(Chapter II, section 6)

Upper Palaeolithic man in Europe, the evidence as a whole

The next step is to examine the evidence which reveals the racial composition of Upper Palaeolithjc man in Europe. Until the discovery of the Swanscombe fragments, these were the earliest sapiens remains which were definitely datable to the satisfaction of all interested scientists, and immune to the doubts which had thrown all supposedly earlier finds into the shade.

The first Upper Palaeolithic people, the bearers of the earliest phase of the Aurignacian culture, arrived in Europe during the middle of the Laufen interglacial, between the retreat of Würm I and the advance of Würm II. On the basis of accurate Scandinavian chronology, it is possible to set the end of the Upper Palaeolithjc in western Europe with more accuracy; 11,800 B.C. seems to mark a turning point, with the migration of the reindeer northward, and the first introduction of Mesolithic culture. In view of the present differences of opinions between geologists, it seems unwise to set even a tentative date for its inception. In any case, the time that elapsed during the Upper Palaeolithjc must have provided ample room for change in some of the more fluid physical characters of a people, especially if they have been subjected to rigorous climatic Conditions and specialized diets.

We must not place too much importance on fine differences in stature as a means of determining genetic affinity or distance, especially over periods of tens of thousands of years. Head form, too, although it changes with much less speed than stature, for it is not directly concerned with gross size, nevertheless responds to the stimuli which control it, and we must not be surprised if long heads have in some instances become round heads during the course of hundreds of generations.

In studying the remains of Pleistocene and of post-Pleistocene man, therefore, we must be careful not to confuse characters which are of racial importance with progressive modifications which may occur, in response to cultural changes, within any group. Such modifications are especially concerned with the Jaws and teeth. Among the more primitive white peoples, such as Berbers and Albanian mountaineers, the incisors of the two jaws meet edge to edge, as they did among most of the mediaeval inhabitants of western Europe. Under modern conditions this changes rapidly to an overbite, and is frequently accompanied by a narrowing of the palate and crowding of the teeth, making modern orthodontia profitable. This shifting of the bite affects also the position of the lips and changes the entire facial expression.

Another modification which seems to proceed with some rapidity is the enlargement of the masticatory muscles under sub-arctic conditions. As these muscles enlarge, the angles of the lower jaw become everted, the zygomatic arches expand laterally, and often the brain case becomes keeled in response to an increase in temporal muscular attachment. At the same time both the mandible and the palate develop tori. These correlated changes act without regard to race since they are apparently functional adaptations. They also act with some rapidity, for the mediaeval Icelanders acquired them in less than four centuries.20 These occur in varying degree among some of the later Upper Palaeolithic European skulls, as well as among Eskimos and modern Siberians.

We must be particularly careful, therefore, in studying the remains of Upper Palaeolithic man, to remember that his time span was unquestionably greater than the totality of time which has elapsed since it ended. We must also remember that the men who conquered the cold lived under new and rigorous climatic and dietary conditions, and that these conditions must have exerted a strong influence upon the more plastic elements of their bodily form. Therefore, metrical and morphological differences in physical type which appear, during the course of these millennia, may Imply, in some instances, a response to environment rather than a diversity of Origin.

From all of the regions in Europe which we know to have been inhabited during the Upper Palaeolithic period, over one hundred skulls which have been disinterred at one time or another, during the last century, have been called to the attention of persons competent to determine their age. Of these hundred or more skulls, however, only sixty odd have been measured and published. We have, in this group, a large enough series to merit treatment by biometric methods, in contrast to the remains of earlier non-human species, which consist for the most part of single speciinens, and may, therefore, be approached from a morphological and anatomical standpoint alone.

Unfortunately, these crania have not been drawn in equal proportions from all the countries in which Upper Palaeolithic cultures are represented. By far the largest number come from France, where they were preserved in caves, and where archaeological interest, over an entire century, has been greater than in any other European country. A smaller number come from England, Spain, northern Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia. In studying this group of skulls as a whole, we must remember that the western European element is over-weighted.

Morant, the present leader of the English biometric school, has contributed a valuable statistical study of these skulls.21 (See Appendix I, col. 1.) To twenty-seven, which he personally remeasured, he adds twenty-five measured by other investigators. These fifty-two skulls, of unquestioned geological age, form the nucleus of his study. Of these skulls, seventy per cent come from the first, or Aurignacian period.

Although in the later sections of this chapter we shall examine the position of these skulls singly by regions and by periods of time, it will be profitable, for the moment, to follow Morant in treating this group of crania as a single unit. Despite the fact that the Europeans of the Upper Palaeolithic were probably the product of more than one invasion, and despite the fact that they lived through a long period of time, and covered a geographical range which includes the greater part of the continent, the first of several striking results of Morant’s study is the discovery that this composite sample is little more variable in the totality of its features than one would find in any large cranial collection of post-glacial men, unified in space and in time. Von Bonin, working with the long bones and extremities, obtained exactly the same result.22

It is amazing to find that the Upper Palaeolithic men were less variable, on the whole, than the inhabitants of London who were buried in plague pits during the seventeenth century. They were less variable than the modern rural population of a small section of Carinthia, and only a little more so than the skulls of the extremely isolated Greenland Eskimo, whose time span covered at most a few centuries, or the Egyptians who were buried at Gizeh between the twenty-sixth and thirtieth dynasties.

The great complexity of race in modern Europe is largely due to post-Pleistocene migrations from other continents, and the retention of local types in modern populations reflects the greater isolability in smaii regions of farmers than of hunters. But the Upper Pleistocene people were by no means completely homogeneous, as will be shown later by an examination of individual crania, in their chronological and geographical contexts.

Since, as Morant has shown, this total Upper Palaeolithic group is unified enough to be considered a single population,23 we may proceed to generalize about the traits which most of the members of this group possess in common. The first and most notable of these is the extremely large size of the brain case, larger in most cases than Galley Hill or most modern men, and comparable in size to Skhul. This is found in all but a few of the skulls, whatever the actual dimensions and forms. The cranial indices, however, are very variable, ranging from sixty-five to eighty-five, and this variability is too great to imply a single homogeneous type.

In these skulls the males are easily distinguished from the females, for there is a greater difference between the sexes than is usual among more recent groups of man. The same is true of long bones and stature.24 This implies, of course, a stronger development of secondary sexual characteristics. In the male skulls the bony markings are all pronounced the browridges are as a rule heavy, the faces arc excessively broad, with flaring zygomata. The upper face height is variable—medium to short in most individuals, but in others quite long.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of most (but not all) of these skulls is that the orbits are very broad and very low. The nasal skeleton is almost always prominent.25 The nasal root, although deeply overhung by glabella, is still high, and the osseous nasal profile is as a rule straight or convex. The nasal spine is sharp and the lower border well marked. The nose, on the whole, is leptorrhine to mesorrhine.

The lower jaw presents just as marked an individuality as does the cranium. This bone is deep, wide, and heavy, with flaring gonial angles and a prominent chin. The palate is rather wider than those of most living men, although the teeth are not of excessive size. If one judges the face form from the calvarium alone, the great breadth of the face, coupled with a variable length, yields in most cases a low upper facial index, placing these skulls in the euryene category. If, however, one calculates a total facial index, many of these skulls are leptoprospic, for the great height of the mandibular symphysis compensates for the shortness from nasion to alveolar point. This condition, in which the lower part of the face is exaggerated, is one of the chief diagnostic features of this type of man, and a suggestion of it may still be seen among some of the living peoples of northern Europe.

In the totality of facial features, with a few exceptions, the Upper Palaeolithic people may be said to have resembled modern white men. Some, however, probably looked like a certain type of American Indian, notably that of the North American Plains, and of the Onas and Tehuelche of southernmost South America. This comparison, we must remember, is wholly morphological, since we do not know Upper Palaeolithic man’s pigmentation, hair form, or hair distribution.

The skeletons of the Upper Palaeolithic people vary in size by sub-periods, as will be shortly demonstrated, but as a whole the group was tall, long-limbed, and slender, with narrow hips, broad shoulders, and large hands and feet. On the whole, the limb bones were not excessively robust, and the limb ratios, determining the relative lengths of arm and leg segments, and of arms to legs, were unstable.

The mean stature of the males was about 173 cm., of the females 155 cm. The men were taller than the means of any modern European countries, with the exception of Iceland and Montenegro, but not taller than modern Americans. The women, on the other hand, were actually small. The equivalents of these mean statures are, in feet and inches, but five feet nine, and five feet one and a half. Galley Hill man, by comparison, was only five feet two.

Morant, in his statistical study, compared his Upper Palaeolithic sample with a long list of post-Pleistocene cranial series. He found that the early group exceeded all of the later ones by a wide margin in seven measurements,26 while it reached the limit of recent human means in six others.27 This mass deviation would, in Morant’s opinion, place Upper Palaeolithic European man at one end of the scale and the rest of humanity, white and otherwise, all of lesser antiquity, at the other.

It is possible to quibble with Morant, and to discover small series or subseries which contradict this finding. For example, the Ona skulls from Tierra del Fuego,28 a series of Bronze Age crania from Esthonia,29 and of Iron Age ones from the Norwegian coast,30 are equally large in facial as in cranial dimensions. But these exceptions in no way invalidate his discovery, that the Upper Palaeolithic people, despite their generalized European facial appearance, were separate in many metrical characters from most of living, or for that matter pre-Aurignacian, sapiens men. The reason for this deviation is not difficult to discover, but we must approach the obvious conclusion slowly, in order to make sure of an accurate reconstruction of prehistoric events.


20 Hooton, E. A., AJPA, vol. 1, 1918, pp. 53—76.

21 Morant, G. M., AE, vol. 4, 1930—31, pp. 109—214.

22 Bonin, G., von, HB, vol. 7, 1935, pp. 196—221.

23 By the word population we do not, necessarily, mean a human aggregation of single racial origin. What we mean here is a group of people, unified by interbreeding and forming a geographical and social unit. Such a population, of course, may have a multiple origin.

24 Bonin, G., von, op. cit.

25 The "Grimaldi negroids" form an exception.

26 Horizontal circumference, glabello-occipital length, sagittal arc from glabella to opisthion, nasio-bregmatic arc, internal biorbital diameter, bizygomatic diameter, and length of the foramcn magnum.

27 Transverse circumference, bregma-lambda arc, biasterionic breadth, bimaxillary breadth, orbital breadth. These five, according to Morant, fall within 1 mm. of the greatest post-Pleistocene means. Orbital height, he finds, is .7 mm. shorter than the lowest comparative mean.

28 Morant, in his group “Fuegians, pooled,” mixed Ona skulls with those of the smaller and quite different Yaghans. If one abstracts the Ona crania from Lebzelter’s original tables, he will find that the European Upper Palaeolithic means of Morant are essentially duplicated.

29 Friedenthal, A., ZFE, vol. 63, 1931, pp. 1—39.

30 Schreiner, K. E., SNVO, II, #11, 1927, Pp. 1—32.