The Origin of Races, Part I
Biology will prevail against all attempts to abolish it.
“If everyone is my brother, I have no brothers.”
— Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
It has become fashionable in certain circles to write as if race were not a legitimate biological category but merely a social invention. Like many liberal assertions, the fact that this is a flat contradiction of common sense is apparently no impediment. “The concept of race is in disrepute now,” says Jim Davis, professor emeritus at Illinois University. [Kenneth Cole, There’s really no such thing as race, more scientists say, Detroit News, June 28, 1995.] “Anthropologists are not saying that humans are the same, but race does not help in understanding how they are different,” adds Leonard Lieberman of Central Michigan University.
The purpose of these denials, of course, is to destroy the legitimacy of policies or practices that recognize the reality of race. As Soloman Katz of the University of Pennsylvania puts it, “No one denies the social reality of race; the question is what happens to the social reality when the biological ideas that underpin it vanish.” [Robert Hotz, Is the Concept of Race a Relic? LA Times, April 15, 1995, p. A1.]
Is race really just an illusion? Except for a small but energetic group of academics and journalists, just about everyone agrees that there are three major racial groups: Mongoloids, Negroids and Caucasoids. Some would add others: aborigines of Australia and New Guinea; Bushmen of East Africa; American Indians; etc. There are also many hybrids. Dark-skinned Caucasoids of India, for example, were formed from a 1500 B.C. influx of Caucasians who then mixed with earlier natives despite a caste system intended to prevent miscegenation. Genetic studies also show surprising divergence between Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians, likewise suggesting possible hybridization of one or the other group.
Man, the Upright Ape
The origins of race cannot be understood without some knowledge of the evolutionary origins of man himself, a subject that has been studied for many decades.
|It has become fashionable to write as if race were not a legitimate biological category.|
The first great scientific problem was to determine which came first, large brains or upright posture. Charles Darwin argued that bipedalism and large brains evolved together, along with the invention of stone weapons that could not be used unless arms and hands were free from locomotion. Use of weapons led to increased social interaction, which in turn led to increased brain size.
Darwin has been proven wrong. In the late 1960s, blood protein research showed that humans diverged from apes about seven million years ago. Early hominids are known from fossil finds to have been bipedal from four to as much as seven million years ago. Since use of tools — a sign of growing intelligence — began only about 2.5 million years ago, bipedalism must have come before large brains.
But what caused proto-hominids to walk upright? Many scientists think it may have been a geologically unique event — the formation of the mountainous Great Rift Valley region about 10 million years ago. This created a dry, isolated ecological system in East Africa by interrupting the flow of moist air from the west. This gave rise to a grassy savannah, which was dramatically different from the tropical rain forests in which tree-dwelling apes evolved. For the apes trapped in this newly formed environment, bipedal movement conferred survival advantages in finding food and avoiding enemies.
The first bipedal hominid was Australopithecus (“southern ape”), which lived in Africa from about seven million to one million years ago. The oldest species believed to be ancestral to humans is Australopithecus afarensis, a small biped that retained many of the anatomical features of tree-dwelling apes. East African fossils have been found that are three to four million years old. Lucy, the most famous example, was found by Donald Johanson in Ethiopia in 1974. Australopithecus africanus appeared later, 2.3 to three million years ago, possessing an elongated skull and a steeper forehead — features more like today’s humans. Australopithecus africanus’ cranial capacity was about 400 cubic centimeters, less than one-third that of modern humans.
The Cerebral Rubicon
The earliest fossil to bear the name Homo was found by Jonathan Leaky at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania in 1970. He found a cranium fragment that was much thinner than any from the known australopithecine species. It had smaller cheek teeth and, more important, greatly increased cranial capacity. Though Leaky’s find had a capacity of about 650 cubic centimeters, subsequent fossils placed the average at about 800 cc, well above the “cerebral Rubicon” of 750 cc first proposed for genus Homo by British anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith. The first member of the human family was named Homo habilis, or “handy man,” because it emerged coincident with the earliest known use of stone tools, about 2.5 million years ago.
About 1.7 million years ago Homo habilis was replaced by Homo erectus. In The Origin of Humankind, Richard Leaky wrote: “Homo erectus was the first human species to use fire; the first to include hunting as a significant part of its subsistence; the first to be able to run as modern humans do; the first to make stone tools according to some definite mental template; and the first to extend its range beyond Africa.”
Dr. Leaky appears to have been wrong about the final point. Fossils were recently found in central China that are at least 1.9 million years old and which have been identified as Homo habilis, the direct ancestor of Homo erectus. The crude stone tools found with the fossils are very similar to those of Homo habilis excavated at Olduvai Gorge.
Africa remains the origin of the very oldest proto-human fossils, but the Chinese find raises two intriguing possibilities. One is that Homo erectus actually evolved in Asia and then migrated back to Africa. The other is that Asian strains of man (and perhaps others) have been evolving outside of Africa for nearly two million years. [John Wilford, Bones in China put new light on old humans, NYT, 11/16/95, p. A8.]
Homo erectus may have had spoken language and may also have mated for life. Australopithecines were markedly dimorphic — males and females differed in size — suggesting that dominant males monopolized available females. Homo erectus males and females were nearly the same size, which some scholars regard as evidence of pair bonding.
Homo erectus had a cranial capacity of between 900 and 1100 cc and developed a rich variety of stone artifacts. These are known today as the Acheulean culture, named after the French village, St. Acheul, where important finds from this culture were made. Although no physical remains of Homo erectus have been found in Europe or West Asia, Acheulean artifacts suggest the presence of Homo erectus in those areas. These artifacts have not been found in East Asia although Homo erectus fossils have been found, indicating that East Asian Homo erectus may have been less advanced than its African and European cousins. This finding is consistent with the possibility that Homo erectus may have evolved in Asia and migrated back to Europe and Africa.
About 300,000 years ago, the first hominids appeared with a large enough cranial capacity — 1200 to 1500 cc — to merit the name Homo sapiens (modern European males average over 1400 cc). Covering most of the Old World, these archaic humans were more robust than today’s variety, with larger teeth, thicker skulls, etc. Neanderthal Man, a European variant named for Germany’s Neander Valley — site of an 1856 skull find — appeared about 150,000 years ago.
He had a low, sloping forehead, a receding chin, and heavy brow ridges. He probably traveled in bands of no more than 30, and his maximum population is not likely to have exceeded a few tens of thousands. He appears to have buried his dead and may have practiced cannibalism.
Neanderthal man is probably not an ancestor of modern man; both are thought to have descended from Homo erectus, with the divergence taking place as many as 200,000 years ago. Neanderthal man disappeared from Europe around 30,000 years ago. He may have been driven off or exterminated by more advanced humans, or he may have passed on his genes by breeding with them.
Some anthropologists believe that remnants of these early Neanderthal-like races still survive in isolated areas of the world. Carleton Coon once said of New Guinean aborigines that they were so thick of brow it looked like they were still sloughing off erectus traits.
Origins of Race
There are two theories of how Homo sapiens evolved from Homo erectus and/or archaic humans: the “multiregional” theory and the “replacement” theory. The multiregional theory holds that today’s races derive from local Homo erectus populations, and the recent Chinese find suggests even more ancient origins. Migration and interbreeding — a process known as “gene flow” — would have prevented these local populations from diverging into entirely separate species. Defenders of the “multiregional” theory, such as Carleton Coon and Milford Wolpoff, cite fossil evidence. For example, there are similarities, such as round skulls and shovel-shaped incisors, between modern Chinese and an East Asian variant of Homo erectus.
The replacement theory holds that the ancestors of modern humans arose in Africa between 140,000 and 200,000 years ago and spread over the earth, replacing all previous hominids without interbreeding with them. Those that entered Eurasia subsequently evolved into the diverse non-African races of mankind as a result of further evolution in their new environments. Supporting evidence includes DNA studies suggesting common ancestry of people of different races that is far more recent than would be the case if evolution from Homo erectus had been “multiregional”.
Anatomically modern humans appear in the fossil record virtually simultaneously in East Africa and the Middle East, about 100,000 years ago. Named Homo sapiens sapiens to distinguish them from archaic versions, the debate over their place of origin is unresolved. In The History and Geography of Human Genes, a massive 1,000-page compendium of research on genetic differences, authors Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Paolo Menozzi and Alberto Piazza lean towards the replacement theory, but do not think the question is settled. This is their scenario for how the first modern humans may have developed from archaic forms:
“Ancestors of modern Caucasoids and modern East Asians (let us call them Eurasians) developed either in northeastern Africa, or in West Asia or southeastern Europe from an originally African source during the period between 100 and 50 kya [thousand years ago]…
“Whether or not it partially hybridized with local descendants of archaic H. sapiens or H. erectus, the Eurasian moiety was ready for an expansion, perhaps about 50-40 kya, and expanded in all directions: north and then east, occupying northeastern Asia, the Arctic, and America; west toward West Asia and Europe; and southeast, where it may have mixed with the descendants of the southern branch of the African migration.”
The African Eve
In the late 1980s, a furor arose over a dramatic new theory that modern humans derived from a single African female — quickly dubbed “Eve” by the media. Michael Brown traced the course of this flap in his 1990 book The Search for Eve. The idea appeared in a 1987 article in Nature by Allan Wilson, Mark Stoneking and Rebecca Cann called “Mitochondrial DNA and human evolution.” Its opening was provocative: “Mitochondrial DNAs from 147 people, drawn from five geographic populations, have been analyzed by restriction mapping. All these mitochondrial DNAs stem from one woman who is postulated to have lived about 200,000 years ago…”
The research, conducted primarily at the University of California, Berkeley, was based on the fact that once two groups diverge, random mutations begin to accumulate at a (usually) constant rate. The longer the groups are separate, the greater the number of mutations and the more different from each other they become. If the mutation rate is known, the mutations form a molecular clock from which the date of divergence can be computed.
For example, if Asians and Europeans share a genetic characteristic not present in Africans, it means that the mutation that formed the genetic feature occurred after the common ancestor of Asians-and-Europeans split off from the African stream but before Asians and Europeans diverged from each other. However, even within a single breeding group, mutations do not occur uniformly and at the same time in all members of the group, so sophisticated statistical analysis is required to determine when divergence took place. Mitochondrial DNA — which controls certain aspects of energy production at the cellular level — seems an ideal vehicle for such studies because it is simpler than nuclear DNA and, more important, is inherited only from the mother.
According to the Berkeley study, the African samples of mitochondrial DNA (actually African-American samples) appeared to be the oldest. If so, modern humans must have originated in Africa and dispersed from there, replacing all archaic humans without a single instance of interbreeding. The impact of this article — Nature is one of the most prestigious science publications in the world — was immediate. Eve, the “mother of us all,” was African and therefore black. This ignited sanctimonious celebration by liberals. If other races had only recently split off from Africans, how could racial discrimination be justified? Blacks were quick to accept their new role as progenitors of mankind.
However, all was not well in Eden. Questions about Eve surfaced as scientists examined the evidence carefully. Doubt was raised about the validity of using American blacks — who average roughly 25 percent white genes due to miscegenation — to represent Africans. The persistence in modern Chinese of distinctly East Asian Homo erectus characteristics — round skulls and shovel-shaped incisors — demanded explanation. Milford Wolpoff asked how Homo sapiens sapiens eliminated earlier forms without a single instance of interbreeding. He coined the term “Pleistocene Holocaust” for the implied planet-wide massacre of archaic humans by the African invaders.
Scientists questioned the mutation rate used by Professors Wilson, Stoneking and Cann to calibrate their molecular clock. Given a more realistic clock rate, the common ancestor — if there was one — lived half a million years or more ago, an era populated solely by Homo erectus. The putative common ancestor might simply represent movement of Homo erectus or one of his precursors out of Africa. In 1992, flaws were found in the statistical techniques used by the Berkeley group.
The decline of Eve’s fortune did not rule out the replacement theory, and expert opinion is still sharply divided. It is difficult to know what to believe when specialists disagree. However, Carleton Coon’s comment about New Guinean aborigines still sloughing off Homo erectus traits is compelling, and Australian aborigines have heavy brow ridges and massive skulls that suggest a markedly different ancestry from that of other races.
Ultimately, of course, it makes no difference whether the races of man diverged 30,000 or 300,000 years ago. The fact remains that the differences are real, and clearly reflect differing capacities to build and maintain civilization. Today, the work of millennia is being undone as the less intelligent races not only outbreed the more intelligent but push their way into the homelands of the northern races.
In his masterwork, Race, John Baker traces the history of men who spoke about race. Perhaps the most important was Arthur Comte de Gobineau, whose book, Essay on the Inequality of Human Races, explained why civilizations decay and die: “mixture, mixture everywhere, always mixture …” Hybridization of intelligent, creative, racially pure founding stock, he said, was destroying the West, just as it destroyed all previous civilizations — a theme developed by Tenney Frank in History of Rome and Elmer Pendell in Why Civilizations Self-Destruct.
In a more recent book, The Decline of Intelligence in America, Seymour Itzkoff writes of the “encompassing embrace” of third-world immigration to Europe and the United States: “It is an embrace that will suck us back into evolutionary history if we delay too long.” What Lothrop Stoddard called “the rising tide of color” may well be reversing the course of human evolution.
Michael W. Masters is the author of “The Morality of Survival,” which appeared in the issues of July and August, 1995. This article will conclude in the next issue.