The European Races in Prehistory

It was remarked above that through the action of heredity prehistoric European racial characteristics may have been occasionally preserved in isolated cases down to the present day.

The races that are now living, and have been living since Neolithic times, in Europe were preceded by several races in Palaeolithic times, who occupied in turn wide stretches of Europe over long periods of time. Here we cannot go into these Palaeolithic races1. The appearance in prehistory of the European races of today can likewise only be briefly dealt with.

They are found from the time of the beginning of the Neolithic Age, that is, from over ten thousand years ago.

In North-west Europe it is the Nordic race which appears, whose original home must be sought there. In the British Isles, France, Spain, and Italy, it is the Mediterranean race. The Alpine race seems to have spread from the Alps westward and north-westward. To-day we can say but little as to the first appearance of the Dinaric race; probably it must have originally formed a single group with the Hither Asiatic race, a group whose earliest home, it may be supposed, was in the region of the Caucasus. Later, after a part of this group had wandered away, a change in the process of selection under different conditions must have formed two groups out of the original single group; these two groups differ in many characters, but not to such an extent that their kinship is not still recognizable. Owing to the characteristics common to the Nordic and the Mediterranean races, we are led to postulate a common origin for these races in a palaeolithic group. We are led, too, to bring the Alpine and East Baltic races into a close relation with the short, short-headed, broad-faced Inner Asiatic race; and we may suppose a migration out of Asia into Europe for both those races. But hardly anything is known about the first appearance of the East Baltic race. Its original home — that is to say, the environment where it underwent the process of its separate formation through selection in isolation — must be sought for between Moscow and Kazan, or between Moscow and the Urals. Philologists have put the original home of the peoples speaking Finnish-Ugrian tongues in south-east Russia or in the neighbourhood of the central Urals, mainly on the European side, by the Karna and its tributaries2. Here in a group akin to the Inner Asiatic race there must have been a lightening of the colours through selection, which may be compared to that lightening which took place in the group that came to form the Nordic race, and which had its original home in North-western Europe.

The East Baltic race spread mainly north and north-west from its original home, carrying with it a very simple culture, probably with mother-right — a culture having a simple pottery, and the dog and sheep as domesticated animals, and with hunting and fishing its main activities. It is generally assumed that the so-called Comb-pottery culture of the Stone Age represents the culture of the original Finnish-Ugrian people (East Baltic race). Over the Comb-pottery area it is mainly peoples of Finnish-Ugrian speech that are still living to-day. In Herodotus’ time (fifth century B.C.) the whole of central and northern Russia was still in the occupation of Finnish-Ugrian peoples. Of far-reaching importance for the East Baltics, there then came the meeting with Nordic tribes and peoples — above all, with the Nordic proto-Slavs, who took with them East Baltics wherever they settled. As the Nordic upper layer disappeared, the appearance of the Slav peoples (except the South Slavs) was more and more determined by East Baltic characteristics. It may be assumed that among the North and West Slavs by about the twelfth century the East Baltic race was predominant through the weight of numbers born. Meanwhile in these peoples the East Baltics had given up their Finnish-Ugrian speech in favour of Slav (that is, Indo-European) tongues, so that to-day only the Finns and Esthonians and the peoples akin to them in Northeast Europe still speak their original tongues, as also the Magyars, an originally East Baltic people, with their home probably about the middle Volga. The Magyars still clearly show the East Baltic blood, but since their entry into Hungary (in the ninth century A.D.) have taken up much Alpine, Dinaric, and Nordic, with some Mediterranean blood3. On the whole, the predominantly East Baltic peoples have shown themselves to be not very creative. The Finns, too, who have a richly developed culture, owe, like the Slavs, their creative achievements rather to the Nordic upper layer in their peoples4.

With the advance of the Finnish-Ugrian tribes of East Baltic race towards the Baltic lands, the tribes, too, with Baltic (that is Indo-European) speech (the Lithuanians, Letts, Kurs, and Livs), which were originally Nordic, received an East Baltic strain. The old Livs are seen from their graves to have all had narrow faces and long heads.

To the development of European culture, the Alpine race, too, has hardly contributed anything of its own. Their spread from the Alps was not a conquest, but a slow trickle. That the Alpine race is still found to-day more thickly spread in the less hospitable districts is the reflection of prehistoric conditions. A French anthropologist, after examining the racial map of France, wrote the words which apply to the whole of Europe: ‘To the conquerors, the lowlands and the valleys; to the conquered, the mountains’. The Alpine race seems to have been ever crowded back into the undesired, barren districts by the forward thrust of the other races, especially the Nordic. The ways by which the Alpine race spread would be clearer to determine if it had carried with itself its own style of implements and vessels. But its prehistoric emergence gives the picture of an uncreative race, taking forms of culture now from a predominantly Mediterranean, now from a predominantly Nordic civilization, and probably borrowing them for the most part from whatever upper class from another race happened to be ruling them. The ruling class may have changed often, and disappeared in the fight with other conquerors, or through the mixing of race gradually sunk into the more numerous lower class. The predominantly Alpine section of the population has always kept itself in existence throughout the course of time.

The languages which originally belonged to the Alpine race were given up by the Alpine populations in favour of those spoken by the conquering peoples. These cast-off languages must be reconstructed after the pattern of the Finnish-Ugrian languages (originally peculiar to the East Baltic race) or of the Altaic (peculiar to the Inner Asiatic race). The languages spoken in the Alps have a number of words which are not Indo-European as a common peculiarity. Possibly these words are derived from the vanished languages of prehistoric tribes belonging to the Alpine or the Dinaric race.

The first tracks of the Dinaric race are less clear than the roads by which the Alpines spread in Neolithic times. But some districts in Europe show the traces of Dinaric immigrations, pointing to an energetic spread by conquest. From northern France there was at the end of the Stone Age an advance into central Germany by a short-headed people, in whose racial composition I suspect a Dinaric strain. It brought with it the use of copper for spears and daggers, and that shape of vessel called the bell-beaker, a shape which must have been borrowed by these short-heads from a West European culture of the Mediterranean race. Possibly with this movement is connected a Dinaric advance from the mainland into the British Isles5. Here, about 2000 B.C., there landed Dinaric tribes, whose bones, implements, and vessels appear along the whole of the east coast of England and Scotland: tall short-heads, with the head cut away at the back, and with high noses, bringing the bell-beaker with them (and called the beaker-makers or beaker-people), breeding cattle, and planting wheat, but seemingly as yet without the knowledge of bronze. But in the England of today there is but a scanty inheritance of Dinaric blood; it seems to have been preserved more clearly here and there in certain families in the liberal professions6.

Fig. 1. Prehistoric skull from the Adlersberg near Worms; Dinaric.

The Keltic tribes of Nordic race who landed in later times in the British Isles seem then to have displaced the Dinaric bell-beaker tribes.

The predominance, or the strong strain of Dinaric race, is clearly to be seen in a population of the Bronze Age which, as a warlike tribe of bowmen, and apparently coming, too, from the west, took possession of the heights in the Rhenish district about Worms. Their remains have been found on the Adlersberg, near Worms, and with them again the West European bell-beaker. In the early Bronze Age the Swabian Alb and parts of Bavaria seem to have been settled by an Alpine Dinaric people; the Bronze Age mound-graves in this district hold their remains. A fairly strong Dinaric strain (besides an Alpine strain, and with a Nordic predominance) seems to have characterized the population in the area of the so-called Aunjetitz Culture, an early Bronze culture with its centre in northern Bohemia, and branching into Silesia, east Thuringia, Moravia, Hungary, and Lower Austria.

In the early Hallstatt period populations with a Dinaric element seem to have come from the Alps to Bohemia (and Silesia?). The later Hallstatt period may have been brought in by a more intense forward movement of Dinaric people from the eastern Alpine region. Some of the features of the Hallstatt culture were derived from the Balkans, whence probably the Dinaric migration into the Alpine region first started. From the time of the later Bronze Age Dinaric skulls appear in Switzerland. From there south-west Germany may have been reached (as also the Hotzenwald of south Baden?) These mainly Dinaric people in the Alpine region and south Germany must have belonged in the later Hallstatt period to the Keltic population, for the mainly Nordic Kelts had by then penetrated into the Alps, and then formed together with the earlier dwellers Nordic-Dinaric-Alpine tribes. Owing to the Keltic predominance in Europe (about 900-200 B.C.), Dinaric, as also Alpine blood, has been spread over wide areas of Europe along with the conquests of the Keltic ruling class of Nordic race.

All these vestiges of Dinaric settlements show, however, that the Dinaric, like the Alpine race, made its way into Central Europe without any independent culture of its own7. The people of the Dinaric race, too, gave up their original language in favour of languages brought to them by Nordic tribes.

The original Dinaric languages are to be thought of as akin to the Caucasian (Alarodic) languages of the peoples of Hither Asiatic race. In the prehistory of Europe two races only have shown themselves to be truly creative, and these must be looked on as the true European races: the Nordic and the Mediterranean, the Nordic first and foremost as the true history-making race of prehistoric and historic times.

The prehistoric achievements of the Mediterranean race have been minutely described by Schuchhardt in his remarkable work, Alteuropa in seiner Kultur- und Stilentwicklung (1919). It is there shown how Western European culture forms spread from the Mediterranean people of the British Isles, France, and Spain along the shores of the Mediterranean, and then develop through long periods of time into the early historical forms of art characterizing a part of the Egyptian and North African cultures, and the cultures of the earliest pre-Hellenic and of early Hellenic Greece, as also that of the Etruscans. ‘It was not from the east, as is still generally held, but from the west, from the old culture of the Palaeolithic Age in France and Spain, that the Mediterranean received its strongest influences. This can be seen in the structure of the houses and graves, in the sculpture, and in the implements and vessels. The earlier stages are generally found in the Western Mediterranean and the final development was usually carried through in the Mycenean area’8.

Fig. 2. Etruscan woman of Nordic race; painting from grave at Corneto. Fig. 3. Etruscan woman of Mediterranean race; painting from grave at Corneto.
Fig. 4. Ignatius Loyola; Bask of predominantly Hither-Asiatic race; engraving: Van Dyck. Fig. 5. Etruscan man of Hither Asiatic Race; painting from grave at Corneto.

Schuchhardt describes these Mediterranean forms of culture in Old Europe by means of the archaeological discoveries, and shows how round houses, round tombs with the bodies crouched, pillar worship, the tokens of the belief in a ‘blessed life in the Beyond’, and a whole set of characteristic features can be followed up from England to Troy, and how these features are clearly distinguished from those of Nordic cultures. He shows how the round house in Italy became the Roman house, expressing a conception of structure other than that expressed by the rectangular Nordic house, which became the Megaron house in Greece.

In the Etruscans Schuchhardt sees ‘the most faithful wardens of the old West Mediterranean culture’, and rejects the theory of their origin in Asia Minor, a theory held by Herodotus and ever coming up again since his time. It seems to me, however, that an ethnographical consideration of the Etruscan paintings strengthens the view of an origin in Asia Minor (not for all Etruscans, but for some of the population), as also the theory of a transitory Etruscan ruling class of Nordic race, although the Etruscan people as a whole may have been predominantly Mediterranean, and indeed for Schuchhardt is a people whose original home was in Italy. Alpine blood may originally have been only in small quantity in the Etruscans, but it can be clearly recognized from the Etruscan paintings: thick-set people with round faces and short noses are found among those represented. There are some signs that the Alpines among the Etruscan people went on growing in numbers towards its end. On this more will be said below. Etruscan skulls that have been found are (according to Sergi’s researches) generally mesocephalic to dolichocephalic.

The Mediterranean Sea, after the Neolithic spread of the West European culture of Mediterranean race, seems to have been the theatre of an eruption in the Early Bronze Age as far as Spain by tribes of Hither Asiatic race, by way of Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. During the Bronze Age the cephalic index in Sicily increased. The incoming short-heads seem to have been Hither Asiatic. The Etruscan paintings show a predominance of Mediterranean features (Fig. 3), but also Hither Asiatic features (Fig. 5), and occasionally Nordic ones, as in the blonde girl here given (Fig. 2). Fair hair, indeed, is often clearly to be seen in these paintings.

I am inclined to believe that a Hither Asiatic advance brought the Bask language, too, from Hither Asia into Spain. Bask shows kinship with the Caucasian (Alarodic) tongues, which were originally peculiar to the Hither Asiatic race, and are still spoken by many peoples and tribes predominantly of this race. Hither Asiatic blood would seem still to show itself among the predominantly Mediterranean Basks (cp., too, Fig. 4).

But the Hither Asiatic migration into the Mediterranean does not seem to have caused any real disturbance in the life of the Mediterranean race there. This first happened when Nordic conquerors came upon the scene, who now brought change into the cultural system of the Mediterranean, and of the Etruscans last of all. The description of the latest times of independent Mediterranean history will also be an account of the earliest irruptions of Nordic tribes into the Mediterranean. The happy life of these peoples of Mediterranean race was suddenly disturbed by conquerors who knew nothing of a belief in a blessed life beyond the grave, who had Nordic forms of art instead of the joyous decorative plant-forms of Mediterranean art, who brought wooden buildings and rectangular houses, who burned their dead, or buried them stretched out, and who brought with them new implements, new weapons. The non-Nordic peoples of the Mediterranean had had as their own the long shield covering the whole body; the intruding Nordic conquerors bring the round shield, and finally fashion the bronze panoply described by Homer. Troy and Tiryns in their architectural changes show the ever-renewed and ever-growing intrusions of Nordic bands. These events have been very vividly drawn by Schuchhardt. Remarkable compromises are made between the two colliding cultures. ‘Thus the plan of the stronghold in the Mycenean civilization is almost certainly brought from the north, but the manner of carrying it out with walls made of huge blocks of stone is Mediterranean. This the Nordic comers learnt first in the south. On their way down the Danube they built in wood and clay, and even in Thessaly used only small stones.9 The oldest Hellenic temples had walls of sun-dried brick on stone feet, wooden beams, and wooden pillars. The transition to stone was in the seventh century B.C. In the earliest Hellenic history the form of the grave is often autochthonic-Mediterranean, the form of burial is Nordic, the ruler’s stronghold Nordic with autochthonic-Mediterranean pillars. A happy compromise of the Nordic and the Mediterranean is shown particularly by the Mycenean culture. In Tiryns there has come to light two metres below the Nordic buildings a huge building in the round style, holding graves with crouched bodies — giving very clear evidence of the fall of independent Mediterranean cultures before a Nordic conquest.

With the Nordic conquerors father-right spread itself over the regions about the Mediterranean. The people of Mediterranean race had lived under mother-right institutions, that is to say, kinship and inheritance with them was determined not through the father, but through the mother, as is the case still to-day among various peoples. Under mother-right there is not generally any lasting marriage, so that the conception of married faithfulness is not developed, but there is generally a very free intercourse among girls and married women. The predominantly Mediterranean old Etruscans had mother-right, so also the predominantly Mediterranean Picts in Scotland; the Basks in their methods of inheritance still show traces today of mother-right. From Spain to Greece traces can be found of mother-right in the times before the inroad of Nordic tribes. Among the peoples of Nordic origin father-right is found everywhere; among them the conception of married faithfulness, and with it that of adultery, is developed; and along their trail of conquest their ideas and their (Indo-European) languages were likewise spread.

The racial contrasts between Nordic and Mediterranean, arising as a result of the intrusion of the Nordic tribes, may still be gathered by the judgment passed by the early Romans on the Ligurians (of Mediterranean race), who are described as slender, dark-skinned, and curly: they were felt to be deceitful and given to lying (fallaces mendacesque), as Diodorus Siculus (v. 39) writes.

Over the whole of the area about the Mediterranean Sea the languages which the Mediterranean race had evolved must have disappeared in the time we speak of. The languages of Nordic origin, the Indo-European languages, were victorious as being those of the Nordic ruling classes. The Pictic vanished before the tongue of the Nordic Kelts; the Iberian — the language of the Iberians, described by Livy (xxxix. I) as small and quick, by Tacitus (Agricola, ii.) as dark-skinned and curly — the Ligurian, and the Etruscan vanished before the tongues of Keltic and Italic (Roman) conquerors of Nordic origin. The languages spoken in Greece of the Bronze Age disappeared before the Greek, brought with them by the Nordic Hellenes from an original home about the Danube. It was only after the exhaustion of Nordic blood in the Hellenic (Greek) and in the Roman people that the Mediterranean element could lift its head again. Perhaps it shows itself in the structure of the Romance tongues10 which sprung out of the Latin of the Roman ruling class of Nordic race, or maybe it shows itself in southern Catholicism, or even in the rounded style of the late Roman Pantheon.


1 For this cp. Werth, Der fossile Mensch, Bd. i., 1921, Bd. ii., 1923; and Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes, chap. xix.

2 Cp. Szinnyei, Finnisch-ugrische Sprachwissenschaft, 1910.

3 Probably the Magyars at their entry and for some centuries later were far more East Baltic than today. Perhaps it is because of their sallow-fair (not rosy-fair) skin and their faded-fair (not golden-fair) hair that they were called the Fahls or Falbs in the Middle Ages (fahl = sallow); so it is in a lament on the defeat of Ottokar of Bohemia in the battle of Marchfeld against the Magyars, 1278 (cp. Golther, Deutsche Liederdichter, etc., 1910, p. 378).

4 So, too, the Finnish Kalevala was composed in Finland and Esthonia by a noble class of Nordic-Germanic descent, which probably was bilingual down to the eighth and ninth centuries. The leaders of the Finnish people — those, moreover, of Finnish not Swedish descent — still show predominantly Nordic characteristics.

5 Possibly, too, the Borreby skull (found near Borreby, in Denmark) is to be explained as a skull with a Dinaric strain (not from a native of Denmark?) and brought into connexion with this advance of Dinaric bell-beaker tribes. This at least is what Reche suggests (Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte, under ‘Borrebyschädel’).

6 Cp. Fleure, ‘Geographical Distribution of Anthropological Types in Wales,’ Journ. Anthrop. Inst., 1926; ‘Anthropology and Older Histories,’ ibid., 1918; Keith, ‘Bronze Age Invaders,’ ibid., 1915.

7 Possibly, however, in south-east Europe the people of the so-called Tripolye culture were predominantly Dinaric. This Neolithic culture stretched from Galicia and Transylvania through Podolia and the Ukraine provinces of Kiev, Chernigkov, Kherson down to Bessarabia, Bukovina, and Rumania; that is to say, over a region that shows also to-day on the whole a predominantly Dinaric population. In that case the specific achievements of the Dinaric race would have to be looked for in the culture of Tripolye, unless perhaps this latter drew its main characteristics from a Nordic ruling class. This ruling class has been suggested by Peake for this culture (‘Racial Elements . . . the Siege of Troy’, Journ. Anthrop. Inst., vol. xlvi., 1916).

8 Schuchhardt, Alteuropa, etc.

9 Schuchhardt, Alteuropa, etc.

10 It is indeed noteworthy that Romance tongues are found to have arisen wherever the people show a more or less heavy Mediterranean strain (cp. Maps XIV, XV).

Source: The Racial Elements of European History, First Published in 1927 by Methuen And Company, London (Chapter 7).

Segui Hans Friedrich Karl Günther:
Hans Friedrich Karl Günther (Friburgo in Brisgovia, 16 febbraio 1891 – Friburgo in Brisgovia, 25 settembre 1968) è stato un antropologo tedesco. Fu un esponente di spicco della teoria della razza e grande sostenitore dell'eugenetica. Tra le sue opere maggiori si ricordano Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes (1922), Rassenkunde Europas (1924), Adel und Rasse (1926), Rassengeschichte des hellenischen und des römischen Volkes (1929), Die nordische Rasse bei den Indogermanen Asiens (1934), Frömmigkeit nordischer Artung (1934), Herkunft und Rassengeschichte der Germanen (1935), Formen und Urgeschichte der Ehe (1940), Das Bauerntum als Lebens- und Gemeinschaftsform (1941), Platon als Hüter des Lebens (1966).

2 Responses

  1. Marc
    | Rispondi

    All of this is quite obsolete: The anti-Slavic prejudice of GUNTHER is a unfortunate caracteristic of all German Raciological litterature!… This anti-Slavic prejudice had disastrous consequences for both Russia and Germany during the Second World War!! The so-called “East-Baltic Race”, a supposedly “inferior” type of blonde-haired people, is of course a total anthropological fiction, concocted in order to “justify” the very silly German prejudice against Slavs!… Sad, but true!

  2. paulthesame
    | Rispondi

    Agreed, Marc. This is pseudoscientific politically-motivated nonsense which should be catalogued as such, not as potentially useful for the furtherance of studies

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