(Chapter XII, section 4)


The Netherlands and Frisia

In the days when the country south of the Rhine was Keltic, those portions of the present kingdom of Netherlands which lie north of that river were occupied, along the coast and on the islands, by Frisians, and to the east of the Zuyder Zee by a Frankish tribe, the Batavii. Farther to the north and east lived the Saxons, south of whom was the main home of the Franks. Troubles between the Saxons and Franks impelled the latter to cross the Rhine and dislodge the Belgae; at the same time some of the Saxons settled in the northern Netherlands, in the Groningen country. Thus the northern half of the Netherlands had been Germanic territory since the earliest settlement of Germanic peoples in the country between the Rhine and the Elbe, which dates back to at least 500 B.C.;27 the southern half shares its Germanic history with Flanders.

Linguistically the Netherlands is divided into two parts, the greater area, in which modern Dutch, a Frankish derivative closely related to Flemish, is spoken; and the lesser area in which the idiom is Frisian. Frisian is a waning language, since it is not official in any country. It once, however, was spoken all along the North Sea coast from western Flanders to Denmark. At present it is spoken only on the Frisian islands and in the Dutch province of Friesland, as well as in a small section of Schleswig-Holstein. The Frisian Islands belong partly to the Netherlands, and partly to Germany. In the present section we shall overstep political frontiers in order to treat the Frisians as an ethnic unit.

The geography of the Netherlands has not, in historic times, been static; Dutch history has been an endless struggle between the inroads of the sea over gradually sinking land and human ingenuity.28 Before the Netherlanders undertook the task of dyke-building, their ancestors made use of a less effective engineering device, the terp, or artificial habitation platform. The Iron Age farmers built these flat mounds out on land subject to flooding; on the terps they erected their houses, and in them buried their dead. At the times of the two semi-annual equinoctial floods, they crowded their livestock and all their perishable belongings on the tops of these edifices.

Although the terps would withstand ordinary floods, every now and then came an inundation which swept over their tops and destroyed much life and property. One such flood, dated by historians at 350 B.C., is believed to have isolated the West Frisian islands from the mainland, and to have let the sea into the erstwhile fresh-water lake, which from then on became the Zuyder Zee. The Cimbri, the first Germanic invaders of Italy, are supposed to have migrated en masse from the Low Countries after this great flood, and their account of it greatly impressed the Romans. From then on disasters of this kind continued until the building of adequate dykes during the Middle Ages. Of all the Lowlanders, including the Flemings, the Saxons, and the Frisians, the Frisians have taken the greatest losses, and have had much of their land washed out from under their feet.

The total of pre-Iron Age skeletal material from the Netherlands is small,29 but from what there is, coupled with a general knowledge of local archaeology, we may deduce that in the Neolithic period the southern priovinces of Limburg and North Brabant were culturally and racially connected with Belgium, while in the northern and coastal provinces the Danish and North German cultures forund a southern extension. Later the Bell Beaker people used the mouth of the Rhine as a route of entry into southern Germany, and also as a point of departure for Britain. It is likely that some, at least, of the Borreby blood which the Bell Beaker people absorbed before their departure for England came from this source. With the expansion of the Germanic peoples into the portion of the Netherlands lying north of the Rhine, the coastal fringe of Borreby people broke into isolated groups, and many of these early inhabitants were absorbed.30 The arrival of the Germanic settlers, and the erection of the terps, which date from about 500 B.C. to 800 A.D., provided the first real skeletal evidence of consequence.31

There are two main areas in which terps were built; along the coast of Friesland and along that of Groningen. The two areas are not contiguos, being divided by the inlet known as Lauwers Zee. The former is called Friterpia, the latter Groterpia. The crania from both these regions are typically Nordic in the early Germanic sense; the Friterpians, with a mean cephalic index of 73.7, were slightly longer headed than the Groterpians, whose means is 75.4. Both of these skeletal groups are moderately high-vaulted, with mean basion-bregma heights of 136 mm.; in this dimension as in those of the face, they resemble very closely the crania of the early Anglo-Saxons who invaded England. Some of the Friterpian skulls are very low-vaulted, and show evidence of deformation; this is still practiced on the island of Marken in the Zuyder Zee, where the picturesque head-dress so admired by tourists is said to be the effective agent.32 In both groups most of the individual skulls are of classic Germanic type; some, however, are mesocephalic, and incline morphologically in the direction of the Brünn race, or the Borreby. These latter are commoner in Groterpia than in Friterpia. Part of this Palaeolithic strain may have been brought in by the Germanic ancestors, part absorbed locally.

During the Middle Ages the cranial form of the inhabitants of Groterpia and Friterpia, who had by now come down off their terps, changed gradually. The West Frisians from Friterpian country grew less dolichocephalic, until their mean cranial indices rose to 77; the Groningen people retained their lead of a single index point, with 78. These changes involved the vault almost entirely, and had little effect on the face.

A series of crania from Zuid Beveland, the largest island of the province of Zeeland, comes from a section of the island which was swamped by flood in 1530 and 1532; they date from the period immediately before this disaster. These skulls are markedly brachycephalic,33 and support the evidence of Saaftingen that the Scheldt region was a pocket of survival for round-headed coastal people well through the Middle Ages.

The living Netherlanders, as is to be expected, belong more to a Nordic type than to any other, while large-headed brachycephals form an important minority. The stature of Dutch conscripts has increased from 164 cm. in 1863-67, to 171 cm. in 1921-25.34 At its present level Dutch stature shows marked regional values; Limburg, which extends southward between Belgium and Germany as a Dutch appendage, has a mean of 168 cm., comparable to that of Flemings. North Brabant's mean is 169 cm., and Zeeland's 170 cm. The coastal provinces north of the Rhine are taller than those inland; the tallest being Friesland, with a mean of 172 cm.

The mean cephalic index of the Netherlands is 80.3. The regional variation is slight, but geographically significant; the West Frisian Islands have indices of 79, and in general the northern coast is the longest-headed part of the country, while the southern and eastern provinces have higher means.35 The general picture of the Dutch as a predominantly Nordic people who have absorbed a certain amount of Upper Palaeolithic European blood is substantiated by a detailed study of 70 Netherlanders measured both at home and in America.36 This group, with a mean stature of 173 cm. and a cephalic index of 79, fits almost exactly into the metrical category of the British and Americans of British descent. The dimensions of the head and face are definitely Nordic, with a suggestion of the Palaeolithic strains in a number of measurements, notably the bigonial mean og 108 mm.

The pigmentation of the Dutch as a group is predominantly blond; the inhabitants of the provinces north of the Rhine may be included in the lightest zone of Europe.37 South of the Rhine, brown and dark-mixed eyes, which are rare in the north, rise to 30 per cent and over of the population, and are especially numerous in Zeeland and Limburg. The commonest hair color among the Dutch is brown, of light to medium shade, but golden blondism is common in the north, especially in Frisian country.

The Frisians have been studied in more detail than the rest of the Netherlanders; the consideration of this group leads us outside Dutch territory, however, for the Frisians, like the Basques, are an ethnic unit but not a nation. They differ from their neighbors not only in language, but also in a number of cultural traits which they possess in common. There are three groups of Frisians; the West Frisians, who occupy the province of Frisia in the Netherlands and the islands from Texel to Rottumeroog, which stretch between the point of North Holland and the mouth of the Ems; the East Frisians, who live on the islands lying between the Ems mouth and the Weser, from Borkum to Wangeroog; and the North Frisians, who live partly on the mainland of Schleswig-Holstein, between Tönder, which is now in Denmark, and Husum, and partly on the islands of Norstrand, Pellworm, and the Halligen. The islanders of Sylt, Föhr, and Amrum are only half Frisian; their dialect contains Saxon elements, and the islanders consider themselves more Saxon than Frisian.

The earliest known home of the Frisians was the island chain of the present West and East Frisia, and the adjacent portions of the mainland. The North Frisians migrated to their present location about 800 A.D., partly taking over abandoned country, and partly absorbing the earlier inhabitants, the Ambrones, whose name has been preserved in that of the island of Amrum. All of the Frisian Islands have suffered from sinking and erosion; many islands have disappeared and others undercut to fractions of their earlier area.

The Frisians were important historically for a few centuries between the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England and the reign of Charlemagne, to whom they submitted in 785 A.D. During this period they were far-wandering seafarers, and engaged in trade with all the countries bordering on the North Sea, and were especially active in the slave trade. The development of the Viking sea power farther north began only after the collapse of the Frisian hegemony.

All three Frisian groups have been subjected to careful anthropometric study; in North Frisia the Wiedingharde and Bökingharde mainlanders,38 in East Frisia the Spiekeroog islanders,39 and in West Frisia the Terschelling islanders,40 have been thoroughly investigated. In all three, the anthropometric results are much the same. They are all tall, with mean statures of 170 cm. or over; all groups run long-legged, with relative sitting height means of 51, broad-shouldered and wide-spanned, with relative spans of 106 and 107.

They are very large-headed, with mean head lengths of 194 mm. to 198 mm., and breadths of 155 mm. to 159 mm. The West and East Frisians are mesocephalic, with mean cephalic indices of 79.5; the North Frisians are sub-brachycephalic, with means of 81.5. The vault heights run from 123 to 125 mm., moderate in view of the great length and breadth dimensions. The faces are large, with minimum frontal diameter means of 108-112 mm., bizygomatics of 140-143 mm., and bigonials of 108-110 mm. The faces are quite long (125-130 mm.) in the West and East Frisian samples, and shorter (120-124 mm.) in North Frisia. Noses are large, and extremely leptorrhine. The nasal profile is straight or wavy in about half the individuals; concave in 15 per cent, and convex in 35 per cent. The hair is blond to medium brown, especially the latter (Saller-Fischer chart A-O), in over 60 per cent, except for the North Frisian parish of Bökingharde, where it is darker; red hair runs as high as 7 per cent on Spiekeroog. The eyes are pure blue or light-mixed in 70 per cent to 80 per cent of instances. The Frisians are among the blondest people in the world.

Metrically and morphologically, the Frisians belong for the most part to a well-marked type, which is very Nordic in the usual sense of the word, but which, in the sense employed in this book, is something different. The Germanic Nordic element is without doubt strong, but the excessive size of head and face, and particularly the facial breadths, make it clear that the old Upper Palaeolithic elements, Brünn as well as Borreby, have been incorporated in quantity. In view of the great facial lengths and the ruggedness and angularity of the facial profile typical of Frisians, and of their spare body build, one is led to postulate an excess of Corded factors as well.

The West and East Frisians conform most frequently to the ideal Frisian form, a long, angular, large-boned type with large hands and feet, a large, bony head and face, with a prominent jaw, thin lips, a long, straight nose, heavy browridges, and a high forehead. In late middle age the features, sharply cut in youth, tend to grow coarser, and the body heavy. In North Frisia, where the Frisian settlement is younger than elsewhere, shorter smaller-framed men, hook-nosed, with retreating foreheads, and often with darker hair and eye color, form a second type, which is palpably Dinaric and may be a survival of the Bronze Age. In all Frisian countries, but particularly in North Frisia, a third type is found as a minor element, a familiar Borreby derivative; it consists of tall, heavy men, whose bodies tend to fat, with round, red faces, and noses which are often snubbed or concave. This type is frequently very blond, and fairer-haired than the more usual Frisian type. In North Frisia its especial frequency is attributed to Jutish infusion from the North.41

The study of the Frisians leads us to the conclusion that the survival of overgrown Upper Palaeolithic types in quantity is not confined to Norway and Ireland, but is equally in evidence along the Dutch and German shores of the North Sea. In all of the so-called Nordic racial area of northwestern Europe, a relatively complex racial situation is encountered in which classical Nordic elements are rarely found in as stable a form as in eastern Norway and in Sweden. Among Frisians, at least, there is evidence that the Brünn and Borreby elements, and the Corded as well, have tended to reëmerge and to form local recombinations. The study of the Frisians will serve as an introduction to the racial problems of northern Germany.


27. Reche, O., VUR, vol. 4, 1929, pp. 129-158, 193-215.

28. Van Overloop, M., BSAB, vol. 6, 1930, pp. 401-417.

29. Van den Broek, A.J.P., MEM, vol. 6, 1930, pp. 401-417.

30. The evidence for the early existence of a coastal fringe of Borreby people reaching from Denmark to Flanders consists largely of survivals. Owing to the subsidence of the land along this shoreline, much of the early skeletal evidence must lie under water.

31. Folmer, H. C., AFA, vol. 26, 1900, pp. 747-763.
Nyessen, D. J. H., The Passing of the Frisians.
Reche, O., VUR, 1929.

32. Barge, J. A. J., PIIA, session 3, Amsterdam, 1927, pp. 63-71.

33. Sasse, A., AFA, vol. 6, 1873, pp. 76-83.

34. Van den Broek, A. J. P., KAWA, vol. 30, #6, 1927, pp. 685-694; PIIA, session 3, Amsterdam, 1927, pp. 211-215.

35. Barge, J. A. J., MEM, pp. 284-285.
Van den Broek, A. J. P., MEM, vol. 6, 1930, pp. 401-417.
Sasse, J., BNAV, 1913, pp. 8-11.
The recent government survey of the C. I. in the Netherlands should soon make it possible to treat this subject with greater clarity.

36. Steggerda, M., AJPA, vol. 16, 1932, pp. 309-337.

37. Beddoe, J., The Races of Britain, p. 203.
Bolk, L., BSAP, ser. 5, vol. 5, 1905, pp. 578-586.
Reche, O., VUR, vol. 4, 1929, pp. 129-158, 193-215.

38. Saller, K., JNVH, vol. 16, 1929, pp. 119-139.

39. Ruhnau, K., ARGB, vol. 16, 1925, pp. 378 ff.

40. Sasse, J., BNAV, 1913, pp. 8-11.

41. Lehmann, O., VUR, vol. 1, 1926, pp. 7-19.