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Lecture 11

Lecture 11 - Modern Human Variation and “Race”

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Esteban Parra

Modern Human Variation and “Race” Modern Human Variation and “Race” - When you think of 60 thousand years in evolutionary times, that a very short time Modern Human Variation - Beginning 60 kya, anatomically modern humans expanded to occupy every region of the plant - Modern humans inhabit areas showing a wide range in ecological and climatic conditions - In places like Toronto, it’s easy to see the diversity of our species o It is coming primarily from this period of time - In this lecture, we will review the extend, the pattern and the meaning of variation in modern humans, and we will also discuss historic attempts to understand this diversity A Little Bit of History… - Attempts to classify humans according to their physical characteristics go back thousands of years. - One of the first “scientific” attempts was that of Carolus Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomic classification. o He also invented bionomial classification (genus, species) o This is an effort that goes back thousands of years - It is very instructive to review in some detail Linnaeus’ 18 century classification of humans. Linnaeus 1758 Classification of Humans - Americanus: reddish, choleric, and erect; hair black, straight, thick; wide nostrils, scanty beard; obstinate, merry, free; paints himself with fine red lines; regulated by customs. - Asiaticus: sallow, melancholy, stiff; hair black; dark eyes; severe, haughty, avaricious; covered with loose garments; ruled by opinions. - Africanus: black, phlegmatic, relaxed; hair black, frizzled; skin silky; nose flat; lips tumid; women without shame, they lactate profusely; crafty, indolent, negligent; anoints himself with grease; governed by caprice. - Europeaeus: white, sanguine, muscular; hair long, flowing; eyes blue; gentle, acute, inventive; covers himself with close vestments; governed by laws. About the Linnaeus Classification - Probably, it has immediately struck you that the Linnaeus classification: o Is based on superficial physical traits, such as skin color, hair color and shape, eye color and other facial traits. o It is also based on “cultural” features (more properly, on biased and Eurocentric 18 century preconceptions about cultural characteristics of broadly defined human groups).  Perception of the group according to that age (i.e. some groups are st cocky, women have no shame) - Under our 21 century eyes, the Linnaeus classification seems a complete nonsense and utterly ridiculous. Unfortunately… From Linnaeus to the Present - The classification of humans based on superficial physical traits (which we now know are subjected to strong selective forces), and perceived cultural features has continued during th th the 19 and the 20 centuries, and even today…. often with dramatic consequences, such as: o Slavery and its everlasting effects o Eugenic policies of the early 20 century. o The atrocities committed by the Nazis in WWII o Discrimination across the world Johann Blumenbach (1752-1840) - not part of slides - Father of physical anthropology - Wrote On the Natural Variety of Mankind in 1776 - Established 5 human races that represented the human types: o Mongolian (yellow) o American (red) o Caucasian (white) o Malayan (brown) o Ethiopian (black) - Used a more biological approach. Rejected multiple origins. Rejected African inferiority. Also recognized the continuous nature of human variation Human variation and Race - What is “Race”? - The problem with this concept is that term means different things to different people Some Background on the Term “Race” - The French physician Francois Bernier (1684) was tone of the first scientists that used the word “race” in its modern context (not part of the slides but very important) - The term “race” was coined by Buffon, a French naturalist, in 1745. - The word “race” has different meanings for different people. For some it has mainly a cultural meaning, for others, both a biological and a cultural component… - We will only discuss here the biological concept of race. But first, how can we define race in this narrow biological sense? Do races exist? Can race explain the biological variation found in humans? The Biological Concept of Race - Biological races could be defined as “unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups”. - Another possible definition could be: “a division of a species that differs from other divisions by the frequency with which certain hereditary traits appear among its members” (Brues, 1977). - So, do biological races exist in humans Do Biological Races Exist? - The majority of anthropologists agree that there are no biological races in humans. - You may want to check the statements of the two main North American Anthropological associations about this issue. - Statement of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) on biological aspects of race o race - Statement of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) on race o There are some of the Reasons - Races are, by definition, discrete units, which are used to explain variation that is mostly continuous in nature. o Evolution is complex, and there are many different factors that influence variation o The variation in humans (and any species) and be described with the interplay with the evolutionary factors - Consequently, racial classifications can’t explain in any meaningful way the variation observed in human populations. o This is why there has never been an agreement among anthropologists on the number of human “races”: from three to several dozens…. - “Biological variation is real; the order we impose on this variation by using the concept of race is not” (Relethford, 2002). o Variation exist, but creating these descriptive categories doesn’t explain the complex reality of human variation (or species) An Example with Skin Pigmentation – The Simplistic View… And the Reality… - In reality, there is going to be a huge range of variation of skin tones, and there is also overlap between groups More Problems with the “Race” Concept - The traits that have been traditionally employed to classify humans in “racial” groups are anthropometric traits (primarily skin color, features of the face, and the shape and size of the head and body, and the underlying skeleton). - However, anthropometric traits are strongly influenced by the environment, and are subjected to natural selection, which may be acting in different ways for different traits. o Natural selection acts in specific genomes - Thus, different traits often show remarkably discordant geographical distributions. An Interesting Example: Skin Pigmentation versus… - There is darker skin in the darker regions, and lighter skin as you move north in terms of latitude Distribution of the B Allele of the ABO Blood Group - Frequency of allele B, has a east west distribution with high frequencies in Asia - Low frequency of allele B is found in the Americas You Can See That… - The distribution of skin
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