Races of Man

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Races of Man


historically formed, geographic groups of people linked by a common origin manifested in common inherited morphological and physiological traits that vary within certain limits. Since the group variability of these traits does not coincide with their individual variability, the races are not conglomerations of individuals but conglomerations of populations—that is, territorial groups of people joined by marital ties.

The races are intraspecific, taxonomic (systematic) categories in a state of dynamic equilibrium: that is, although they vary in space and time in their interaction with the environment, they possess a certain genetically determined stability. Taking into consideration the basic morphological, physiological, and psychological traits of contemporary humans, the similarity among the races is great, and the differences are insubstantial. There is no factual foundation for reactionary conceptions regarding the existence of “higher” and “lower” races and the descent of the races from different species of higher apes. The data of anthropology and other sciences prove that all the races are descended from one species of fossil hominid. The unlimited possibilities of mixing among the races and the complete biological and sociocultural integrity of mixed groups provide powerful proof of the unity of man as a species and the groundlessness of racism.

The word “race,” which is probably derived from the Arabic root ra’ys (“head,” “beginning”), was first used in the modern sense by the French scholar F. Bernier (1684). From the 18th through 20th centuries most of the proposed systems of racial classification were based on external morphological characteristics. One of the most successful classifications was devised by J. Deniker (1900).

Basic groups. The contemporary world population falls into three distinct, basic racial groups: the Negroid, Europeoid, and Mongoloid races, which are often called the great races.

Among the characteristics usually associated with the Negroid race are curly black hair, dark brown skin, brown eyes, scanty to moderate tertiary hair cover, and moderately prominent cheekbones. Other characteristics associated with this racial group are a strongly protruding jawbone (prognathism); a slightly protruding, broad nose, with nostrils parallel to the facial plane; and thick lips.

The Europeoid race is characterized by soft straight or wavy hair with a broad range of colors, relatively light skin, a broad range of eye (iris) color (from brown to light gray and blue), and a heavy tertiary hair cover (in particular, the men have beards). Also among the traits of the Europeoid race are weakly protruding cheekbones; insignificant protrusion of the jawbone (orthognathism); a narrow, protruding nose with a high bridge; and usually, thin to moderately thick lips.

The Mongoloid race is characterized by straight, coarse, dark hair; a scanty tertiary hair cover; yellowish skin tones; brown eyes; a flat face with prominent cheekbones; a narrow or moderately broad nose with a low bridge; and moderately thick lips. The epicanthic fold, a special fold of the skin of the upper eyelid, covers the lacrimal duct in the interior corners of the eye. In origin and in many traits, the American Indians are closely related to the Mongoloid races; however, the epicanthic fold is rare among them, and sharply protruding noses are common. Moreover, few American Indians have the general appearance commonly associated with the Mongoloid race.

Not all of the populations of modern man can be assigned to the three basic groups of races. In southeast Asia, Oceania, and Australia there are widely distributed populations that are similar to the Negroid race of Africa in certain traits (dark skin pigmentation, broad nose, and thick lips) but that differ from them in having wavy hair, a strongly developed tertiary hair cover, and, in some cases, lighter skin pigmentation. Some scholars regard these populations as a fourth basic group of races, the Australoid group, while others classify them with the Negroids in the great Equatorial (Negro-Australoid) race. The genetic polymorphism characteristic of all humans is very great among the Australoids, in whom it finds external expression in a tremendous variety of combinations of racial traits. For example, the aborigines of Australia are similar to the African Negroids in pigmentation but similar to the Europeoids in hair form and in development of tertiary hair cover. The Papuans and Melane-sians characteristically combine many Australoid traits with curly hair, a Negroid trait. The Veddoid race, represented by the Vedda of Sri Lanka and other numerically small peoples of South and Southeast Asia, are typically Australoid in their general appearance but are small in stature and have scanty beards and eyebrows. According to many scholars, the curly-haired, extremely short Negritos are genetically related to the Australoids, as are the Ainu, who have relatively light skin and the most abundant facial hair in the world, in addition to certain Mongoloid traits (flat face and epicanthic fold).

Negroid traits are most strongly expressed in the African populations settled south of the Sahara and known collectively and inaccurately as Negroes. The Negroid race also includes the extremely short Central African Pygmies, or Negrillos, who externally resemble the Asiatic Negritos. In addition, some anthropologists argue that the South African Bushmen and the Hottentots are related to the Negroids. In the Bushmen and Hottentots extremely curly hair is combined with certain Mongoloid traits (yellowish skin, flat face, and epicanthic fold).

Between the geographic ranges of the Equatorial (Australoid and Negroid) races and the more northerly Europeoids there is a wide belt of intermediate groups. Some of these groups, which have been known since remote antiquity, reflect genetic links between the Equatorial and Europeoid groups. Other intermediate groups developed in the Middle Ages and in modern times through intermingling. The ancient intermediate groups include the South Indian (Dravidian) and East African (Ethiopian) races. In skin color, the Ethiopians are virtually indistinguishable from the Negroid race, but they resemble southern Europeoids in their facial and nasal structure. Intermediacy in most racial traits is also found in many populations of the Sudan, particularly the Fula.

The Europeoid race, which first developed in Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe, may be subdivided into three main groups: the southern group, characterized by swarthy skin and dark eyes and hair; the northern group, with light skin, a substantial percentage of gray and blue eyes, and blond and flaxen hair; and the intermediate group, characterized by pigmentation of medium intensity.

Anthropologists distinguish various local races (races “of the second order”) among the Europeoids, based on skin, eye, and hair color; the structure of the facial skeleton and the soft parts of the face; the proportions of the cranium (often expressed in the cephalic index); and certain other traits. In view of their range, the southern Europeoids are called the Indo-Mediterra-nean race. The relatively long-headed (dolichocephalic) populations of this race include the Mediterraneans in the west and the Indo-Afghanians in the east. The short-headed (brachyce-phalic) southern Europeoids include the Adriatic, or Dinaric, race, the Armeneoid race, and the Pamiro-Ferganian race.

The Europeoids of intermediate pigmentation, most of whom are brachycephalic, are subdivided into several groups, including the Alpine and the Middle European. The mesodoli-chocephalic, fair Europeoids used to be known as the Northern, or Nordic, race, and the more brachycephalic, fair Europeoids, as the Baltic race. Some anthropologists subdivide all fair Europeoids into the Northwest European group (the Atlanto-Baltic race) and the Northeast European group (the White Sea-Baltic race). Ancient Mongoloid populations that penetrated into Europe from east of the Urals may have played a role in the formation of the Northeast European group.

From the most ancient times the Europeoids interacted on the eastern borders of their geographic range with the Mongoloid race. As a result of their early intermingling, which probably dates from the Mesolithic period, the Ural race developed in northwestern Siberia and in the extreme east of Europe. The Ural race is characterized by a combination of intermediate Mongoloid-Europeoid traits, as well as by certain unique traits, such as a concave nasal ridge. In many traits the Lapp race is similar to the Ural race. Many anthropologists classify the two races together as the Ural-Lapp race. Later (from the first centuries of the Common Era), the Southern Siberian race developed in the steppe zone between the Urals and the Enisei River, as a result of the intermingling of the Mongoloid and Europoid races. The Southern Siberian race is characterized by a very broad face and pronounced brachycephaly. During the Middle Ages, new, mixed European-Mongoloid populations emerged in Middle Asia.

The Mongoloid races of Asia are divided into two main groups: the Continental and the Pacific. The former is distinguished from the latter by lighter skin, a certain tendency toward depigmentation of the hair and eyes, very large facial measurements, orthognathism, and thinner lips. The Continental Mongoloids include the Siberian (North Asian) and Central Asian races. The Arctic (Eskimo) race, which is characterized by an extremely high and broad face, a tendency to prognathism, and a very narrow nose, occupies an intermediate position between the Continentals and Pacific Mongoloid groups. The northern groups of Pacific Mongoloids, which are characterized by a high but relatively narrow face, constitute the Far East or East Asian race. The American Mongoloids, who undoubtedly originated in Asia, are extremely difficult to classify, because many groups of Indians were exterminated by the colonialists or expelled from their original places of settlement. In addition, many Indians intermingled with Europeans or Africans.

The southern groups of Pacific Mongoloids, which constitute part of the South Asian or Malaysian race, exhibit quite a few Australoid traits, including wavy hair, sometimes quite abundant growth of beard and body hair, dark skin (olive shades), low forehead, relatively broad nose, and thick lips. Many of these traits are characteristic of the Japanese, whose racial composition developed from Mongoloid and Australoid elements. (The latter were probably associated to some degree with the Ainu.)

In eastern Indonesia intensive intermingling between Pacific Mongoloids and Papuans also led to the formation of an intermediate population. A highly analogous process took place on Madagascar, to which various South Asian groups migrated as early as the first millennium B.C., intermingling with the Negroids on the island. Very distinctive combinations of Mongoloid, Australoid, and sometimes Europeoid traits are characteristic of the Micronesians and, to an even greater degree, of the Polynesians.

Virtually all racial traits are inherited independently of each other and are polygenic (controlled by many genes). In addition, there are geographic traits with a simpler genetic structure, depending on one or several pairs of alleles. Among these geographic traits are erythrocytic blood groups, serum albumin, certain details of dental structure (odontology), fingerprints and soleprints (dermatoglyphics), taste reactions to phenyl-thiourea (phenylthiocarbamide), types of color blindness (Daltonism), and many other morphological, physiological, and biochemical characteristics, the geographic variations of which do not completely coincide with the geographic ranges of the basic races, although within the range of each race these variations exhibit certain patterns of distribution.

An analysis of variability in the totality of racial traits suggests the possibility of dividing the races into two groups, according to their genetic ties: the Western group and the Eastern group. Emphasizing hair cover and cranial structure, some scientists (for example, the Soviet anthropologist V. P. Alekseev) include the Europeoid and Equatorial (Negro-Australoid) races in the Western group and the Mongoloid race in the Eastern group. Using data from odontology, dermatoglyphics, and serology, other researchers (for example, the Soviet anthropologists A. A. Zubov and N. N. Cheboksarov) include the Negroid and Europeoid races in a Western (Atlanto-Mediterranean) group and the Australoid and Mongoloid races in an Eastern (Pacific) group. The Pacific group is distinguished from the Atlanto-Mediterranean group by a greater incidence of shovel-shaped incisors and other details of dental structure, by the high frequency of circular fingerprints, and by a specific distribution of genotypes and phenotypes according to many serologic systems (for example, an almost 100-percent concentration of the Rh-positive factor).

History of the modem races. Some anthropologists subscribe to the theory of polycentrism, which asserts that the races first developed among the most ancient peoples (Archanthropinae) in several centers in Africa, Europe, and Asia. Other anthropologists, including most Soviet scholars, support the monocen-trist theory, according to which racial differentiation took place after the formation of the modern type of man in the eastern Mediterranean region and neighboring regions of southern Europe, northern and eastern Africa, and western Asia. In the late Paleolithic period, two centers of race formation emerged among human beings of the modern type: a western center (Northeast Africa and Southwest Asia) and an eastern center (East and Southeast Asia). Later, various human populations settled in different parts of the world, intermingled, and, adapting to different natural and geographic conditions, developed into the modern races.

Many racial traits that originated as mutations acquired adaptive significance and, as a result of natural selection in the early stages of racial genesis, became established and spread among the populations of various geographic environments. The typical characteristics of the Negroid and Australoid races developed in Africa and southern Asia in an environment characterized by climate and intense sunlight, from the harmful effects of which dark skin pigmentation and, perhaps, a natural “cap” of curly hair offered protection. Thick lips and wide nostrils parallel to the plane of the face may have had adaptive significance in the tropics because they provided increased surface for the evaporation of moisture through the mucous membranes.

Among the Europeoids, natural selection may have been responsible for the light color of the skin, hair, and eyes, since the mutations determining these traits had the greatest chance of surviving and spreading in northern and central Europe, where a cool, humid climate with considerable cloudiness and reduced sunlight prevailed.

Among the Mongoloid races, which probably developed in the steppes and semideserts of Central Asia, an adaptive role may have been played by the epicanthic fold and the well-developed fold of the upper eyelid, which protected the eyes from the strong winds and sandstorms that are characteristic of a dry, continental climate with sharp diurnal and seasonal variations in temperature. Natural selection may also have played some role in the distribution of certain serologic characteristics, such as the increased concentration of type B blood (the ABO system) in China, India, and other Asian countries, where there were frequent epidemics of smallpox. (People with type B blood contract smallpox more rarely and are better able to survive it.)

With the development of the productive forces and the creation of a man-made or artificial cultural environment through collective labor, the role of natural selection in the genesis of races gradually declined. The role of natural selection probably declined with the transition from the Paleolithic to the Meso-lithic periods, when people from northeast Asia settled in America and people from southeast Asia settled in Australia and on the larger islands of Oceania. The adaptive quality of racial traits is weaker in the populations of these countries than in the groups that had previously settled in Africa, Asia, and Europe. In the genesis of races an important role was played by the isolation of separate, numerically very small populations, in which a predominant pattern of intermarriage over many generations (endogamy) could lead to noticeable shifts in the distribution of the genes controlling racial traits. In genetics these shifts in the distribution of genes are known as genetic drift (in Russian, “spontaneous genetic processes”). Genetic drift is the simplest explanation for the emergence of many of the odonto-logical, serologic, dermatological, and other, primarily neutral differences among various populations (in particular, differences between the Western and Eastern racial groups).

After the settlement of America, spontaneous genetic processes resulted in an almost complete disappearance of type B blood and a great reduction in the percentage of type A blood among the Indians. By contrast, among the Australian aborigines, genetic drift resulted in an increase in the frequency of type A blood.

Although the role of natural selection and isolation in the genesis of races declined steadily, the role of intermarriage increased with the strengthening of ties among different countries and with the increase in resettlement and migration. As a result of voluntary and involuntary migrations of Europeans and Africans in the 16th through the 19th centuries, new, mixed racial groups developed, including the American mulattoes and mestizos, the South African Cape Coloreds, and various groups in the Siberian population. The specific history of a people’s racial composition, which is studied by cultural anthropology, depends on many factors, including the character of interactions with other peoples, variations in population size, the type of economy, the cultural level, and the intensity of the exploitation of the oppressed classes. Also of importance in determining the history of a people’s racial composition are the formation and destruction of genetic barriers (geographic, caste or class, and occupational barriers, for example); phenomena such as wars, famines, and epidemics; and ethnic assimilation and integration.

As economic, social, and cultural interaction, as well as biological interaction, develops among different peoples, the boundaries of the geographic ranges of the races are blurred, and new, local combinations of the different racial traits of a single human race emerge.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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