(Chapter XI, section 4)

The Irano-Afghan race; Iran and Afghanistan

In the previous section we have seen that the Arabs proper belong almost without exception to the most typical and most highly evolved form of the Mediterranean race. The Mesopotamians, on the other hand, represent a blend or a transitional form between the taller Atlanto-Mediterranean and the Irano-Afghan race, while the Arabic-speaking peoples on either side of the Persian Gulf contain a large contingent of a short, roundheaded, laterally built, maritime population which has played a considerable part in the history of Arabian navigation. The Irano-Afghan race, prominent since Sumerian times in Mesopotamia, is the chief population element in the entire highland territory from the western border of Iran to northern India. In the present section we shall deal primarily with the peoples of this mountain area who speak various forms of Iranian and allied Indo-European languages. Map 12 shows the general distribution of these Iranian-speaking peoples, and of their neighbors.19

The languages of Iranian type spoken in this part of the world may be divided into three sub-groups—(a) western Iranian or Persian; (b) eastern Iranian, which includes Pushtu and Baluchi; (c) Dardic, an ill-defined group of Satem dialects closely related to Iranian, but probably not to be included as a branch of the general Iranian stock. Its relationship is parallel to Iranian rather than derivative.

MAP 12
The distribution of Iranian languages


The Iranian languages, Persian, Afghan Pushtu, Pathan Pushtu, Baluchi, and Tajik, as well as the closely related Dardic, including Kafiri, have been left unstippled. One Iranian language, Ossetian, which is spoken in the Caucasus, is not shown here. Sanskrit derivatives are indicated by large dots, and non-Indo-European languages by other stipples. The linguistic boundaries are not exact, since the purpose of the map is instruction and clarity rather than technical accuracy. The boundary between Persian and Pushtu is actually vague, since the two languages overlap widely.


The present kingdom of Iran, formerly called Persia, is for the most part occupied by Persian-speaking peoples. In the northwest, the Azerbaijani Turkish speech of the eastern Caucasus is the commonest medium, while groups of Indo-European-speaking Armenians and Kurds are also found in this part of Iranian territory. The southern shore of the Caspian Sea is somewhat of a linguistic medley, with small groups of Turkish speakers, while the whole northeastern border country of the Iranian kingdom stretching east of the Caspian is occupied by Turkomans, who continue over into northern Afghanistan. The valley of the Oxus River in northwestern Afghanistan is really Afghan Turkestan.

In the eastern part of the Iranian kingdom, in Khorassan, one finds not only Persians, but also Pushtu-speaking Afghans. The whole southeastern corner of Iran is occupied by Baluchis, who reach nearly as far west as the seaport of Bandar Abbas, which lies just east of the Arabics-peaking town of Lenja. This southeastern section occupied by Baluchis is called Persian Makran. These Baluchis are part of the western Baluchi group, which also occupies most of Baluchistan. They are separated from the eastern Baluchis by groups of Indian speakers and by the non-Indo Brahui.

In northern Afghanistan, immediately south of the Turki area, lies the inaccessible mountain territory of the Kafir, a curiously primitive group of Dardic speakers, who resisted the attempts of the Afghans to convert them to Islam until early in the present century. These Kafirs are divided into strictly segregated social classes, representing conquerors and aborigines. The conquering groups speak various Dardic dialects, while it is said that some of the aboriginal peoples belonging to socially inferior clans and villages speak non-Indo-European languages. The exact nature of these languages, however, has not yet been determined To the east of Kafiristan is the Hunza country, north of Gilgit, where a number of languages of apparently Caucasic affinity are spoken. The best known of these is Burushaski.20 Other languages spoken in the Tibetan Himalayas may be related to this same linguistic family.

The Pathan group is divided into two main sub-divisions. One is that of the western Pathans, or Afghans proper, who live in the country which extends from beyond the Iranian border to Jallalabad, and includes the territory of Kabul and the plains of Kandahar. The eastern Pathans occupy the northeastern part of Baluchistan, including the Suleiman Mountain range, and the southern two-thirds of the Northwestern Frontier Province of India. These eastern Pathans include the Pathans proper, the Afridis, the Mohmands, and the Waziris.

In the Hazara Jat of central Afghanistan, southwest of Kabul and southeast of Herat, lives an isolated body of Turkish-speaking people who are historically and racially of Mongol origin, being a remnant of the great Mongol expansion of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. These Hazara have tended to be endogamous, and have had little influence on the physical type of the Iranian-speaking peoples.

Outside of the area which we shall discuss in this chapter, but included on Map 12, are the Tajiks, sedentary agricultural peoples of Iranian speech who live in the mountains of northwesternmost Afghanistan and adjoining parts of Russian Turkestan. They are descended from an early sedentary population of the Turkestan plains area, which was driven into the mountains by the inroads of Turkish-speaking peoples, who now occupy most of the Turkestan plain. Racially, the Tajiks are predominantly Alpine, and therefore will be discussed in the next chapter.

Let us first consider the racial characters of the Persians themselves. Very little has been published about the physical anthropology of this people, but, with the help of unpublished material, it is possible to make a number of reasonably accurate generalizations about their physical type.21

In the first place, they belong as a group to the Irano-Afghan branch of the Mediterranean race. Their stature varies regionally from about 164 to 169 cm., and thus ranges from medium to moderately tall. The relative sitting height is in most groups low, indicating that the long legged, short-bodied condition of the Mediterraneans seen in Arabia is also prevalent here. The cephalic index is usually low, ranging from 73 to 76 in different groups, although one mountain tribe, the Bakhtiari, is brachycephalic.21 The actual head dimensions are slightly greater than those among Yemenis, but of typically Mediterranean proportions. The mean head lengths range about the 190 mm. mark, and the head breadths about 141 or 142 mm. The faces are similar in breadth to those of Arabs, but the bigonial diameters are greater, ranging between 105 and 110 mm.; the faces are, at the same time, variable in length, but, on the whole, longer than those found in most parts of Arabia. Facial indices are leptoprosopic, upper facial indices leptene, and the noses are markedly leptorrhine, and usually convex in profile. As photographs of these people show, the jaw is frequently deeper and heavier than is the case among Arabs.

Although the Persians derive their language from Nordics who entered the Iranian plateau from the plains to the north, there is little evidence of Nordic blood in the population except as it appears rarely among individuals. Pigmentation is prevailingly dark. The hair color is usually black or dark brown, with a minority of reddish-brown and brown tints among certain isolated groups such as the Lurs in eastern Iran. Eye color is usually dark brown, but the usual minority of mixed eyes is characteristic, and is especially marked among the Lurs.

In addition to the Bakhtiari, there are small enclaves of brachycephalic peoples in Iran, particularly in the cities, but the population as a whole is long-headed. Persian brachycephaly may have been derived from two sources, from the Alpines and Armenoids to the north, and from the Baluchis to the south. The Bakhtiari say that their ancestors came from the Lebanon country in Syria.

The published information upon the physical type of the Afghans is even scantier than that from Persia, but again we may fortunately draw upon unpublished information.23 These Afghans and Pathans are in most respects as similar to the Persians as they are to each other. The Afghans, however, are shorter than the Pathans, since the former have a mean stature of 163 cm. and the latter of 170 cm. The body build of both people is slight to intermediate. A relative sitting height of 52.6 found among Afghanis is close to that of Europeans, while most of the Pathans fall a point lower. The heads of these people range in length from 188 to 192 mm. by tribes, and in breadth from 141 to 145 mm. The cephalic indices of the Afghanis and Pathans vary between tribal means of 72 and 75; except for the Khattak and Bangash, who live in proximity to the Baluchis, and who have a mean of 77. The vault height of all of these peoples is quite low, with means of 121 to 123 mm. Faces are usually long, reaching a maximum mean of 129 mm. among the Afridis, and are at the same time only moderately narrow, with bizygomatic means of 135 to 137 mm. Foreheads and jaws are of moderate dimensions; 104 mm. is the usual mean for the minimum frontal, and 103 mm. for the bigonial.

In the total face height and the three facial breadths, these Pathan speakers cannot be distinguished from Nordics. The upper face height, however, serves as a means of differentiation, since it is extremely long; and the noses, at the same time, reach the extreme length of 61 mm. Their mean facial index of 94 and upper facial index of 56 place these people in an extremely long- and narrow-faced category, while the nasal index of 61 confirms their extreme leptorrhiny.

If one compares these measurements with those from the Yemen on the one hand and from the eastern provinces of Norway on the other, one sees that the Iranian-speakers are much closer to the Nordic mean than to that of the normal Mediterraneans. The head dimensions of the Afghans and Pathans are slightly smaller than those of Nordics, and the vault height is lower,24 but the facial dimensions are essentially similar, except that the upper face and nose heights of the Afghans and Pathans are greater.

The Afghans and Pathans, like the Persians, are usually brunet, and at the same time show a persistent minority of blondism, which in this case reflects Nordic admixture. They are heavy-bearded, and possess heavy body hair. Their facial features show a maximum of bony relief, and, on the whole, their facial skeletons seem much heavier and much more strongly marked than those of the more delicate Arabian Mediterraneans. They possess, in common with the Arabian Mediterranean group, a sharpness in definition of feature which stands in contrast to the coarser lineaments of the average Mesopotamian countenance.

In respect to the Dardic group, we have a certain amount of published and unpublished information which will be useful here.25

The Kafirs of the Kati tribe, who live in the easternmost section of Kafiristan, are taller and larger-headed than the Pathans, but still essentially dolichocephalic and leptorrhine.26 They seem also to possess a high ratio of blondism. Like the Pathans, their commonest skin color is a medium brunet white, von Luschan #9, but in hair and eye color they seem to be lighter than the Pushtu-speaking peoples. Thirty-four per cent have mixed or light eyes, as opposed to 20 per cent of Pushtus. Their hair color, according to Stein, is blond or light brown in 28 per cent of the group.27

It would seem that the upper class of the Kafirs contains a much larger proportion of the invading, Indo-European-speaking Nordic type than is found among the Persians and Afghans. This is not surprising, since Kafiristan is essentially a refuge area. The lower classes of the Kafiri population seem to be shorter in stature, somewhat smaller-headed, and may perhaps be broader-nosed.28

Other Dardic-speaking peoples, studied by Ujfalvy, are of moderate stature, with means between 163 and 166 cm., dolicho- to mesocephallc, with mean cephalic indices of 76, and moderately leptorrhine, with a nasal index mean of 64. The pigmentation is usually brunet, with a minority of blondism, the beards heavy, and the hair form wavy. On the whole, judging from present material, the Dardic-speakers seem to the be essentially the same as the Afghans and Pathans, with the addition of a strong Nordic element among some of the Kafirs, and a smaller, essentially Mediterranean factor among the lower classes of the same population.

The non-Indo-European-speaking Burushaski of Hunza, measured by Dixon, may be compared to the Dardic-speaking peoples. The mean stature of 92 Burushaski is 168 cm., the head length 190 mm., its breadth 146 mm., and the cephalic index 77. Facially the Burushaski seem likewise to resemble the Dardic-speakers,29 and both are essentially Irano-Afghan in racial type. This type is apparently the autochthonous element in the southern slopes of the western Himalayas, as well as in the plateau of Iran and Afghanistan. The invasion of the Iranian ancestors, who brought Indo-European speech to this plateau and mountain country, seems to have had little lasting racial affect, except in Kafiristan. (STOP)

Before leaving the subject of Iranian-speaking peoples in the western Asiatic highlands, let us return to the northwestern end of this area, and consider the Kurds, who are thought to be the descendants of the Karduchoi encountered by Xenophon and his ten thousand in their march from Persia to the Black Sea.

The present-day Kurds are partial or complete nomads who graze their flocks in the three countries of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and who, owing to their warlike activities, have been periodically ejected from each. They are tall men, with a mean stature which, although variable by tribal groups, lies usually between 168 and 170 cm.30 The mean cephalic index of Kurdish tribesmen measured in Kurdistan and the Caucasic region is consistently 77 or 78; the Kurds have preserved their dolichocephaly intact. Their pigmentation is for the most part brunet, although there is a distinct blond minority which, as with the Riffians, has led travellers to describe the Kurds, as a whole, as blond; their nasal profiles are usually convex or straight, and their total metrical character, so far as it is known, indicates that they are a mixture between the Irano-Afghan racial type described earlier in this section and the ancestral Iranian Nordics, with a larger minority of the latter factor than is usual in Iran. Culturally racially they have conserved the ancestral type with more fidelity than the majority of their linguistic brethren. It is particularly remarkable that, living in close proximity to pronounced brachycephals in Anatolia, Armenia, and the Caucasus, the majority of them have preserved their ancient dolichocephaly.

All groups of Kurds, however, have not fully escaped this brachycephalization. The Bilikani Kurds, who live among Armenians near Erivan, have a mean cephalic index of 84; others, who live in northeastern Iraq and who are fully sedentary, have been altered to a lesser extent through admixture. A small sample measured at Kirkuk has a cephalic index mean of 82, and a mean stature of 170 cm.; despite the change in head form the facial dimensions remain both long and narrow; the facial index of 93 is leptoprosopic, the nasal index of 60 on the lower border of leptorrhiny. The Kurdish facial features are more persistent than the Kurdish head form.



19 I am indebted to Dr. Gordon T. Bowles for help in preparing both the map and this summary.

See p. 175.

I am deeply indebted to Dr. Henry Field for permission to summarize his unpublished series of 52 Lurs, 46 men from Yezd-i-Khast, and 73 from Kinareh. Older references include
Chantre, E., BSAP, vol. 14, 1895, pp. 26—29.
Danilov, N. P., IILE, vol. 88, 1894, Cols. 1—147.
Houssay, M., BSAL, vol. 16, 1887, pp. 101—148.
Khanikoff, N., Mémoire sur l’Ethnographie de la Perse.

22 Kappers, A. C. U., The Anthropology of the Near East.

23 Dr. Gordon T. Bowles, who measured some 6000 adult males in the country running between eastern Afghanistan and Burma, all of whom were inhabitants of the Himalayan foothills and valleys, and of the adjacent Tibetan plateau, has kindly given me his permission to draw upon his series of 40 Afghanis from the Jillalabad plain, 40 Afridis, 42 Mohmands, and 40 Khattak and Bangash. With the addition of 6 Gilzais, this makes a total series of 168 Pushtu speakers from Afghanistan. Published data from this region may be found in the Ethnographic Survey of India, Calcutta, 1909. (See Anonymous, Anthropometric Data from Baluchistan.

Early Nordic crania from Turkestan and from Armenia are low-vaulted. See pp. 169—170, 201.

25 Dixon, R. B., a series of 92 Burushaskis of Hunza, seriated by the author and published by B. S. Guha, in Census of India.
Guha, B. S., Census of India.
Joyce, T. A., JRAI, vol. 42, 1912, pp. 450—484.
Ujfalvy, K. E. von, Aus dem westilichen Himalaja.
Also unpublished materal of Dr. Bowles.
26 Guha’s data on the Red Kafirs presented in his 1931 Census of India volume includes no exact figures, aside from observation percentages. Guha, op. cit., p. xviii.

27 Stein, Sir Aurel, Serindia, Appendix C, vol. 3, pp. 1387—1388.

28 Joyce’s series of 18 Kafirs has the relatively short stature mean of 167 cm., a cephalic index of 76.9. His facial measurements appear unreliable.

29 The low facial and high nasal indices given by Dixon are apparently the result of a mistake in locating nasion.

30 Chantre, E., Récherches anthropologiques dans l’Asie Occidentale.
Ehrich, R. W., unpublished series in Peabody Museum.
Kappers, C. U. A., and Parr, L. W., An Introduction to the Anthropology of the Near East.
Nassonoff N. W., IILE, vol. 68, 1890, pp. 400—401, résumé in AFA, vol. 24, 1896, pp. 646-647