Jul 022012

From an itinerary of Xuanzang’s famous 7th-century pilgrimage from Tang China to India, a report quite easily interpretable as describing a Tocharian or Tocharian-derived population (Watters & Smith, 1904: 290):

This country [Ortu Kan: "Kie(Ka)-sha" (Kashgar, a place still very much around today)] he describes as being above 5000 li in circuit with many sand-heaps and little fertile soil; it yielded good crops and had a luxuriance of fruits and flowers. It produced fine woollen stuffs and fine woven woollen rugs; the people had the custom of flattening their babies’ heads by compression; they were ill-favoured, tattooed their bodies and they had green eyes; their writing had been copied from that of India, and although changes had been made the substance was still preserved [Ortu Kan: apparently referring to one of the Brahmi-derived Tocharian abugidas]; their spoken language was different from the languages of other countries [Ortu Kan: presumably meaning the Indo-Iranian branches of IE, Turkic, Mongolic, and Chinese, if not others]. The inhabitants were sincere believers in Buddhism; there were some hundreds of Buddhist monasteries with more than 1000 Brethren all adherents of the Sarvāstivādin School; these men read their scriptures much, without penetrating the meaning, and so there were many who had in this way read through all the canon and the vibhāshās (or Commentaries).

The commentary elaborates: “instead of the “green eyes” which the pilgrim ascribes to the people other authorities represent them as having “turquoise pupils”. We are told also that all the inhabitants of this country were born with six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.3” (ibid.: 292).

Watters, T., & Smith, V.A. (1904). On Yuan Chwang’s travels in India, 629-645 A.D. (Davids, T.W.R. & Bushell, S.W., Eds.). London: Royal Asiatic Society.

Mar 062012

An ongoing discussion I’ve been having at GNXP led me to recall one of Razib’s posts (prompted by these ADMIXTURE runs) from last year:

I don’t think that the “Classic Solutrean hypothesis” is viable, where Paleolithic Europeans manage to jump across the polar fringe to North America. Rather, my contention that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a set of post-Gravettian societies spanned the northern fringe of Eurasia, and that one branch went east to populate North America. Of those that remained it may be that on the milder fringes of western Eurasia, what became Europe, they were almost totally marginalized or absorbed. Only across the great expanse of Siberia where agriculture was marginalized did this people persist down the modern day. To bring it back to the present and over romanticizing the the possibilities one might then suggest that the displacement of Amerindians in North America over the past few centuries recapitulated the marginalization of their distant cousins in Europe between 5 and 10 thousand years ago!

This sentence in The Tribes and the States stood out as weirdly self-assured when I first read it, even in a section that took for granted Atlantean outposts in Michigan and Africa, but maybe Sidis was more prescient than I gave him credit for!

In connection with the pre-history of the red peoples, an important fact is that there were red men at one time in Europe as well as in America.

(Yes, that Sidis wrote a book on American Indian history. And no, this intuition, if you’re sanguine enough to call it that, doesn’t really make Ch. 1 any less auspicious of a start. Give it a look and you’ll see what I mean.)

More seriously, Kyle Bristow and all the other U.S. White nationalists champing at the bit for a Holocaust to call their own may — in light of future aDNA revelations about European and American prehistory — well end up regretting what they’d wished for.

Aug 292011

Southern Sichuan, western Guizhou, and the Yunnanese mountains are the abode of the Tibeto-Burman Yi, the seventh most numerous of the PRC’s minority nationalities – and, for a time, the most outstandingly romanticized. One shouldn’t be surprised: a “martial race” of herder-warriors, a scornfully endogamous ruling caste, the living metaphor of colored bone* – these must have been like hygroscopic flares into the warm cloud cover of the turn-of-the-century Western mind. A fascinating segment from S. Robert Ramsey’s 1987 The Languages of China (250-252):

One of the most distinctive peoples in all of China, the Yi first caught the imagination of the West when reports of their existence filtered out of China around the turn of the century. In the almost inaccessible wilds of southwestern China, some said, a “blood-proud caste” of tall and noble warriors “fought, rode, herded horses, and ruled … a stratum of underlings and slaves.” Exaggerated descriptions of their “Caucasoid features” and stories of sacred books, written in a strange pictographic [sic] script and reportedly containing the arcane secrets of the ruling caste, added to the mystique. In Europe, preparations were made to investigate and expeditions were organized. Unfortunately for such Western ambitions, however, the region was almost impossible to penetrate from the outside since the Yi still had not been pacified by the Chinese. No one—and especially not the Chinese government toward which the Yi were extremely hostile—could guarantee safe passage through the areas controlled by Yi clans. Yet, in spite of the obvious dangers, Western explorers continued to be fascinated by southwestern China. One of these explorers, a British adventurer named Donald Brooke, set out in 1909 to explore the Cool Mountain area of Southern Sichuan, the stronghold of the Independent Yi. No sooner had he and his entourage of a dozen or so crossed into Yi territory than they were attacked. In the battle that ensued, Brooke himself was killed and all of his followers were captured and made into slaves. […]

For at least two thousand years the Yi have held their own against domination by the Chinese. Chinese annals since the beginning of the Christian era have described the Yi, under a variety of names, as being masters of the highlands where they still live to this day. In fact, over this time the Yi have actually expanded their range eastward into Guizhou. […]

Continue reading »

Jan 152011

Racial reunion:

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:

Continue reading »

Aug 252010

I recently got hold of an electronic copy of The Ecological Basis of Anthropology, a 1934 paper by the geographer and anthropologist Griffith Taylor. With its hand-drawn maps and tall, woolly dokephs, it reads with the peculiar charm of many a pre-War essay on physical anthropology: Fleure and James (’16) describe living people in Wales as approximating to Neanderthaloids. The writer wonders if these folk are not also the descendants of the Australoid stratum. Taylor goes on about a globe-straddling Alpine race with “no essential difference in [its] racial characteristics from Eastern France to Corea”, leaving me with the sense that he was an eccentric even amongst the typologists of his own time, but the real aim of this post isn’t to poke fun at his racial schema. Nor — sorry again, Grif — is it to weigh the merits of his “Zones and Strata Theory” of human migration.

My concern lies with just two startling sentences:

Sir Harry Johnston (’23)–the authority on African ethnology–describes the Ushtettas (in the mountains west of Tunis) as “of very Neanderthaloid appearance, with much-developed brows, large flat noses, deepset eyes, and in the males much hair about the face and body.” He describes them as “similar to the Veddahs, and a little to the black Australians in facial features.”

While beetle-browed Welshmen fail to earn a daub on his map, Taylor classes the Ushtettas as Australoids, making them the only living members of the “western wing” of this race that he mentions by name — and the only extant Africans so characterized by any 20th century ethnologist I’m aware of.

Black represents present distribution -- plus sites with prehistoric skeletal material (Galilee, Brunn, Teruel, Wadjak) -- and dots probable former distribution. (Adapted from Taylor, 1934: Fig. 3)

Continue reading »

May 272010

“In honor of the Little Black People”

Such was the heading of a 2004 story in the Taipei Times. Its subtitle was equally droll: “The Saisiyat tribe of Hsinchu and Miaoli will perform a solemn rite this weekend to commemorate a race of people that they exterminated.”

Drinking, singing and dancing are expected to take place deep in the mountains of Miaoli and Hsinchu when the “Ritual of the Little Black People” (矮靈祭) is performed by the Saisiyat tribe once again this weekend.

For the past 100 years or so, the Saisiyat tribe (賽夏族) has performed the songs and rites of the festival to bring good harvests, ward off bad luck and keep alive the spirit of a race of people who are said to have preceded all others in Taiwan.

The “Taiwanese” are, for the most part, descended from Han Chinese settlers who settled the island after its seizure from the Dutch by Sino-Japanese Ming loyalist Koxinga. Predating them and today reduced to around 2% of Taiwan’s population are the so-called Taiwanese aborigines, tribal groups like the Saisiyat who speak (increasingly, spoke) Austronesian languages. Though the chronology remains in dispute, linguistic as well as genetic and archeological evidence points to Taiwan as the Urheimat of this family — the root of a many-forked tree of tongues lolling from Madagascar to Hawaii and Easter Island.

So whom do the Saisiyat commemorate? Negritos, the article claims — a catch-all for short, superficially African-like peoples represented today by the Andaman Islanders and tribes sprinkled throughout the Malay Peninsula and insular Southeast Asia (e.g., the Philippine Aetas at right).  With the exception of the Andamanese (for whom we look to the British and Indians), most of these tribes have been severely marginalized by the expansion of Austro-Asiatic and Austronesian agriculturalists, whose languages they have adopted; physical evidence for similar peoples further north in East Asia is scantier, but any such groups assuredly suffered a similar fate.  It’s worth mentioning, if only skeptically, that physical anthropologists have claimed to see Negrito affinity in groups as far afield as Tasmania, Yemen, and even Japan.
Continue reading »