(Chapter V, section 6)

Basques, Phoenicians, and Etruscans

Since the western Mediterranean lands have changed little racially since the end of the Bronze Age, it may perhaps be foroiven us if we break the continuity of the present chapter, as was done earlier in the cases of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Greece, to discuss, at this point, the origins and racial characteristics of certain non-Indo-European-speaking peoples who are or were in later times known by specific names - the Basques, the Phoenicians (as Carthaginians), and the Etruscans.

In regard to the Basques, it has been observed that the skeletons from dolmens of Guipuzcoa, probably of Early Metal Age, resemble those of the modern Euskarians of the same province, in stature, in head size and form, and in characteristic facial peculiarities.51 Since the northern shore of Spain, in the country occupied by the Basques since the beginning of history, is rich in metal ores and was a favorite haunt of Copper and Bronze Age sea migrants, it is very likely that a numerically strong western Asiatic element, including both Megalithic and Dinaric types, became a permanent factor in the local population. When we come to discuss the physical anthropology of living Basques, the probability of such an influence will be of assistance.

The second people, the Phoenicians, who established their principal colony at Carthage at the end of the second millennium B.C., and posted trading garrisons at various points on the North African coast, both on the Mediterranean and Atlantic sides, also settled along the eastern coast of Spain, where they founded the city of Cartagena. Except for the Greeks, they formed the last of the groups to migrate westward from the eastern Mediterranean by sea, but the first to do so in full historical light.

The physical type of the Phoenicians is well known from the skeletal remains found in tombs at Carthage.52 A series of 117 skulls, of which 68 are male, belong for the most part to one characteristic type; dolicho- to mesocephalic, with the cranial index at 75; fairly long vaulted, and hence moderately broad; with a very low vault, a moderately broad forehead, a short face, high orbits, and a narrow, projecting nose which often springs directly from the frontal bone with little or no nasion depression. These skulls are in many ways similar to the Megalithic or Long Barrow type of the preceding millennium; but, as is to be expected in view of their late eastern Mediterranean origin, show modifications toward a shortening and widening of the vault, and a beaking of the nose.

A few related hrachycephals, of Dinaric form, are incidental to this type, while a number of less characteristic skulls, with lower orbits and less prominent, wider noses, may be those of North African natives. The Carthaginians were apparently rather tall, with a mean male stature of 168 cm. The Greek evidence, already quoted, indicates that they were brunet.

There can be no doubt that the majority of the Carthaginians who were buried in these tombs were either the descendants of seafarers from Palestine and Syria, or at least immigrants from the east of similar race. Nine skulls of important men, taken from elaborate stone sarcophagi, belong to exactly the same type as the majority of the others, except that these representatives of the privileged classes had larger heads in all or most dimensions than those of the masses. This correlation between size and status, or size and opportunity, is a familiar human trait wherever there are social and nutritional differences, and has no coincident racial significance. Single Phoenician skulls from two points in the western Mediterranean, Melilla in the Moroccan Rif, and Ibiza in Spain,53 conform exactly to the standard set by the Carthaginians.

The last of the three non-Indo-European speaking ethnic groups, the Etruscan, probably came to Italy as early as the first quarter of the tenth century B.C. Another wave is said to have arrived in the eighth century. The colonists apparently kept up contacts with their homeland until about 650 A.D. This homeland, according to the classical tradition, maintained by all Greek and Roman historians from Herodotus to Pliny, was Lydia in Asia Minor. That this tradition is accurate is the belief of most modern classical scholars.54

The cranial evidence from Etruscan tombs55 substantiates the belief that these non-Indo-European, non-Semitic speakers were typical examples of the earlier Bronze Age population of the eastern Mediterranean. As with the earlier el Argar people of Spain, a mesocephalic mean for the cranial index covers the presence of pronounced long heads and round heads, with the two extremes, in this case, forming about equal proportions. Actually, the metrical characteristics of the two series are much alike, but the Etruscan skulls were a little larger, which is not surprising, for the el Argar crania were for the most part rather small.

The Etruscan skulls are notably smooth in surface relief, with little in the way of browridges; the side walls of the vaults, seen from above, are not parallel, as with the longer Mediterranean forms, but converging, with the greatest breadth in the parietals and a narrow forehead; the orbits are high and rounded, and the nose narrow. The Etruscans, with a typically Near Eastern cranial form, resemble both the Cappadocian type found in the Hittite period at Alishar, and the planoccipital brachycephals which appeared in the Bronze Age cemeteries of Cyprus. By Roman times these two varieties had blended, to a large extent, into a variable mesocephalic form, to which the Phoenicians as well largely belonged.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the migrations of eastern Mediterranean peoples by sea to Italy, Spain, and the islands between these two peninsulas in protohistoric as well as in prehistoric times. Especially in Spain and Italy, large numbers of peoples immigrated, who added, to the basic Mediterranean population of Neolithic origin, Near Eastern elements which may still be discerned among Italians and Spaniards today. The debt of the Romans to the Etruscans, genetically as well as culturally, was especially great.


51 Serra i Vilaro, after Mendes-Correa, 1924.

52 Bertholon and Chantre, RĂ©cherches Anthropologiques dans La BĂ©rberie Orientale, pp. 251-266. Also:
Collignon, R., Anth, vol. 3,1892, pp. 163-172.
Mantegazza, P., APA, vol. 6, 1876, pp. 17-29.

53 Barras de Aragon, F. de las, AMSE, vol. 9, 1930, pp. 35-64; 79-105.

54 Schachermeyer, Fritz, Etruskische Fruhgeschichte.

55 Sergi, G., AFA, vol. 41, 1915, pp. 309-313 ff.