Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland]

Date: 1909

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The first scientist who found place in the natural system for human beings was . . . Linnaeus, the Swedish naturalist. He was also the first to subdivide human beings into distinct zoological categories. Men, he says, form one species, but among them are to be found several varieties. He differentiated four, one in each of the continents then known, characterizing them principally by the colours of their skins: Americanus rufus, Europaeus albus, Asiaticus luridus, Afer niger. He also gave a category which he named monstrosus, embracing certain varieties of an abnormal type with which he was not [personally] acquainted. The people living in Polynesia were wholly unknown to him. As for the white man, Europaeus, the description he gives of him shows that he was only familiar with that section of Europeans living in the northern parts of the continent. Linnaeus himself had not extended his foreign travels beyond Northern Germany, Holland, Northern France, and England. Thus, when he defines his Europaeus as: "Albus, Sanguineus, Torosus, Pilis Flavescentibus, Prolixis, Oculis Caeruleis," the characterization, especially in the last item, does not, generally speaking, suit the population of the whole of Europe, but rather only that of its northern districts, i.e., the peoples usually classed as belonging to the Teutonic family; the Scandinavians, and the inhabitants of Holland, England, and the northern parts of Germany and France. Linnaeus himself, however, undoubtedly included the peoples of Europe in general under his Europaeus, differentiating them as a whole from the varieties of Homo sapiens to be met with in Asia, Africa, and America. . . . Moreover, I have personally investigated all the different editions of Linnaeus’ Systema Naturae as well as the hitherto unprinted notes taken by his pupils during his lectures and have come to the definite conclusion that he only assumed that there is one variety of Homo sapiens in Europe, viz.: Europaeus, but that he described that variety in accordance with the observations he had made personally in intercourse with those around him in his native country and in other parts of Northern Europe, and that he placed this variety side by side with those of the other continents: Africa’s black variety, Asia’s yellow variety, and America’s red variety. . . .

Blumenbach, the German anatomist, was the first to enter upon the investigation of the human race in a serious manner from the standpoint of a natural scientist, and to study its different varieties comprehensively and exhaustively. His subdivision, like that of Linnaeus, was in accordance with the continents and with the colour of the skin and hair. He, however, noted for the first time variations in the shape of the skull and the face. Blumenbach added one more to the four principal varieties into which Linnaeus divided Homo sapiens, this fifth variety, which was unknown to Linnaeus, being located in the islands of the Pacific. Blumen-bach’s names for his five varieties were, we may remember: the Caucasian, the Mongolian, the Ethiopian, the American, and the Malayan. The Caucasian embraced all the peoples of Europe except the Finns and the Lapps, but also included the peoples of Western Asia as far as the River Ob, the Caspian Sea, and the Ganges, and also the inhabitants of Northern Africa. This variety was characterized as possessed of white skins, red cheeks, brown or nut-brown hair, rounded skulls, oval face, slightly arched and rather slender noses, small mouths, perpendicular front teeth, and as not having big lips.

The only peoples in Europe Blumenbach did not classify in this group, viz.: the Finns and Lapps, he placed among the Mongolians.

Blumenbach published his characterization of the five varieties of the human race in his well-known work, De generis humani varietate nativa (ed. 1, 1775; ed. 3, 1795). It is very clear from several remarks he makes, that he was concerned with the shape of the skull as well as with the colour of the hair and the skin. . . . Blumenbach took into consideration . . . especially its length and breadth, its sincipital aspect (which he calls its norma verticalis) and . . . he distinguished between "the square shape" characteristic of the Mongols, and the "pressed-in-from-the-sides-form," as found in Negroes. . . . In his anatomical museum at Göttingen he had a fairly large collection—for that time—of human skulls, containing representatives of even very distant regions of the earth. . . . One can perceive that Blumenbach concentrated his attention, in his craniological researches, primarily upon the physiognomical elements in the appearance of the cranium and especially of the forehead and the other parts of the face, i.e., upon the typical features of the physiognomy. A confirmation of this may be found in the circumstance that, so far as is known, he never, or practically never, carried out measurements of the crania, either in his investigations or when he was describing the differences of shape in the crania he had collected. The most remarkable evidence, however, of Blumenbach’s not having grasped and appreciated the real value of the norma verticalis of the crania, and especially the importance of the ratio existing between the length and the breadth of the skull, lies in the fact that he included in one or other of his five varieties peoples whose sincipital aspects, and especially also the indices of length and breadth, are exceedingly different one from another. To take for an example: he placed in his Mongolian variety Lapps and Eskimos, races of men that are very divergent as far as the shape of the cranium, especially their length and breadth relation, is concerned. In the Caucasian group, too, he collected a number of peoples whose crania show very marked differences one from another. It is very remarkable, moreover, that he selected the name Caucasian as suitable for the peoples of Europe, with the Caucasus and its round-headed population as the central point. . . . It is quite clear that Blumenbach has the merit, as above stated, of being the first to make a serious and extensive study of the form of the crania of the different races of mankind, but he appears to have been fettered by his absolute belief in the uniformity of his five varieties, and he neglected to observe that within them there are assembled races, whose crania-forms are so typically different, that these races cannot be brought together in the system. It seems singular to us that, although he was a thorough naturalist, he should have classed together such widely separated races as Lapps and Eskimos, to confine ourselves to that one striking example already adduced. It would seem that his attention had become closely fixed upon the physiognomical character of the facial features of the crania, as indeed is plainly apparent from a study of the Decades, his principal work on the crania. If, in pursuing his investigations, he had made use of his normae, and especially his norma verticalis, he might have advanced science more than he really did. Blumenbach has the merit of having introduced into the science of anthropology the study of the form of the skulls—he is the real founder of Craniology.

In the year of Blumenbach’s decease, 1840, Anders Retzius, the Swedish anatomist, laid before the Academy of Sciences in Stockholm the first draft of his theory regarding the shape of the crania, and in 1842 he lectured on "The Form of the Skulls of the Northern Peoples of Europe" to an assembly of Scandinavian natural scientists in Stockholm. That lecture was subsequently translated and published in Holland, France, and Germany. It aroused no little attention in the scientific world, for it brought forward new suggestions and new points of view.

Up to then it had been usual to regard each of the varieties, into which the human race had been subdivided by Linnaeus and Blumenbach, as essentially uniform. Anders Retzius, however, now showed, as a result of his unprejudiced and accurate investigation of the forms of crania upon which Blumenbach principally founded his theory, that not even the Caucasian variety, established as a unit by Blumenbach, was uniform throughout; that it indeed, on the contrary, included races of men possessed of very different forms of the skull. He not only proved that the Lapps, Finns, and Eskimos, whom Blumenbach brought together and placed in the Mongolian variety, have crania So widely differing from each other, that they cannot possibly belong to one and the same variety, but also that the proper inhabitants of Scandinavia, i.e., the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians, differ materially in the shape of the cranium from the inhabitants of Russia, and from the other peoples related to them, i.e., the Slavs.

The skull of the Scandinavian is narrow and more extended backwards, and when looked at from above is more or less oval in outline; that of the Slavs on the other hand is broader, shorter, and when seen from above is more or less round in outline or squarer. The peoples with the longer shape of the cranium Anders Retzius called Genres Dolichocephalae, those with the shorter Genres Brachycephalae. In arriving at his conclusions he made use of measurements of the crania in various directions. For the ratio between the measurements of maximum length and maximum breadth of cranium he adopted 1000:x. In Swedes the ratio of length to breadth was found to be 1000:773, in Slavs 1000:888, etc. Anders Retzius had thus given the initiative to the index-measurement system which has since played so important a part in anthropology.

In the following years, until his death in 1860, there appeared a succession of treatises and reports, in which he placed on record the results of his continued investigations, and in them he made it abundantly evident that the relation between the length and the breadth of the cranium forms one of the most important criteria for race distinctions that those engaged in making a comparative study of the races of mankind can employ. He tried to group the peoples both in and beyond Europe by the aid of this relation, but it was not by any means his idea thereby to establish any sort of "system of the races of mankind," as is mistakenly supposed by some. In his works Anders Retzius spoke of the classification as merely an attempt to arrange the forms of crania. He was able to show that dolichocephaly and brachycephaly are to be found all the world over, except in Africa, but he was not able, any more than those who have taken up the question subsequently have proved able, to explain the real purport of the phenomenon or how it has arisen. This difficulty of arriving at the explanation of the ultimate cause of a phenomenon is, as we know, characteristic in fact of all the phenomena we meet with in Nature. Research enables us to reveal their existence, to describe and register them, but it is rare indeed that we are enabled to discover their origin and cause. That is the case, too, with the majority of the other race-characters. We are aware that the Negro’s skin is black, the Indian’s red, the Mongolian’s yellow, and the European’s more or less white. But has anyone ever been able to demonstrate why the colouring is so varied in the skins of these different races? The same difficulty arises when an explanation is required of the differences in the colour and character of the hair, the colour of the iris, the stature or length of the body, etc. It is therefore essential for us to rest content with having established the fact, that dolichocephaly and brachycephaly are to be found disseminated throughout Europe, Asia, Polynesia, and America, not, however, merely promiscuously without rule, but existing as a criterion of race for the different peoples inhabiting those regions of the globe.

Anders Retzius did not lay down any definite figures by way of limit to mark off dolichocephaly from brachycephaly. He had come across intermediary forms between the two varieties, and he seems to have thought it best to adopt a central point as characteristic for each. Thus, he states that the length of the head of the dolichocephali exceeds the breadth by about one-fourth of the length, i.e., the length stands to the breadth in the ratio of 100:75, whereas the ratio for the brachycephali is 100:80–87, i.e., the length exceeds the breadth by one-fifth to one-eighth.

From the account given by Anders Retzius we may see in general that he did not regard dolichocephaly and brachycephaly as merely a matter of measurement and nothing more, but looked upon them rather as a typological character, a ratio indicative of form, possessing a very close relationship to other criteria of form, which he also described in several of his works.

That he paid attention in his researches, not only to the shape of the skull itself but also to the parts of the face, is evident from two circumstances, first, that in his classification he registers the greater or less degree with which the jaws project, their orthognathic and prognathic properties; and, second, that he gives the dimensions of the face (height of face, jugular breadth) both in his series of measurements and in his descriptions of the characters of the face.

It is not my intention, however, here to enter upon a further discussion of this phase in the history of anthropology. I have only desired to bring forward some of its salient points, seeing that they are of fundamental importance for us in seeking to arrive at a clear idea of the history of the race question even as regards Europe alone. In accordance with the theory of Linnaeus and Blumenbach it was generally supposed, as has been stated above, that the white, European, variety of the human race—Blumenbach’s Caucasian variety—consisted of a uniform group of people more or less homogeneous among themselves. The idea put forth by Anders Retzius first directed attention to the existence of considerable divergences of race even within the white variety, i.e., among the peoples of Europe itself. The Swedish anatomist and anthropologist demonstrated that the skull of a Swede and that of any other representative of the same stem, the so-called Teutonic stem, differ very widely not only from those of the Lapp and the Finn but also from that of the Russian, and broadly speaking, from that of a Slav. Anders Retzius laid strong stress, consequently, upon the fact that languages do not afford any certain guide for determining criteria of race. As early as 1847 he expressed himself as follows in one of the publications that issued from his pen: "The whole of mankind belongs to one species; the varied types are varieties of several different grades, which, in many localities, have become hybridised one with another. In most countries more than one type of nationality is to be found naturalized; thus in many countries migrations of people have taken place, small sections of the tribes previously dwelling there still remaining distributed—though sparsely—among the more numerous newcomers. In several countries the people who thus remained adopted the language of the tribe that won its way amongst them; that is said to have been the case in North Germany, where the population, originally Slavs, adopted German as their language in course of time, and by degrees, through acquiring familiarity with German ways and customs, became thoroughly amalgamated with the German nation. Similar conditions have produced the same results in many other regions both in the New and Old Worlds. . . ."

There remains, however, one more criterion of race to be mentioned, stature or length of body. This has, indeed, for a long time past been a point to which anthropologists have been attentive, and in the tabulated measurements of the recruits for the army they have been provided with material ready to hand for purposes of investigation. It was not, however, until towards the close of last century, when several special inquiries on a large scale were carried out in different European countries, that this character came by its rights and received due attention and notice.

Thanks to the systematic investigations made by fully competent persons regarding the most important anthropological characters of large army contingents, the distribution and numerical amount of these several characters have at last been made known for some of the nations of Europe, especially by Dr. Otto Ammon in Baden in 1886–1899 and by Dr. Rid. Livi in 1896–1905. . . .

There are five principal characters that were made the subject of inquiry:

1. The length and breadth of the head, and consequently the length and breadth index;

2. The form of the face;

3. The stature or length of the body;

4. The colour of the hair of the head;

5. The colour of the iris. . . .

In conjunction with a number of more or less exhaustive investigations into certain of these characters for . . . the countries of Europe, such a general knowledge of the race-characteristics of the European nations has been obtained, that it has been considered possible to draw some general conclusions. Professor Ripley of Harvard University, and Dr. Deniker, of Paris, have been specially occupied with summarizing the general results of investigations in this department. The former gives three separate races called by him: "The Teutonic Race," "The Alpine Race," and "The Mediterranean Race." . . . Dr. Deniker, on the other hand, went further in his subdivision of races; besides the three named he added some others, but has on different occasions arrived at different results. In his last publication, however, in the Huxley Memorial Lecture of 1904, Dr. Deniker fixed the number of European races at six. . . . Until a thorough investigation has made matters clearer, it seems to me to be wisest only to admit of the existence of such races as have really been proved, and to leave the classification of the remainder to the future.

The following may, however, be admitted as surely existing:

1. The Northern European Dolichocephalic, Blue-eyed, Tall Race (Anders Retzius’ Dolichocephalic Germanic type), which latterly has been designated by several writers (Wilson and others) Homo Europaeus (the term Linnaeus used), and which is now often termed the Northern Race (La Race Nordique, Nordische Rasse).

2. The Middle-European Brachycephalic, Dark-haired, Dark-eyed, Short-statured Race, probably closely related to the similar population in the eastern portions of Europe (Anders Retzius’ Slavonic and Rhaetian people). This race has been designated recently Homo Alpinus (Linnaeus’ term); there may be some justification for this term in the fact of a large section of the race being resident in the Alpine regions of Southern and Central Europe. But it should not be forgotten that this race during the lapse of centuries has extended its habitat to a considerable part of France and even to a large portion of Central and Northern Germany. Linnaeus certainly did not mean this race by his term "Homo Alpinus," a fact already stated above.

3. The South-European Dolichocephalic, Dark-haired, Dark-eyed, Short-statured Race, called Homo Mediterraneus (Sergi, Ripley, Wilser, and others), which may possibly embrace variations of distinct character in the various Mediterranean countries.

To name only the first of these three races, Europaeus, as appears often to be the fashion nowadays, seems to be very strange, since the other two great races, too, have inhabited Europe from times immemorial, and it is by no means possible of proof that they originated in other continents and migrated into Europe subsequently. I consider, moreover, that it is an entirely incorrect use of the nomenclature established once for all for zoology, to call these races "Homo Europaeus," "Homo Alpinus," "Homo Mediterraneus," as is so often done in modern anthropological literature. This leads to a confusion of our ideas about species. They can, of course, only be regarded as variations of one and the same species, Homo sapiens, and in reality only as sub-variations of a variety, viz., the so-called white race of men. It is unfortunate that the notions, species, variety, and race, have not been more definitely fixed in value as regards the races of mankind. The majority of anthropologists are probably of the same opinion as Linnaeus, that the living races of mankind at the present time are all to be referred to one species, Homo sapiens Lin., and that their varient representatives are to be regarded as varieties of the species, even though very weighty reaSons might be alleged for regarding some of these variations as species themselves. This question has now lost much of its significance since the triumphs of the theory of descent, but it is of importance for systemology, and for the formation of terms. As regards the population of our own continent and the problems concerning them, it is of no great significance whether the white man, the European, is put down as a particular species or as a variety. But it is of real importance that its subsections should not be put down as separate species. For my own part, I am at present most inclined to agree with Linnaeus and Blumenbach in regarding the great racial groups of the human species as varieties, though it must be admitted that the Australian, the Negro, and the American differ very widely from the European. There are to be found, however, remarkable transitional (intermediary) forms to bridge the gulf between the peoples of Asia and Europe, and there also exist similar transitional forms uniting the people of Asia with those of America and a portion of Polynesia. But if the term variety is to be preserved for the various large race-groups, we require a suitable term for the sub-sections under Varietas . . . It seems to me, therefore, to be indicated that these sub-sections of the varieties should be designated as sub-varieties or sub-races (race branches).



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Chicago: "The Development of Race Measurements and Classification1," Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland] in Source Book in Anthropology, ed. Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1920), Original Sources, accessed November 30, 2023,

MLA: . "The Development of Race Measurements and Classification1." Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland], Vol. 39, in Source Book in Anthropology, edited by Kroeber, Alfred L., 1876-1960, and Waterman, T. T., Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1920, Original Sources. 30 Nov. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The Development of Race Measurements and Classification1' in Journal of the [Royal] Anthropological Institute [Of Great Britain and Ireland]. cited in 1920, Source Book in Anthropology, ed. , University of California Press, Berkeley, CA. Original Sources, retrieved 30 November 2023, from