accurate measurement material relative to other materials. Compressing does not give worse or better results regardless of material. Gould’s assumption, which has been unquestioned for decades, has no foundation. If anything, his assertion shows how little he actually knew about the technique of measuring skulls. But then again, his expertise was studying snails. One would never presume that an anthropologist would have any expertise with snails, thus there is no reason that Gould would be an expert on skulls.

Some practical findings of my research were:

1. It appears that compacting the materials when filling a skull with ANY materials is just a bad idea. It put too much pressure on the skull. When I compressed the materials, (regardless of what they were) the material all moved into the face area, where there are more holes. This is also where there are more fine bones. I would not recommend doing this on a real skull because you would end up breaking some of the internal face bones. Gould assumed that Morton employed compression to make white skulls seem larger. But for that ASSUMPTION to be true, Morton had to have been willing to damage his white skulls.

2. Mustard seed is a mess and is annoying to use. It gets all charged up with static electricity and spills out of eye holes and such. I hated using it due to the mess. Also, I had to work to get the last few seeds out of the inside of the skull.

3. Lead shot is difficult to use and could easily damage many skulls. When my plastic skull was full of lead shot it weighed 19 pounds. The largest bowling ball is 16 pounds. A skull is round and has no good handles. I was afraid I would drop it and smash it. The muscles in my arms got sore hoisting it to the scale. Also, for some reason, a few table spoons of shot balls stayed in the skull. I had to shake it rigorously to get them out. My plastic skull had a removable top that was held together by magnets. The skull popped open the first time I filled it with the shot. It spilled all over the floor. So, I had to tape the skull shut. In summary, shot is hard to use and could easily crack both the thicker and thinner bones in a dry skull. Also, shot was just as easy to compact as any seed material. So for me, it had no special benefits the seeds lacked.

4. Rice was easy, but only worked well when compressed.

5. White pepper was easy to use, but only got good results when compressed. That observation suggests that a lab worker would need to practice a very consistent technique which required some training. So, Morton could have been right that his lab tech got inconsistent results.

6. Millet was the preferable material for many reasons. It was not messy at all. It was light weight, thus doing minimal damage to the skull. It was also easy to pour out of the skull. Most importantly, Millet generated a low CV without even shaking it. It was also quicker. In the 1930s, LIFE magazine ran an article of Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton. (“Hooton of Harvard,” LIFE, August 7, 1939). A photo on page 61 shows him measuring a skull with (according to the caption) millet, not shot.

In conclusion, Gould’s assumption that shot was somehow a better material than seed is was a false assumption. Also, it is just as easy to compact shot as seed. If as Gould proposed, Morton’s bias led him to unconsciously mis-measure with seed, then how come that strong bias did not affect his shot measurements? Did Morton’s racial bias inexplicably turn off at some point? A more likely scenario, which I have proposed on other blog posts, is that Morton simply lied. His work was riddled with random errors. I think that when his measurements got results he didn’t like, he would just write down something else. Given that he was an overt racist, he would periodically lie to make Anglo-Saxons appear superior to other races. But that is a case of lying, not subconscious bias secretly corrupting his data set. We have to remember that Morton was not a modern scientist, honor bound to publish only those results that are rigorously tested in a lab setting. He was not, nor did he ever claim to be the objectivist Gould said he was.

Gould uncritically accepted Morton’s false claims that the shot was the ideal material for measuring skulls. My research (as seen in other posts on this web site) suggests that Morton conducted his measurements in part to refute the craniological research of Tiedemann who used millet. So, Morton may have sold (or oversold) the accuracy of shot, so as to make Tiedemann look like an old fashioned guy with an outdated technique that should not be trusted. Ironically, my results show that millet is the preferable material, thus supporting Tiedemann’s findings. The way I see it, if the question is asked, “Who is RIGHT about measuring skulls, Morton or Gould?” The answer is, “Tiedemann.”

I reiterate that the research present on this blog should be regarded as preliminary, and I eagerly encourage some undergraduate, or even a high school student, to duplicate it. Until I am proven wrong, I am the only person who has taken on this task. My work, faulty as it may be, is currently the best done to date. It may not be perfect, but at least from my perspective, I finally have a halfway decent answer to a question that has been bugging me for decades.

PDFSeed-Shot Morton_v5

Ancient Egypt and Bad Math: Morton’s Research Ran Rife with Errors

This blog is based on text from Chapter 29 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

Samuel George Morton’s Crania Aegyptiaca is a case study in his staggeringly bad employment of basic mathematics. Within Crania Aegyptiaca, Morton published the craniological measurements of a set of 100 skulls from Egypt, most of which were ancient Egyptians. Morton summarized his findings on these skulls in the table shown below.

Egypt Blog 1The above table contains a blatant error regarding the Semitic (or Arabic) skulls, three of which are from Thebes. According to Morton, the smallest of the three Semitic Thebans is 79 cubic inches, and the mean is also 79 cubic inches. This is mathematically impossible. Furthermore, four of the five means values presented in the sixth column do not actually generate the mean reported in the seventh column, which I shall call the second mean.
In 2011, I recalculated second means in the above table. Figure 2 below presents the means and second means reported by Morton in 1844 along with the corrected second means. This figure shows that four of the five second means reported by Morton were lower than they should have been. Morton’s Pelasgic Form, Semitic Form, and Negro Form were all incorrectly inflated by 3 cubic inches. Morton’s Egyptian Form was boosted up one inch.

Egypt Blog 2After I found the above-noted errors, I decided to recreate Morton’s 1844 Table using Morton’s raw data, which he published in Crania Aegyptiaca. The internal volumes of the 100 skulls he measured are included in a 15-page inventory within the book. Recreating this table was no simple task because Morton was not consistent with the terms he used to describe the ethnicity of the skulls he measured. For example, his Ethnographic Divisions Table (Figure 2) does not describe any skulls as being mixed race. However, on page 19 of Crania Aegyptiaca, he presented a table (Figure 3 below) describing five of his 100 skulls as mixed. My challenge was to find out to which Ethnographic Division these five mixed skulls were assigned within Morton’s Ethnographic Division Table.

Egypt Blog 3To complicate matters even more, the above table refers to mixed skulls, but the term mixed is not used in the 15-page inventory. Furthermore, on page 7 of Crania Aegyptiaca, Morton describes Skull No. 795 as “Egyptian blended with the Negroid form?” indicating that Morton regarded it as having mixed ethnicity. And yet on page 31, this same skull is included in a listing of “Egyptian Group” skulls. On page 8, Morton describes Skull No. 802 as “Egypto-Pelasgic Form,” but it is included in a list of “Pelasgic Group” skulls on page 30. Morton’s inconsistent definitions make his inventory and his tables unclear and confusing. However, I was able to deduce what skulls Morton measured and how he classified them by combining all the information presented in his 15-page inventory, along with tables on pages 19 and 21, and the listing of skulls in the Pelasgic, Egyptian, and Negroid Groups, found on pages 30 and 31. (I spent a few weeks just sorting out this Gordian knot, a testament to either my obsessiveness or thoroughness. Take your pick.)

Figure 4 shows a spreadsheet with all the information I gathered from the tables and text within Crania Aegyptiaca. The final column of Figure 4 presents the ethnicities I was able to deduce from Morton’s information. I was fortunate in that I was able to cross reference all of Morton’s lists and tables, and from them assign every mixed skull to one of the categories on Morton’s Ethnographic Divisions table. I cannot fathom why Morton published his information in such a convoluted manner. His organization system defies common sense. It was only with the aid of a computer datasheet that I was able to untangle it all, and finally account for each of his 100 skulls.

Egypt Blog 4aEgypt Blog 4b

Using the data listed in Figure 4 above, I re-created Morton’s Ethnographic Division Table as shown below in Figure 5.

Egypt Blog 5Ultimately, I was able to determine that Morton’s 1844 Ethnographic Tables contained 13 mathematical errors, as shown above in Figure 5. There are a total of 65 units of data (numbers) listed on this table. Thus, the 13 errors indicate that 20 percent of the information on this table is in error. Stanton (1960), Gould (1978), Michael (1988), and Lewes (2011) all failed to note the errors on this table, including the blatantly incorrect mean for the three Semitic skulls from Thebes. We all spent hours and hours gazing our eyeballs directly at Morton’s table and none of us noticed that the mean for the Semitic-Thebans was utterly impossible. That fact is somewhat distressing, and Lord knows I was as guilty as the rest. It is also distressing to realize that Morton, who was held in such high esteem by his colleagues, could have generated a table in which approximately one fifth of the data was in error.

There have been those who have argued that Morton’s craniological research is a diagnostic example of bias, unconscious bias, science correcting itself, or science failing to correct itself. To them, I would argue that his research is so flawed that it is not a good example of anything… save a man who did sloppy work.

Blumenbach’s Skull Research was not Compromised by Aesthetic Desires as Claimed by Londa Schiebinger

This blog is based on text from Chapter 22 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

Perhaps the most unwarranted critique of Blumenbach’s research can be found in in Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science by the American historian Londa Schiebinger. In this book, she argued that Blumenbach chose to call white Europeans “Caucasians” for mostly aesthetic reasons. As Schiebinger wrote:

“An extraordinary example of the sway that notions of beauty, and female beauty in particular, held over science can be seen in Blumenbach’s coining the term Caucasian… In one stroke Blumenbach assigned the greatest beauty to a particular people, gave them the honor of being the original humans, and bequeathed a name to this premier race that stands even to this day as a potent marker of privilege.”

Schiebinger went on to say (and note that here again she is employing the word honor):

“According to his own account, Blumenbach took the name from the Caucasus Mountain range… because this region, especially its southern slope, produced what he considered the most beautiful of all humans – the Georgians. He chose the Caucasus for this honor because, “all physiological evidence converged on this region” as the birthplace of human kind.” As proof, he pointed to the unsullied whiteness of its inhabitants. “It is very easy” Blumenbach reasoned, “for white skin to degenerate into brown, but very much more difficult for a darker skin already impregnated with carbonaceous pigments to become white…” Even more important than skin color for Blumenbach was the pleasing symmetry of the Georgian skull. For him the Caucasian’s great beauty simply revealed them as the original humans – the archetype from which all other races degenerated.”

Like many other 20th Century scholars, Schiebinger relied on an uncritical reading of Thomas Bendyshe’s bad translation of Blumenbach, and added to it a number of assumptions about Blumenbach that are incorrect. For a start, Blumenbach never stated that being the first (autochthonous) human was an honor. Schiebinger also referred to the “unsullied whiteness” of Georgians, which again was a concept that Blumenbach himself never expressed. He never claimed that dark pigment was a form of filth. In fact, he praised the attractiveness of darker skinned people in a number of his writings. Schiebinger accepted Bendyshe’s translation as literal, assuming that when Bendyshe used the word beautiful, it was because Blumenbach used just that one word. Nowhere in her book does Schiebinger note that the word beauty had a different meaning in 1776. Furthermore, within Schiebinger’s book, I did not find any text in which she explained that the term de-generation was not the same as degeneration. I can only assume that she genuinely believed that Blumenbach regarded dark skinned people as a deteriorated form of white people. However, he did not.

As I see it, Schiebinger was looking only for that evidence that would support her philosophical interpretation of history, which to her credit she openly presented at the beginning of her book. As part of this statement she wrote:

“Twentieth-century historians of science have tended to treat racial and sexual science in separate studies. While eighteenth-century studies of race and sex admittedly formed distinct literatures, they7 also shared an intimate history having to do with the rise of what Michele Foucault has called “political anatomy”. The body – stripped clean of history and culture as it was of clothes and often skin – became the touchstone of political rights and social privileges.”

According to Schiebinger, Blumenbach created the term Caucasian, not because there was a scientific basis for it, but rather because he was so enamored by the beauty of Georgian women. His choice was not really evidence-based or logical but rather driven by desire, which overrode his rational mind. Schiebinger proposed that Blumenbach was not simply influenced by the medieval notion that Georgian women were beautiful, but rather “Deeper reasons… lay behind the beauty of assessment of beauty of Georgian woman that so influenced Blumenbach.”

Although, to her credit, she did say that, “To Blumenbach’s credit, he did not place the cradle of humanity in his native Germany.”

To Schiebinger’s way of thinking, Blumenbach’s choice of a Georgian female’s skull was highly significant and rich with symbolic importance:

“Blumenbach’s reverence for beauty may also explain why he singled out a female skull to represent the Caucasian race. Departing from medical traditions that for centuries had established the male as the paragon of human excellence, Blumenbach chose from his vast anthropological collection the skull of a young Georgian woman to represent “the Caucasian.””

What Schiebinger failed to notice is that Blumenbach also chose female skulls to represent his Ethiopian and Malay variety. According to Schiebinger’s rationale, Blumenbach must have also had a “reverence” for the beauty of black Africans and Polynesians.

When I first read Schiebinger’s above quote, something struck me odd about it. Schiebinger refers to Blumenbach’s “vast collection,” which from my perspective was not vast at all. Back in 1986, when I spent three weeks measuring the Morton skulls, I was actually rather disappointed with how small the collection was. Although it contains about 1,000 skulls, it only fills two rows of cabinets, each about 25 to 30 feet long. You could store all those cabinets in a garage and still have room for a sub-compact car. If Morton’s collection was that small, Blumenbach’s must have been small enough to store in a couple of large bookshelves.

I decided to do some research to see if I could figure out how just how large Blumenbach’s collection was in 1795 when he came up with the word “Caucasian.” Fortunately for me, Blumenbach published a series of seven small articles about his skull collection between 1789 and 1828. The first six of these articles presented a drawing of ten skulls and a description of each of them along with Blumenbach’s comments. Thus these articles are now jointly known as the Decas Cranorium (Ten Skulls). According to the Decas Cranorium, by 1795 Blumenbach had only collected 30 skulls, although he may have had more specimens he did not list. Even if he had 100 skulls, that is not what I would call a vast collection.

There was something else that I noticed while reading Blumenbach’s Decas Cranorium. Some of the skulls he illustrated were chipped, broken, or had missing teeth, which reminded me of the Morton collection.. Some of the skulls in Morton’s collection were in great condition, solid and un-cracked, with all of their teeth. Most of the skulls, however, had some sort of minor damage, often a few missing teeth, or were chipped along the thin bones within the nose or in the back of the eyes. Many skulls were also missing jaws. A good portion of the skulls, perhaps a quarter, were substantially damaged. For example, many had cracks around the sutures, like an old guitar whose back had cracked at the seam. Others were simply punctured as if hit by a hammer or more likely the shovel that was used to dig them up. It was also common to see holes from water damage, or in the case of desert skulls, damage from wide erosion.

Having been somewhat educated as a paleontologist (I dropped out of a master’s program in mammal paleontology), I was aware that anyone who studies a bone has to follow a rule which dictates that the bone being studied must be a physically ideal specimen. There are exceptions; but in general, a scholar should not make definitive statements about a bone if it is poorly preserved or shows evidence of disease. In paleontology, the term “type specimen” or “holotype” is used to describe a bone or skeleton that is the definitive example of an extinct animal. It should be in excellent condition, with no evidence of disease, and come from an adult, not a juvenile. Usually, when a new fossil is discovered (for example, a fish), the scientist who first describes it in a paper will choose the best preserved example of that species of fish (assuming she has a few to choose from), and declare it to be the type specimen. From then on, any other paleontologist who finds a similar looking fish can compare it to the type specimen. If the newly discovered fish matches the type specimen, then they are the same species. If not, they are different species. Of course, it does not always work out so neatly. For years it was thought that there were two types of large ape that lived in South Asia long before humans evolved. The big one was called Sivapithecus while the small one was called Ramapithecus. They each had a type specimen until somebody realized that the big one was the male version of the small one. They were both the same species.

The notion that Blumenbach might have been seeking out a racial type specimen led me to look at the drawings of the five skulls that he used as examples of his five varieties (American, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Malay and Mongolian.) They were all in good to excellent condition, like a type specimen, except for the Malay which was missing most of its teeth. I suspected that Blumenbach was forced to use a less than ideal Malay skull because his collection had only a few specimens from that population. To verify my suspicion, I conducted an analysis of all skulls illustrated in Decades Cranium. I gave them a score from 5 to 1 based in the following guidelines:

5. No chips
4. Chipping in one location
3. Chipping in two locations
2. Major cracks
1. Substantial damage or areas with mummified skin still attached

Using these admittedly arbitrary guidelines, and an examination of the drawings of the skulls rather than an actual examination of the skulls, I developed the table presented in Figure 1. This table indicates that Blumenbach only had 14 Caucasian skulls as of 1795. Of these 14 skulls, only two were free of chips, and had their jaws and all their teeth. One was a Jewish Girl who was not an adult (#3-38) and the other was a Woman from Georgia (#3-21). Both these skulls were present in his collection in 1795. This evidence suggest that the reason Blumenbach chose the Georgian skull as his “type specimen” was because it was the only Caucasian skull he had that was an adult specimen in good condition.

D3-12_F2D3-12_F1If my contention about the Woman of Georgia’s skull is correct, then I should be able show that Blumenbach chose the other type specimens based on the same non-aesthetic criteria. As it happens, four out of the five skulls Blumenbach chose to illustrate his varieties (American, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Malay, and Mongolian), were in excellent condition. As Figure 1 shows, Blumenbach had 11 American skulls, only two of which had jaws, a full set of teeth, and no chips. But he only had one of these two skulls in 1795, and that was the Carib of St. Vincent Isle (#1-10), which he chose as his American type specimen. Blumenbach only had 16 Caucasian skulls, of which three were adults in prime condition. One was Turk from Turkey, one was a Tatar presumably from Crimea, and one was a Georgian form that Caucasus Region. He chose the Woman of Georgia. Indeed, she may have been his favorite skull, but she was also the only Caucasian he had at the time. Schiebinger’s claim that Blumenbach chose the Woman of Georgia for aesthetic reasons assumed that he could have chosen her out of many in his “vast collection.” But the above evidence indicates that his collection only had one skull from the Caucasus. His choices were severely limited.

Blumenbach was Not Obsessed with Beauty, but His 19th Century Translator Sure Was

This blog is based on text from Chapter 21 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

Throughout my book I have stressed how in 1865, Thomas Bendyshe published a racist mistranslation of Blumenbach’s anti-racist writings led 20th century authors such as Bruce Dain to assume that Blumenbach harbored a white supremacist racial bias, at least early in his career. My initial suspicion that Blumenbach was mistranslated by Bendyshe led me to seek out the services of a professional Latin translator. In 2014, I was fortunate enough to hire a professional translation firm, Shillenn LLC, whom I will henceforth refer to as my 2014 Translator.

My 2014 Translator translated a number of passages from Blumenbach’s works that I suspected were mistranslated by Bendyshe. Before I discuss them, I need to briefly explain that within Blumenbach’s original text a “§” symbol was used to denote a chapter, thus § 62 refers to Chapter 62. Most of the chapters in De Generis of 1795 are just a few paragraphs long. In modern terms, they would be called sections. The image below is taken from Blumenbach’s original text which was bound into a book about the size of a small paperback you might buy in an airport. The left side of this image presents one entire page.

D2-12_F1When my 2014 Translator provided me with his translations, he also included notes which you can read in the pdf of Chapter 20. I found the 2014 Translator’s comments to be fascinating because they illustrate the complexities of translating the Latin used in Enlightenment Era Germany. My 2014 Translator’s rendering of Chapter 62 reads (with my bold):

Ҥ 62. Ethnic varieties of skulls
It seems that all the diversity of the skull of the various ethnic groups and that of the ethnic groups which we have surveyed (§ 56) can also be reduced to five prime varieties; plate II shows examples of these [varieties] (selected from many).

1. The middle place is held by an excellently symmetric, somewhat rounded specimen, whose forehead is moderately flattened out; the cheek bones are rather narrow, nowhere protruding, running down from the malar process of the frontal bone; the alveolar ridge [is] somewhat round; the front teeth of each jaw are positioned perpendicularly. The most elegant skull of a Georgian woman is shown as the example in plate II, figure 3. This charming shape of the skull is midway between the two extremes; of which one of the two…” [At this point Blumenbach goes on to describe Mongolians and Ethiopians.]

Bendyshe’s 1865 translation is presented below. This image is taken from the original text, which has a much more modern look than Blumenbach’s 18th century version. As you read Bendyshe’s translation, you will notice that Bendyshe used the words beautifully and beautiful.

D2-12_F2Comparing my 2014 Translator’s text and Bendyshe’s1865 translation for two phrases dealing with beauty indicates that Bendyshe was overusing the word beautiful as seen below:

D2-12_F3The topic of beauty also arises in Chapter 85 of De Generis of 1795, as presented below:

D2-12_F4As seen below, my 2014 Translator’s text indicates that Blumenbach regarded the Georgian people from of the Caucasus Mountain to be “the most beautiful race” of humans:

Ҥ 85. A) The Caucasian variety
The name for this variety is from the Caucasus mountains, because the surrounding area, especially its southern region, nurtures the most beautiful race of humans, i.e. the Georgian, and since all the physiological measures point in the same direction, [i.e.] that the “original types” of the human species most likely ought to be located, if anywhere, in this same region.

In the first place, as we have seen (§ 62), this stock exhibits the most beautiful shape of the skull, from which, as from a mediate and original shaping, the other [varieties] very gradually diverge in both directions toward to the two furthest extremes (in one direction the Mongolian and in the other the Ethiopian).

Moreover since this same [variety] is white in color, which we may consider to be the original [color] of the human species since, as we have shown above [§ 45], it is easy for [white] to degenerate into dark, while it is far more difficult [to move] from dark into white (namely when the secretion and precipitation of carbonaceous pigment (§ 44) over a long time has taken root).”

Bendyshe’s translation of 1865, as seen below, also indicated Blumenbach’s perception of the Georgians as being beautiful.

D2-12_F5And so we are left with two translators who agree that Blumenbach did indeed think that the Georgians were the most beautiful of branch of humanity (pucherrimam homien stirpum). Both Behndyshe and the 2013 translations agreed that the Georgians had the most beautiful shape of skulls (venustissuam ut videmus cranai formam).
One could argue that Bendyshe’s mistranslations were due to his inability to read Blumenbach’s arcane form of Latin. However, Bendyshe also mistranslated Blumenbach’s German writings in a way that fraudulently made it appear the Blumenbach held whites to be not just beautiful, but the most beautiful, while and blacks were not just ugly, but the ugliest. For example, Bendyshe also mistranslated Blumenbach’s 1806 German publication Beytrage zur Naturgeschichte. In this book, Blumenbach describes meeting the charming and beautiful African-born Haitian midwife who he met in Yverdun, Switzerland. The following passage regarding this black African woman was translated into English by my 2014 Translator. Based on his translation, Blumenbach’s describe the Haitian midwife as having (with my bold):

“A face, which absolutely – even in the nose and the somewhat thick lips – did not even have anything striking – let alone unpleasant, that the same traits with white skin, would have certainly had to be generally pleasing, just as Le Maire says in his journey to Senegal and Gambia: there are Negresses, who, abstracting from the color, are allegedly as well formed as our European ladies. Also Adanson, the meticulous naturalist, confirms this about the Senegal-Gambian Negresses: “they have,” he says, “beautiful eyes, a small mouth and lips and well-proportioned facial traits: some are found having perfect beauty *): they are full of vivacity and eminently have a light, free and pleasing decorum.”

In this quote, Blumenbach notes that the Haitian midwife had thick lips and a wide nose. Furthermore, he suggests that those very African-looking facial features were nonetheless attractive, and would have been attractive if they occurred on a woman with white skin. Blumenbach then gives two more examples of respected naturalists who also agree that black African women can be just as pretty as whites. However, when Bendyshe translated this text, he rendered it to imply that Blumenbach regarded black skin as being “disagreeable.” Bendyshe’s translation reads (with my bold):

“Such a countenance – even in the nose and the somewhat thick lips – was so far from being surprising, that if one could have set aside the disagreeable skin, the same features with a white skin must have universally pleased, just as Le Maire says in his travels through Senegal and Gambia, that there are negresses, who, abstraction being made of the colour, are as well formed as our European ladies. So also Adanson, that accurate naturalist, asserts the same of the Senegambia negresses; they have beautiful eyes small mouth and lips and well-proportioned features; some, too, are found of perfect beauty; they are full of vivacity, and have especially an easy, free and agreeable presence.”

In 2002, Bendyshe’s version of this text was used by American historian Bruce Dain to argue that Blumenbach “found black skin repugnant,” yet he “could see fineness in relative terms. Round-headed, black, full-featured people could be beautifully, finely made, hence highly intelligent.” Dain’s statement was mistaken in a number of respects. First, Dain uncritically accepted Bendyshe’s warped translation as being an accurate reflection of Blumenbach’s views. Then Dain used this mistranslation to suggest that Blumenbach equated physical beauty with intelligence, an idea that would have sat well with Blumenbach’s intellectual arch rival Christophe Meiners, but not Blumenbach. Lastly, Dain assumed that Blumenbach, writing in 18th century Germany, defined the word beautiful (or its German equivalent,) the same way that we do in 21st Century America. And that leads to the question, how exactly did Blumenbach define beauty way back then?

When Blumenbach said that the Georgians were the most beautiful people on earth, did he mean that they were like the kind of ravishingly gorgeous women and brutally handsome men who grace the magazines that I see while in line at the grocery store? Or was Blumenbach referring to another form of beauty? After all, other things that can be beautiful, like a sunset, an insect’s diaphanous wing, the interior of a cathedral, or a screaming newborn child. Perhaps Blumenbach, the biologist and anatomist, was impressed by the structure of the Georgian’s physiology, just as he might be impressed by the tail feathers of a peacock.

In Figure 6, I have listed all of the instances that I was able to find in which Bendyshe used the word beautiful when translating passages from De Generis of 1776. As the figure shows, Bendyshe translated two Latin words, elegans and exellentem, as beautiful.

D2-12_F6Figure 7 lists instances where Bendyshe used the words beautiful, handsome, or becoming when translating De Generis of 1795. In these passages, the Latin word pulcher is translated as beautiful in three places. The words venustus is rendered as beautiful in two instances, but appears as handsome only once. Adding these three words to the two words noted (above elegans and exellentem), we now have five words that Bendyshe translated as beautiful. Unfortunately, I have no way to determine exactly what these five Latin words meant in the form of Latin used by German scholars in the 18th century. However, I am wary enough to suggest that they may not have the exact same meaning they do today.

D2-12_F7There is currently no way to know what English words Blumenbach would have used to describe all the different Latin terms describing beauty or attractiveness. However, Blumenbach did published one paper in English, in which he used but one word that related to aesthetics. Blumenbach had proficiency in English but was not totally fluent in it. Thus, the following quote represents Blumenbach’s direct un-translated writing, a rare occurrence in this or any of the other English-language books that discuss him (with my bold):
“The maxilla were sensibly prominent, but by no means so much as in a true Guinea face; and not more so than is often seen on handsome negroes, and not seldom on European countenances.”

In this passage, Blumenbach is describing the face of a mummy which he had examined while visiting England. He is saying that its face was prognathic, with a mouth and teeth that jutted out. However, this mummy’s face was not as prognathic as is common in black Africans from Guinea. Blumenbach’s conclusion was that this mummy had a mouth that was like the mouths found in some Europeans and in “handsome negros,” a term which requires some investigation. I cannot determine if Blumenbach was using the term negro to mean all blacks everywhere, or only West Africans who were not from Guinea. It is also possible that he was referring to only people from Negroland, which in this context would likely be Senegambia. Regardless, Blumenbach stated that these “negros” were handsome, a word that is currently used to describe an attractive man, rather than an infant or a sunset. However, handsome had a somewhat different meaning in Blumenbach’s day. In 1802, Samuel Johnsons’ dictionary defined it this way:

“HANDSOME. Adj. [handsaem, Dutch, ready, dexterous.] 1. Ready; gainly; convenient… 2. Beautiful with dignity; graceful… 3. Elegant; graceful… 4 Ample; liberal, as a handsome fortune… 5. Generous; noble as a handsome action.”

In 1825, Richard Thomas Gore translated Blumenbach’s A Manual of the Elements of Natural History, which was originally written in German. Gore was a British surgeon and anatomist who I regard as the most qualified translator of Blumenbach, of any century. Gore’s translation of A Manual of the Elements of Natural History provides an excellent summary of Blumenbach’s world view during the latter part of his career. I was able to find the word beauty twelve times this document, but only once did it refer to humans, as shown below (with my bold):

(Abbild. Nat. Hist. Gegenst. Tab. 3 and 51)
Colour more or less white; with florid cheeks, hair long, soft, and brown (running on the one hand into white, on the other into black); according to the European ideas of beauty, the form of the face and skull most perfect. It includes all the Europeans, with the exception of the Laplanders; the western Asiatics on this side of the Ob, the Caspian Sea and the Ganges; lastly, the northern Africans; altogether the inhabitants of the world known by the ancient Grecians and Romans.”
To double check Gore, I had my 2014 Translator translate the same text that Gore did. My 2014 Translator came up with a similar rendering, although he more closely followed Blumenbach’s sentence structure:

“The Europeans, with the exception of the Lapps and other actual Finns and the West Asians, on this side of the Ob, the Caspian Sea and the Ganges, together with the North Africans. In a word, approximately the inhabitants of the world known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. They are more or less white in color, with red cheeks, and, according to the European concepts of beauty, they are the best formed humans in the shape of their face and skull.

Both of these translations include the key phrase “according to the European ideas/concepts of beauty,” which in the original German is “der nach den europaischen Begriffen von schonheit.” This text suggests that when Blumenbach wrote that Europeans were beautiful, he was qualifying it by noting that such beauty was based on the arbitrary standards set by Europeans. In 1810, Blumenbach also emphasized the arbitrary nature of beauty. At that time, he published the German text shown in Figure 8, which is not a translation from Latin.
D2-12_F8I provided this text and the paragraph that followed it to my 2014 Translator. His translation reads (with Blumenbach’s italics and my bold):
“Jusuf Aguiah Efendi: As a representative of the Caucasian race, to which the best formed humans – according to our concepts of beauty – belong, I could have therefore just as properly cited any other particularly regularly formed European, a MILTON or a RAPHAEL and the like; however, I have selected this respected man who, as is well known, is now in London as an envoy from the Ottoman Port, because his homeland is located nearer to the Caucasus, from which this whole race takes its name, and in the vicinity of which it was likewise originally at home.”

What is striking about the sentence shown in Figure 8 is that Blumenbach emphasized the word unsern which means our by placing it in italics. It appears that he is indicating that beauty is subjective and not a quantifiable fact. Perhaps Blumenbach’s discussion of the arbitrary nature of beauty was a back-handed insult of his fellow professors who assumed their own race was the most beautiful. This jibe may have even been focused on his intellectual arch foe, Christophe Meiners, who regarded all of humanity as divided into either ugly races or beautiful races. Such a subtle dig at blithely bigoted intellectuals would be consistent with Blumenbach’s oft quoted satire of race chauvinists: “If a toad could speak, and were asked which was the loveliest creature upon God’s earth, it would say simpering, that modesty forbade it to give a real opinion on that point.”
In summary, Blumenbach was not obsessed by beauty, but his translator, Thomas Bendyshe sure was.


Blumenbach was an Anti-Racist: His 19th Century Racist Translator Fooled Schiebinger and Gould

This blog is based on text from Chapter 21 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

Throughout my book, I have stressed how in 1865, Thomas Bendyshe published a racist mistranslation of Blumenbach’s anti-racist writings which led 20th century authors to incorrectly assume that Blumenbach harbored a white supremacist racial bias, at least early in his career. My initial suspicion that Blumenbach was mistranslated by Bendyshe led me to seek out the services of a professional Latin translator. In 2014, I was fortunate enough to hire a professional translation firm, Shillenn LLC, whom I will henceforth refer to as my 2014 Translator. Because my 2014 Translator spoke both German and Latin, he was able to inform me that Blumenbach’s Latin grammar was a little bit too Germanic. When Blumenbach composed his sentences in Latin, he would sometimes write the words out in the order in which they would appear if he were writing in German. In a sense, you could say that he wrote Latin with a German accent.

My 2014 Translator translated a number of passages from Blumenbach’s works that I suspected were mistranslated by Bendyshe. Before I discuss them, I need to briefly explain that within Blumenbach’s original text a “§” symbol was used to denote a chapter, thus § 62 refers to Chapter 62. Most of the chapters in De Generis of 1795 are just a few paragraphs long. In modern terms, they would be called sections. The image below is taken from Blumenbach’s original text which was bound into a book about the size of a small paperback you might buy in an airport. This image presents one entire page of what is a five-and-a half page chapter.

Dec14_Blog-F1My 2014 Translator’s rendering of the above text included a phrase of utmost importance which I have put in bold:

Ҥ 81. Five principal varieties of the human species established

However, since from among the arbitrary bases for these kinds of divisions, one may be said to stand out and to be preferred over the other, after all things have been considered at length at with care, the whole human species, to the extent it has become known to us, as it seems to me, can be divided, in a manner that is most fitting to truth of nature itself, into the five following varieties and distinguished from one another with the [following] names:
A) Caucasian,
B) Mongolian,
C) Ethiopian,
D) American and
E) Malayan.

I have placed the Caucasian [variety] as being in the first place because of being the original one, for the reasons that will be explained below.

This [variety] went off into two extremes that are furthest removed and most different from one another; namely in one direction into the Mongolian variety and into the other direction into the Ethiopian variety. The median positions between the primeval variety and these extreme varieties are held by the remaining two varieties; The American [variety] namely between the Caucasian and the Mongolian; And the Malayan [variety] between this same Caucasian [variety] and the Ethiopian [variety].”

In his text, Blumenbach explains that there are a number of different classification systems (or arbitrary bases) that a scholar can use to classify human beings. However, in Blumenbach’s opinion, only one of these classification systems “may be said to stand out and to be preferred over the other.” In other words, he is being a bit egotistical in stating that there are many classification systems, but the only one that is worth following is the one Blumenbach himself has created. Unfortunately, when Bendyshe translated this text he came up with a markedly different interpretation. According to Bendyshe, it is not Blumenbach’s system that is the preferred of all systems, but rather is the Caucasian race that is the preferred of all races.
Dec14_Blog-F2By mistranslating just one sentence – either by accident or on purpose – Bendyshe made it appear that Blumenbach held Europeans to be superior to all other races, which was not true. To reiterate, while Blumenbach is saying that one method of classifying races is better than the other, Bendyshe is saying one race is better than the others.
The 2014 translation of Blumenbach also includes a phrase which differs significantly from Bendyshe’s as noted below (with my bold):

Dec14_Blog-F3The version of this passage as translated by my 2014 Translator indicates that Blumenbach is admitting that his five part classification system is a concoction of his own mind (to paraphrase Camper). Blumenbach accepts that his own man-made system is not perfect, but rather it is “most fitting” to nature. The validity of my 2014 Translator’s text is supported by a passage Blumenbach wrote himself in his only English publication (with my bold):

“Adopting, as I think it conformable to nature, five races of the human species, viz. 1. the Caucasian; 2. the Mongolian; 3. the Malay; 4. the Ethiopian; 5. the American; I think the Egyptians will find their place between the Caucasian and the Ethiopian, but that they differ from none more than from the Mongolian, to which the Chinese belong.”

In this English text, we can see that Blumenbach was not brashly declaring to all comers that he had discovered a natural phenomenon that anyone could see. Rather, he used the wiggle words “as I think it conformable,” so as to hammer home that this was only his own view of nature , as opposed to a clear-cut characteristic of nature, such as ice is solid and water is liquid. However, Bendyshe’s translation implies that Blumenbach was claiming to have discovered a naturally existing pattern actually found in nature. Bendyshe mistranslated this passage to make it appear as if Blumenbach was stating the exact opposite of what Blumenbach intended. In summary, Blumenbach was saying that races were not naturally isolated units, while Bendyshe was saying that they were.

Simply put, Blumenbach was an anti-Racist whose research stands apart from that of most his contemporaries, most of whom were indeed over racists. Schiebinger’s and Gould’s contentions that Blumenbach’s work was tainted by racism are ungrounded because they were based on evidence that was fraudulently manufactured by Thomas Bendyshe in 1865.

Blumenbach’s Racial Spectrum Theory: Not Just Five “Races”

This blog is based on text from Chapter 1 of my book, a pdf of which is posted on this webpage. Detailed footnotes and citations are presented in the pdf. The author does not support racism, eugenics, or even the existence of biologically distinct human races. However, to maintain historical accuracy, this blog uses outdated and sometimes offensive ethnic terms found in historic documents. No offense is intended.

During his lifetime, Blumenbach became famous for his collection of over 100 human skulls from throughout the world. But he also sought out to different kinds of people in the flesh to observe how they behaved. Once while visiting the international port city of Amsterdam, Blumenbach made a point of observing “twenty one living Chinese.” He also collected pictures and paintings to see how they dressed and lived. Blumenbach noted that there were many drawings available depicting exotic peoples, but “when they are critically examined, very few are found which you can trust.” His drawings included a Turkish woman, two Chinese sailors, a “Boshman with wife and child,” a Native American from Tierra Del Fuego and a “New Zealand chief.” It was as if he was studying the wings of sparrows, but instead of simply dissecting wings, he collected paintings of them and, whenever possible, he went outside and took notes on how they flew. It was not enough observe their bones. Blumenbach wanted to see pictures of them and words written by them.

In 1810, Blumenbach’s presented parts of his collection in Abbildungen Naturhistorischer Gegenstände (Illustrations of Objects from Natural History). True to its title, it is chock-full of pen and ink illustrations like those in Figure 1.

Dec14-Mastadon ToothThis document is essentially an atlas of pictures representing everything from anthills and fossils, to domesticated dogs and newly hatched reptiles. It is not so much a field guide as a portable museum. This book also included illustrations of what he called the five varieties of humankind, as seen in Figure 2. In some of his publications, he used the word races instead of varieties. It is possible that he defined the word race to be a lineage or branch of humankind, and not a distinct unrelated group which is how race is defined today. I will discuss this somewhat confusing nomenclature in more detail in later blogs.

Dec14-Blum5FacesThe five portraits shown in Figure 2 were presented on six separate pages in the order that they are presented in the figure. The Mongolian was on the first page followed by the American, and so on. They were, in a sense, “field view” examples of Blumenbach’s different varieties, and all of them are presented in a dignified manner.

For Blumenbach, these pictures were not illustrations of anonymous biological samples, but real people with names. As a result, we can now scour historic records to find out something about who they were, how they lived (their habitus), and why Blumenbach chose them to be quintessential examples of their race.

The first picture depicts the dapper Fedor Iwanowtisch (1765-1832) who likely came from what is now far eastern Russia or one of its neighboring Asian republics. He was a successful illustrator born to the Calmuk people, now known as the Oirats, who are the western-most population of Mongols. As a child, Iwanowtisch was said to have been captured or enslaved by Cossacks, and later adopted by a Russian family of means. Trained as an artist, he studied in Rome for seven years, and later traveled to Greece with Thomas Bruce (1766-1741) the Earl Elgin, remembered mostly for bringing the Elgin Marbles to England.[1] In a way, Iwanowtisch was like Phillis Wheatley, but with a happy ending.

The second picture is Tayadanuga (1743-1807), a famous Mohawk chief, now known as Theyendanega or Joseph Brant. As the son of an influential chief who was allied with the British troops in colonial New York, Theyendanega was educated in the English system. He became a staunch supporter of the British during the American Revolution.The third image is that of Jusaf Aguia Efendie (1744-1824), now known as Yusuf Agah Efendi. He was the first Ottoman ambassador to England from 1793 to 1797.His weathered face and central Asian ethnicity will become important later on when I discuss how Blumenbach’s old fashioned definition of beauty, may or may not have differed from the definition we use today.

The handsome turban-clad Polynesian in the fourth picture is Omia (c.1751-1780), also called Mia or O’Mia. This young man traveled from his native Tahiti to Britain with Captain Cook’s flotilla. He charmed King George III (1738-1820) and London society with his exotic ways, his politeness, and his intelligent, inquisitive manner. He later returned to Tahiti and gave fine gifts to his people. Through this action, Omia antagonized the local chiefs, who looked bad by comparison to this young upstart of un-chiefly birth. He died before the age of thirty of an infectious disease, as was common for many south sea islanders who came in contact with Europeans. In Hawaii, the epidemic of 1832-1833 and the whooping cough and influenza epidemic of 1848-1849 each killed 10,000. The 1853 small pox epidemic killed at least 2,800 and probably more. It is estimated that prior to Cook’s arrival there were 400,000 to 800,000 native Hawaiians. By 1823, there were fewer than 135,000 and only 23,000 by 1919.

The fifth portrait is that of the formally-attired Jacobus Elisa Capitein (1718-1747), a Ghanaian slave who was taken to the Netherlands as a child and adopted as a son by his master. He excelled at school and became the first native African to graduate from the Dutch university. Capitein was a supporter of slavery, noting that it was consistent with Christian principles. He became a missionary in Ghana, but was unsuccessful since he was too Dutch to be accepted by his ancestral people. His attempt to marry a Ghanaian was stifled because she was not a Christian. He subsequently married a Dutch woman, and in his later years suffered ill-health and debt. In the late 18th century, his life story and scholarly talents were cited by those who supported racial equality. However, his later failures in life were cited by those who opposed it.

What is distinctive about these five portraits is that they all treat their subjects with equanimity. The Asian is not a weak-willed peasant, the American is not a painted savage, and the Caucasian is not a Nordic superman. The Polynesian is not a wild-eyed cannibal nor is the African a sub-human semi-ape. These drawings are not stereotypes. They are men, presented in the respectful way that Blumenbach intended. The common denominator linking all these people is that they were able to function and flourish in the highest echelons of white European (or European American) society, despite being born in exotic locales, thousands of miles away from each other. Through these examples, Blumenbach is showing us that it is the environment that shapes human beings. Give a barbarian child a book, and she will grow up to be become a civilized individual. Savagery is not an inherited condition, and so, neither is civilization.

The text Blumenbach wrote when first describing the five portraits presented in his 1810 book reads:

“Die physiognomischen Unterscheidungs zeichen dieser 5 Rassen habe ich in der 3ten Ausgabe der Schrift de generis humani varietate nativa S. 177 u. f. ausführlich angegeben; wo auch 5 musterhafte Schedel von denselben aus meiner Sammlung abgebildet sind, die man mit den gegenwärtigen 5 Porträts vergleichen kann.

Hier nur soviel: Die Caucasische Rasse ist nach allen physiologischen und historischen Datis wahrscheinlich der Urstamm, der mit der Zeit durch die verschiedenen Ursachen der Degeneration in die beiden Extreme, nämlich einerseits in die Mongolische B. mit dem platten Gesichte; und anderseits in die Aethiopische mit den prominirenden Kiefern, ausgeartet.

Translating Blumenbach’s work is difficult, and much of what he wrote is still not available in English or even modern German. I was unable to find a translation of his above text. Thus, I took a crack at it myself, using my high school knowledge of German, an on-line translator, and my undergraduate experience measuring a collection of 201 human skulls from throughout the world.

As far as I can tell, Blumenbach was noting that the five pictures presented in Figure 2 where good examples of the five major varieties of human beings. He suggested these five portraits should be compared with five skulls of each race that he had already discussed in a previous publication. Blumenbach also said that all the available evidence suggested that Caucasian race (or lineage) is probably the ancestral strain of all the forms of human kind. He went on to propose that there were various factors (not just one) that caused Caucasians to derivate – what we would now call evolve – into all the other races. He stated that the two races whose skulls are most different from Caucasians are the Mongolian and the Ethiopian, by which he meant West African. According to Blumenbach, the Mongolian skull has a flat face relative to the face of the Caucasian skull. Conversely, the Ethiopian skull has a more protruding upper and lower jaw than does the Caucasian. Thus Caucasian skulls have a face with a somewhat protruding jaw that is intermediate between the two other extremes.

Confused? Well, you should be. In this passage, Blumenbach is saying that the portraits of the five men can be compared to the illustrations of five skulls that he had published 35 years earlier in his anthropological masterwork De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa, 3rd Edition (which I will henceforth refer to as De Generis of 1795).. This book was a pioneering examination of human diversity and it was written in Blumenbach’s characteristically tortuous Latin. Its title translates as The Human Race’s Natural Variety. However the book has since come to be known as On the Natural Varieties of Mankind. The book itself, (I’ve paged through an original copy) is about six inches tall and four inches wide, about like a modern day field guide. It has no pictures, except for some plates at the very end. These pen and ink illustrations of five skulls, as shown in Figure 3 below, fold out like a map. You can see darkened lines where the paper was folded accordion style. These are the skulls that Blumenbach was comparing to the five portraits.

Dec14-Blum5SkullsIn this drawing, the five skulls are labeled (from left to right) Tungusae, Caribaci, Feminae Georgianae, Otaheitae, and Aethiopissae. Translated in to English, these terms are respectively: Tungus (a native Siberian people), Carib (the Kalingo Indians of the Caribbean Islands ), Female Georgian, Tahitian, and Ethiopian. These were presented as examples of the five primary varieties that Blumenbach called Mongolian, American, Caucasian, Malay, and Ethiopian. Blumenbach has been cited by both Gould and Bruce Dain as having “invented” the name Caucasian to describe Europeans, Middle Easterners, and South Asians. In fact, Blumenbach’s university colleague Christoph Meiners had previously used it. It would be more accurate to say that Blumenbach popularized the term.

Blumenbach’s Malay Variety was not what we would now call Malaysians, but rather a group encompassing Polynesians, Indonesians, Australians, and other peoples of the South Pacific. Blumenbach’s description of these skulls (as translated from Latin into English by Bendyshe) reads:

“Five very select skulls of my collection, to demonstrate the diversity of the five principal human races.

Fig. 1. A Tungus, one of those commonly called the Reindeer Tungus. His name was Tschewin Amureew, of the family of Gilgagirsk. He lived about 350 versts (sic) from the city Bargus; and cut his own throat in 1791. Schilling, the head army surgeon was sent thence by Werchnelldinski, to make a legal inquiry as to the cause of his death; he brought back the skull with his own hand and gave it to Baron de Asch.

Fig. 2. The head of a Carib chief who died at St Vincent eight years ago, and whose bones, at the request of Banks, were dug up there by Anderson, the head of the royal garden in that island.

Fig. 3. A young Georgian female, made captive in the last Turkish war by the Russians, and brought to Muscovy. There she died suddenly and an examination was made of the cause of death by Hiltebrandt, the most learned anatomical professor in Russia. He carefully preserved the skull for the extreme elegance of its shape, and sent it to St. Petersburg to de Asch.

Fig. 4. The skull of a Tahitian female, brought at the request of Banks by the brave and energetic Captain Bligh, on his return from his famous voyage, during which he transported with the greatest success stocks of the bread-fruit tree from the Society Islands to the East Indies.

Fig. 5. An Ethiopian female of Guinea, the concubine of a Dutchman, who died at Amsterdam in her 28th year. She was dissected by Steph. Jo. Van Geuns, the learned professor at Utrecht.”

Bendyshe’s translation has Blumenbach saying that there were five “principle human races,” but the original Latin is humani varitatum principalum or “main varieties of human.” Blumenbach was not saying that there were only five races. Rather, he was proposing that there were five main types (which is to say large populations) of humans. There were other “types” as well, but they were not as populous. Blumenbach’s notion that there were five types of human beings was largely accepted throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century. However, his idea that races were parts of one single unit did not break through into the public consciousness. The average man on the street viewed Blumenbach’s five groupings as five distinct and separate races. In many respects, these classes are still with us today. In terms of common usage, these can be described as red, yellow, black, white, and brown (although in America, brown tends to mean Hispanic). This simple racial color scheme still survives in the children’s song I learned in church school: “Jesus loves the little children, All the little children of the world, Red and yellow, black or white, All are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

However, Blumenbach never proposed that there are five (or four) distinct races of humanity. For him, the “Innumerable varieties of mankind run into one other by insensible degrees.” Blumenbach’s original Latin text used the term gradation invicem confluent (gradations into each other flow). With this language, he was proposing that races are much like the currents that course through the oceans of the world. One race gradually merges with the next just like the Atlantic Ocean gradually merges with the Pacific below the tip of South America. Ask yourself how many oceans there are, and you might come up with five to seven answers. But the only true answer is one, because there is but one body of salt water covering the earth. In theory, a heavy-duty rubber ducky dropped into any of the earth’s coastal waters could eventually float through all of them.

By his own admission, Blumenbach viewed his five-fold classification system as being imperfect, although – not surprisingly – he viewed his own system as being the best one available. And in a way, his classification did not have five divisions, but ten. He proposed that each of his five main varieties could be further divided into two subgroups, which can be charted out as seen in Figure 4. In this figure, I added text in italics to show how Blumenbach’s ten part subdivisions tend to be broken down in east-west or north-south divisions. Furthermore, Blumenbach regarded Egyptians as belonging to neither Caucasian nor the Ethiopian variety but rather as a “linking” group that joins the two, much as an isthmus joins two continents. Similarly, he regarded central Asian Cossacks as links between, but not belonging to, the Caucasian and Mongolian varieties. Joining the Mongolians and the Native American were the “Eskimotae.”

Dec14-Blum10RaceTableWhen viewed at this ten-part subdivision level, Blumenbach’s system looks less like a number of distinct categories and instead takes on the feature of a gradually changing continuum. Using modern terminology, I shall refer to Blumenbach’s system as a “racial spectrum” which is much like the color spectrum (infrared, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and ultraviolet), all of which are wavelengths that transition into each other. This gradual change of traits from place to place is common in the natural world. Zoologists refer to such incremental geographical variation as a cline, but I am not going to use that word because most people are unfamiliar with it. Instead I will use spectrum.

My use of the word spectrum to describe human racial variation draws from the 1990 anthropological research of C. Loren Brace in which he compared measurements of the teeth and facial bones of 57 human populations. He wrote that, “there is a spectrum of variation in humans that is “rarely taken into account in appraisals of human evolution in general and individual fossil specimens in particular.” His findings were that, among the populations he measured, there were a range of tooth sizes, with Europeans having the smallest and native Australians having the largest teeth. And yet, Brace noted, centuries’ worth of contact (like sexual intercourse and blood transfusions) between Europeans and native Australians show beyond any shadow of a doubt that they are the same species. He cautioned:

“There is almost certainly some ethnocentrism inherent in viewing the spectrum as running from Europe to Australia, but this quite literally does extend from one geographical extreme of the earth to the other, and, dentally at least, the Australian aborigines can legitimately stand for a morphological extreme in contemporary H. sapiens and Europeans come quite close to representing their antithesis.”

In many ways, Brace’s 20th century lab-based finding of what he called a spectrum of traits has a strong parallel in Blumenbach’s 18th century observations. What is more important is that both these men came up with the same overall conclusions independently. Due to this more-or-less confirmation of Blumenbach’s ideas, I feel comfortable referring to Blumenbach’s concept as a racial spectrum, even though he did not use those words. It would appear they were both observing the same naturally occurring phenomenon: a cline.

A good analogy to explain the way in which Blumenbach viewed human populations involves the flow of water through a river system. For example, the Mississippi River down in New Orleans received its waters from other major rivers like the Ohio, the Illinois, and the Missouri. These rivers are also fed by branches of smaller rivers that collect water from creeks, streams, and ultimately tiny intermittent rivulets. All of these waterways are part of one interconnected network that together form a drainage basin. For Blumenbach, the notion that Negros and Caucasians were entirely separated sub-species would be as silly as saying the Ohio River and the Mississippi River were completely unconnected. And just as the Ohio River is home to some fish that cannot be found in the Mississippi, so Kenyans have some traits, like brown skin, that Austrians do not possesses. And yet Kenyans and Austrians are connected via the brown-skinned Ethiopians and Egyptians, the tan-skinned Lebanese and Greeks, and the Balkan peoples who live between Greece and Austria.

Blumenbach did not believe that there were separate races. Nor did he suggest, like 20th century British-American anthropologist Ashley Montague (1905-1999) and others, that race was a biologically invalid concept that simply does not exist. But then again, comparing Blumenbach’s ideas with Montague’s is not entirely fair, because they were living in different places and times. The definition of race that Blumenbach used in early 19th century Germany was not the same as was used later authors, from Adolph Hitler (1889-1945) in the 1920s to Gould or Michael (who is me) in the 1980s. To fully appreciate the vocabulary differences that separated the worlds of Blumenbach and Montague it is essential to know how people have viewed racial variation – or more accurately, ethnic variation within the human racial spectrum – since the days of ancient Egypt. I address this topic in Chapter 2 of my book.