Western writings about the Ainu are pervaded by the notion that European man had, after centuries of exploration, after thousands of encounters with nothing but irreconcilable aliens, at long last discovered a race in whom true brotherhood was to be found: as one British captain declared, something like a strange drop of oil in the Ocean, being surrounded by Mongols yet not one of them. The Ainu’s simplicity and attunement with Nature were beatific; he was magnificent even in savagery: tall, lithe, straight and strong, with hair, beard, and moustaches never desecrated by the touch of the scissors ; with a high broad brow, dark eyes, straight nose and oval face, he was a far nobler creature than the Red Indian, who I had always fancied was the pride of wild men (Bickmore 1868).
For proponents of the Europoid or Caucasoid idea, White man and Ainu were shineshikpuikotcha utara, people of the same eyesocket (Batchelor 1905), and what the former took for familial resemblance produced not only a flurry of travelogues and anthropological treatises but also harsh critiques of Japanese policy and at least one marriage — Polish exile-anthropologist Bronisław Piłsudski fathered two sons with an Ainu woman on Russian Sakhalin (Siddle 1996: 78).
One can hardly fault them for their excitement. Even in the age of photography — after admixture with morphological Mongoloids had come to a head with expanding Japanese settlement — that little feeling in the amygdala was undeniable:
Left: The famous late chief MIYAMOTO, Shiraoi village, Iburi province ; Right: An old Ainu man, Anecha village, Hidaka province. (East-Hidaka) (Figs. 36 and 29, respectively, from Kodama 1970: 94 & 89)
Yet not all racial taxonomists settled on a Caucasoid identity; Kodama (1970: 263-268), surveying around two dozen theorists, reports four major alternatives: the Mongoloid theory, the Oceanic theory (arguing for affinities with assorted equatorial races — Australoids, Polynesians, and so on), the “Paläasiatisches Volk” theory, and the “Rasseninsel” theory. I attribute a large portion of the divergence in opinion to incomplete awareness of intra-Ainu variation, much of it geographically correlated (increasingly “Siberian” looks seem to have prevailed north of Hokkaido, probably due to assimilation of Nivkhs, Oroks, Kamchadals, etc., and their forebears). Cheboxarov’s 1951 designation of a Kurilean branch of the Australoid great race is not so laughable if we regard men like this chief, and the notion shared by Schrenck (1881), Kopernicki (1886), and Koganei (1893) of a branch of humanity distinct from all others comes frankly alive in faces like this one.
Alas for the romantics! Based on present genetic data (uniparental markers), which I very briefly reviewed here, the Ainu’s affinities to Caucasoids proper seem about as real as those of Melanesians to Sub-Saharan Africans. At least in the sense that the Ainu represent a vestige of pre-Mongoloid strata that were once much more widespread throughout East Eurasia, I would say that the Palae-asiatic theory has held up best. However, it bears repeating again that no autosomal nuclear studies concerning the Ainu have yet been conducted or — as far as I know — are currently in the works. Large-scale SNP analysis with good coverage of Ainu, Japonic speakers from Hokkaido to the Ryukyus, and other Eurasian populations (especially Siberians and island SE Asians) would settle things more conclusively, but we deal for now with the issue of a population whose closest living relations are all more or less Mongoloid but whose purer representatives deviate phenotypically from “classic” Mongoloids in a surprising number of ways.
Kodama, himself an advocate of the Caucasoid theory, bases his diagnosis on the following attributes of the full-blooded Ainu (265):
Enough, in short, to lead a run-of-the-mill forensic anthropologist astray. And there were other points of difference, some of which merely set the Ainu apart from the Japanese (but not necessarily southern Mongoloids) and others which charitable minds could well take as indicating especial connections with the opposite corner of Eurasia. A few of the more dramatic divides:
Kodama on sweat glands (82):
Naturally, next on body odor (Ibid.):
One recalls the semi-farcial image painted by Siddle (1996): The scientific research method involved was the placing of the nostrils close to the half-naked body of an Ainu in a room overheated by a roaring stove[,] one of a series of experiences with Ainu odour that led the researcher to muse that ‘it’s tough for those engaged in ethnology (jinshugaku)’.
On hair structure (91-92):
On the frequency of free (as opposed to attached) earlobes (97-98):
On the frequency of wet and dry earwax (99-100):
Sanctimonious devotees of The Mismeasure of Man are at this point likely to be in stitches, but, in reality, Ainu hair form and the particulars of their sweat glands coalesce rather meaningfully with their high incidence of sundadonty (not mentioned by Kodama — his work predates Christy Turner). Clearly, something interesting is afoot with EDAR.
In a sense, the concordance between European and Ainu amounts to a remarkable (but hardly singular*) episode in convergent evolution. As Razib Khan suggests here, there may be only a few basic human racial morphs which reoccur, whether by chance or adaptation
* — Alluring symmetry of marsupial versus placental wolf aside, Thylacinus/Vulpes might be an even closer pair: see Werdelin (1986) and Wroe and Milne (2007).
In the context of Eurasian prehistory, I will note, the Ainu start to seem much less anomalous. This post has gone on for longer than I was intending, so I’ll end that thought by remarking that the work of Peter Brown (1999) might be an interesting place to start. (But while you’re doing that, keep Kennewick Man and Luzia in the back of your mind too.)
Look to my earlier post for claims about the “European order” of Ainu cognition (including one suggestion of verbal parity with the Japanese but inferiority in mathematical reasoning). You’ll notice that I’ve limited the discussion above to matters of physical anthropology, which is not to say that there aren’t suggestive parallels between the folkways and material culture of the Ainu and those of a host of other peoples. There certainly are, from female facial tattoos to the sacral position of the bear. It’s just that homoplasy becomes an even more important consideration — Mbabaram word for dog and all that.
But let’s be fair — sometimes it is the little things that get us. Fitzhugh and Dubreuil (1999: 127):
Note: Works referenced in Kodama (1970) are in blue; I have attempted to preserve his formatting. * indicates an irregularity (author and year referenced in text but not represented in Kodama’s bibliography); in all but one case I was able to track down the item in question or posit a plausible candidate.
Adachi, B.: Das Ohrenschmalz als Rassenmerkmal und der Rassengeruch (“Achselgeruch”) nebst dem Rassenunterschied der Schweissdrüsen. 2. Rassenkunde 6. 1937.
Batchelor, J. (1905). An Ainu-English-Japanese Dictionary (Including a Grammar of the Ainu Language.). Ginza, Tokyo: Methodist Publishing House.
Bickmore, A. S. (1868). The Ainos, or Hairy Men, of Saghalien and the Kurile Islands. The American Journal of Science and Arts, 2, 135, 361-377.
Brown, P. (1999). The first modern East Asians? Another look at Upper Cave 101, Liujiang and Minatogawa 1. In K. Omoto (Ed.), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of the Japanese (pp. 105–131). Kyoto, Japan: International Research Center for Japanese Studies.
Чебоксаров, Н.Н. “Основные принципы антропологических классификаций”, в кн.: “Происхождение человека и древнее расселение человечества”, М., 1951 (ТНЭ, н.с. т. 16).
Dubreuil, C., & Fitzhugh, W. W. (Eds.). (1999). Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press.
Kodama, S. (1970). Ainu: historical and anthropological studies. Hokkaido University School of Medicine.
* Koganei, Y.: Zinruigaku Kenkyu. (in Japanese). Most of Koganei’s papers in Japanese included. 1928
Kopernicki, I.: Czaszki Ainow wedlung nowych materialow etc. (Ainoschädel nach neuem Material etc.), Krakau, Quart, 1886, Ref. in Archiv f. Anthropologie, Bd. 24. 1897.
* Ohmori, S. (1938) not located.
* Schrenck, L. v. (1881). Die Völker des Amur-Landes. Reisen und Forschungen im Amur-Lande in den Jahren 1854-1856. St. Petersburg: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Shimode, T.: Morphological Studies of Head Hair in Ainu. Sapporo Medical Journal, Vol. 34, No. 4, 1968.
Siddle, R. (1996). Race, Resistance and the Ainu of Japan. Sheffield Centre for Japanese Studies/Routledge Series. New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc.
Ueda, T. and Kato, K.: Morphological Studies on the Palpebrae and Auricular Lobule in the Ainu and Japanese (in Japanese). Proceedings of the Joint Meeting of the Anthropological Society of Nippon and Japanese Society of Ethnology. 11th Session, 1956.
* Vernall, D. G. (1961). A study of the size and shape of cross sections of hair from four races of men. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 19, 345-350.
Werdelin, L. (1986). Comparison of Skull Shape in Marsupial and Placental Carnivores. Aust. J. Zool., 34(2), 109-117.
Wroe, S., & Milne, N. (2007). Convergence and remarkably consistent constraint in the evolution of carnivore skull shape. Evolution; International Journal of Organic Evolution, 61(5), 1251-1260.