Caucasian race

Caucasian race

The Caucasian race (also Caucasoid[1] or occasionally Europid[2]) is a taxon historically used to describe the physical or biological type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia.[3] The term was used in biological anthropology for many people from these regions, without regard necessarily to skin tone.[4] First introduced in early racial science and anthropometry, the taxon has historically been used to denote one of the three proposed major races (Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid) of humankind.[5] Although its validity and utility are disputed by many anthropologists, Caucasoid as a biological classification remains in use,[6] particularly within the field of forensic anthropology.[5]


  • Origin of the concept 1
    • Relation to whiteness 1.1
  • Physical anthropology 2
  • Classification 3
  • Origin 4
  • Usage in the United States 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Literature 9

Origin of the concept

The Caucasus.

The term "Caucasian race" was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners' term was given wider circulation in the 1790s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German professor of medicine and member of the British Royal Society, who is considered one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology.[7]

Meiners' treatise was widely read in the German intellectual circles of its day, despite muted criticism of its scholarship. Meiners proposed a taxonomy of human beings which involved only two races (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians. He considered Caucasians to be more physically attractive than Mongolians, notably because they had paler skin; Caucasians were also more sensitive and more morally virtuous than Mongolians. Later he would make similar distinctions within the Caucasian group, concluding that the Germans were the most attractive and virtuous people on earth. The name "Caucasian" derived from the neotype") for the grouping.

Meiners' classification was not grounded on any scientific criteria. It was Blumenbach who gave it scientific credibility and a wider audience, by grounding it in the new quantitative method of craniology. Blumenbach did not credit Meiners with his taxonomy, however, claiming to have developed it himself — although his justification clearly points to Meiners' aesthetic viewpoint:

Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces [8]

Relation to whiteness

Distribution of the races after the Pleistocene according to Carleton Coon.
  Caucasoid race
  Congoid race
  Capoid race
  Mongoloid race
  Australoid race

In his earlier racial typology, Meiners put forth that Caucasians had the "whitest, most blooming and most delicate skin".[9] Europeans with darker skin he considered "dirty whites", admixed with Mongolians. Such views were typical of early scientific attempts at racial classification, where skin pigmentation was regarded as the main difference between races. This view was shared by the French naturalist Julien-Joseph Virey, who believed that the Caucasians were only the palest-skinned Europeans.[10]

In various editions of On the Natural Variety of Mankind, Blumenbach expanded on Meiners' popular idea and defined five human races based on color, using popular racial terms of his day, justified with scientific terminology, cranial measurements, and facial features. He established Caucasian as the "white race," as well as Mongoloid as the "yellow race," Malayan the "brown race," Ethiopian the "black race," American the "red race." [11] In the 3rd edition of his On the Natural Variety of Mankind, Blumenbach moved skin tone to second-tier importance after noticing that poorer European people (such as peasants) whom he observed generally worked outside, often became darker skinned ("browner") through sun exposure.[12] He also noticed that darker skin of an "olive-tinge" was a natural feature of some European populations closer to the [14]

Among the proponents of the concept there was never any consensus on the delineation between the Caucasoid race, including the populations of Europe, and the Mongoloid one, including the populations of East Asia. Thus, Carleton S. Coon (1939) and Franco Bragagna (2013) included the populations native to all of Central and Northern Asia under the Caucasoid label. However, many scientists maintained the racial categorizations of color established by Meiners' and Blumenbach's works, along with many other early steps of anthropology, well into the late 19th and mid-to-late 20th centuries, increasingly used to justify political policies, such as segregation and immigration restrictions, and other opinions based in prejudice. For example, Thomas Henry Huxley (1870) classified all populations of Asian nations as Mongoloid. Lothrop Stoddard (1920) in turn classified as "brown" most of the populations of the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Central Asia and South Asia. He counted as "white" only European peoples and their descendants, as well as a few populations in areas adjacent to or opposite southern Europe, in parts of Anatolia and parts of the Rif and Atlas mountains.

Physical anthropology

A Bedouin man of Arabid type with aquiline features.

Drawing from Morton, Peschel, Seligman, Bean, Ripley, Haddon and Dixon came to recognize other Caucasoid morphological features, such as prominent supraorbital ridges and a sharp nasal sill.[17] Many anthropologists in the 20th century used the term "Caucasoid" in their literature, such as Boyd, Gates, Coon, Cole, Brues and Krantz replacing the earlier term "Caucasian" as it had fallen out of usage.[18]

The physical traits of Caucasoid crania are still recognised as distinct (in contrast to Mongoloid and Negroid races) within modern forensic anthropology. A Caucasoid skull is identified, with an accuracy of up to 95%, by the following features:[19][20][21][22][23]

Other physical characteristics of Caucasoids include hair texture that varies from straight to curly,[4] with wavy (cymotrichous) hair most typical on average according to Coon (1962), in contrast to the Negroid and Mongoloid races. Individual hairs are also rarely as sparsely distributed and coarse as found in Mongoloids.[4]

Skin color amongst Caucasoids ranges greatly from pale, reddish-white, olive, through to dark brown tones.[4]


According to the Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (1885–90), Caucasoid was one of the three great races of humankind, alongside Mongoloid and Negroid. The taxon was taken to consist of a number of subtypes. The Caucasoid peoples were usually divided into three groups on ethnolinguistic grounds, termed Aryan (Indo-European), Semitic (Semitic languages), and Hamitic (Hamitic languages i.e. Berber-Cushitic-Egyptian).[24]

The postulated subraces vary depending on the author, including but not limited to Mediterranean, Atlantid, Nordic, East Baltic, Alpine, Dinaric, Turanid, Armenoid, Iranid, Arabid, and Hamitic.[25]

19th century classifications of the peoples of India considered the Dravidians of non-Caucasoid stock as Australoid or a separate Dravida race, and assumed a gradient of miscegenation of high-caste Caucasoid Aryans and indigenous Dravidians. In his 1939 The Races of Europe, Carleton S. Coon thus described the Veddoid race as "possess[ing] an obvious relationship with the aborigines of Australia, and possibly a less patent one with the Negritos" and as "the most important element in the Dravidian-speaking population of southern India".[26] In his later The Living Races of Man (1965), Coon considerably amended his views, acknowledging that "India is the easternmost outpost of the Caucasoid racial region". However, he still recognized an Australoid substrate throughout the subcontinent, writing that "the earliest peoples who have left recognizable survivors were both Caucasoid and Australoid food gatherers. Some of the survivors are largely Caucasoid; others are largely Australoid."[27]

There was no universal consensus of the validity of the "Caucasoid" grouping within those who attempted to categorize human variation. Thomas Henry Huxley in 1870 wrote that the "absurd denomination of 'Caucasian'" was in fact a conflation of his Xanthochroi and Melanochroi types.[28]

In 1920, H. G. Wells referred to the Mediterranean race as the Iberian race. He regarded it as a fourth sub-race of the Caucasoid race, along with the Aryan, Semitic, and Hamitic sub-races. He stated that the main ethnic group that most purely represented the racial stock of the Iberian race was the Basques, and that the Basques were the descendants of the Cro-Magnons.[29]

Over the European and Mediterranean area and western Asia there are, and have been for many thousand years, white peoples usually called the Caucasians, subdivided into two or three subdivisions, the northern blonds or Nordic race, an alleged intermediate race about which many authorities are doubtful, the so-called Alpine race and the southern dark whites, the Mediterranean or Iberian race.[30]


The original "Old man of Crô-Magnon", Musée de l'Homme, Paris

According to Carleton Coon, the earliest center of evolution of Caucasoids is uncertain, but it is unlikely to have been located in Europe.[31]

Among the earliest anatomically modern human settlements in Europe were established in Kostenki-Borshchevo, Voronezh Oblast in southwestern Russia. Ancient DNA sequencing of a 37,000 year old male skeleton from the area, Kostenki XIV or Markina Gora, indicates that these early settlers possessed a similar genetic makeup as modern Europeans, but had dark skin and dark eyes. They also possessed slightly more Neanderthal genes than modern populations in Europe and Asia due to interbreeding with Neanderthals over 45,000 years ago.[32] In a study of Cro-Magnon crania, Jantz and Owsley (2003) have noted that these "Upper Paleolithic crania are, for the most part, larger and more generalized versions of recent Europeans."[33]

William Howells (1997) has argued that Cro-Magnons were Caucasoid based on their cranial traits:

... the Cro-Magnons were already racially European, i.e., Caucasoid. This has always been accepted because of the general appearance of the skulls: straight faces, narrow noses, and so forth. It is also possible to test this arithmetically. ... Except for Predmosti 4, which is distant from every present and past population, all of these skulls show themselves to be closer to "Europeans" than to other peoples — Mladec and Abri Pataud comfortably so, the other two much more remotely.[34]

Carleton Coon (1962) argued that Caucasoid traits emerged prior to the Cro-Magnons, and were present in the Skhul and Qafzeh hominids. He considered the Skhul IV specimen as a proto-Caucasoid.[35] Coon further asserted that the Caucasoid race is of dual origin, consisting of Mediterranean types (purely Homo sapiens) and Upper Paleolithic types (mixture of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals).

More recent analysis of Cro-Magnon fossils indicates that they had larger skulls than modern populations, and possessed a dolichocephalic (long) and low cranium, with a wide face. It also suggests that some Cro-Magnons may have had brown skin.[36]

Usage in the United States

In the United States, the term "Caucasoid" is used in disciplines such as anthropology, craniometry, epidemiology, forensic medicine and forensic archaeology. It is also sometimes associated with notions of racial typology.

Besides its use in anthropology and related fields, the term "Caucasian" has often been used in the United States in a different, social context to describe a group commonly called "White people".[37] "White" also appears as a self-reporting entry in the U.S. Census.[38] Between 1917 and 1965, immigration to the United States was restricted by a national origins quota. The Supreme Court in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) decided that Asian Indians were ineligible for citizenship because, though deemed "Caucasian" anthropologically, they were not white like European descendants since most laypeople did not consider them "white" people. This represented a change from the Supreme Court's earlier opinion in Ozawa v. United States, in which it had expressly approved of two lower court cases holding "high caste Hindus" to be "free white persons" within the meaning of the naturalization act. Government lawyers later recognized that the Supreme Court had "withdrawn" this approval in Thind.[39] In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed a new law establishing a small immigration quota for Indians, which also permitted them to become citizens. Major changes to immigration law, however, only later came in 1965, when many earlier racial restrictions on immigration were lifted.[40] This is where the confusion on whether American Hispanics are included as "white," as the term Hispanic originally applied to Spanish heritage but has since expanded to include all people with Hispanophone ancestry. In other countries, the term Hispanic is not nearly as associated with race, but with the Spanish language and cultural affiliation.

The United States National Library of Medicine often used the term "Caucasian" as a race in the past. However, it later discontinued such usage in favor of the more narrow geographical term "European", which traditionally only applied to a subset of Caucasoids.[41]

See also


  1. ^ For a contrast with the "Mongolic" or Mongoloid race, see footnote #4 of page 58–59 in Beckwith, Christopher. (2009). Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-13589-2. OCLC 800915872.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c d Grolier Incorporated, Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 6: Cathedrals to Civil War, (Grolier Incorporated, 2001), p.85. OCLC 615043106.
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^ Luigi Marino, I Maestri della Germania (1975) OCLC 797567391; translated into German as Praeceptores Germaniae: Göttingen 1770-1820 OCLC 34194206. See also B. Isaac, The invention of racism in classical antiquity, Princeton University Press, 2004, p. 105 OCLC 51942570; The Anatomy of Difference: Race and Sex in Eighteenth-Century Science, Londa Schiebinger, Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 23, No. 4, Special Issue: The Politics of Difference, Summer, 1990, pp. 387–405; B. Rupp-Eisenreich, "Des Choses Occultes en Histoire des Sciences Humaines: le Destin de la ‘Science Nouvelle’ de Christoph Meiners", L'Ethnographie v.2 (1983), p. 151; F. Dougherty, "Christoph Meiners und Johann Friedrich Blumenbach im Streit um den Begriff der Menschenrasse," in G. Mann and F. Dumont, eds., Die Natur des Menschen ,p. 103-104. An article published online gives a synopsis of Meiners' life and theories: N. Painter, "Why White People are Called Caucasian?", Yale University, September 27, 2007.[1] Another online document reviews the early history of race theory.18th and 19th Century Views of Human Variation The treatises of Blumenbach can be found online here.
  8. ^ Blumenbach, De generis humani varietate nativa (3rd ed. 1795), trans. Bendyshe (1865). Quoted e.g. in Arthur Keith, '"Blumenbach's Centenary", Man (journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland), v.40, p.82-85 (1940).
  9. ^ "Gender and Germanness: cultural productions of nation", Magda Mueller, Patricia Herminghouse, 1998, p. 28.
  10. ^ Baum, Bruce David. The Rise and Fall of the Caucasian Race: A Political History of Racial Identity. New York University: 2006.
  11. ^ RACE - History - Early Classification of Nature
  12. ^ On the Natural Variety of Mankind, 3rd ed. (1795) in Bendyshe: 227, 214.
  13. ^ On the Natural Variety of Mankind, 3rd ed. (1795) in Bendyshe: 209, 210.
  14. ^ On the Natural Variety of Mankind, 3rd ed. (1795) in Bendyshe: 264–265; "racial face," 229.
  15. ^ "Miriam Claude Meijer, Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper", 1722–1789, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999, pp. 169–174.
  16. ^ Bertoletti, Stefano Fabbri. 1994. The anthropological theory of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. In Romanticism in science, science in Europe, 1790–1840.
  17. ^ See individual literature for such Caucasoid identifications, while the following article gives a brief overview: How "Caucasoids" Got Such Big Crania and Why They Shrank: From Morton to Rushton, Leonard Lieberman, Current Anthropology, Vol. 42, No. 1, February 2001, pp. 69–95.
  18. ^ "People and races", Alice Mossie Brues, Waveland Press, 1990, notes how the term Caucasoid replaced Caucasian.
  19. ^ Bass, William M. 1995. Human Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual. Columbia: Missouri Archaeological Society, Inc.
  20. ^ Eckert, William G. 1997. Introduction to Forensic Science. United States of America: CRC Press, Inc.
  21. ^ Gill, George W. 1998. "Craniofacial Criteria in the Skeletal Attribution of Race. " In Forensic Osteology: Advances in the Identification of Human Remains. (2nd edition) Reichs, Kathleen l(ed.), pp. 293–315.
  22. ^ Krogman, Wilton Marion and Mehmet Yascar Iscan 1986. The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine. Springfield: Charles C.Thomas.
  23. ^ Racial Identification in the Skull and Teeth, Totem: The University of Western, Ontario Journal of Anthropology, Volume 8, Issue 1 2000 Article 4.
  24. ^ Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, 4th edition, 1885-90.
  25. ^
  26. ^ The Veddoid periphery, Hadhramaut to Baluchistan
  27. ^ Cartelon Coon, The Living Races of Man, Knopf, 1969, p.207
  28. ^ T. H. Huxley, On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind, Journal of the Ethnological Society of London (1870).
  29. ^ Wells, H. G. The Outline of History New York:1920 Doubleday & Co. Volume I Chapter XI "The Races of Mankind" Pages 131–144 See Pages 98, 137, and 139
  30. ^ The Outline of History: Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind by H. G. Wells, Eighth Revision, printed in November 1934, Chapter 11, § 2, p.134.
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Reply to
  34. ^ "Getting Here: The Story of Human Evolution", 1997, Compass Press, p. 188.
  35. ^ The Origin of Races. Random House Inc, 1962, p. 570.
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^ "Not All Caucasians Are White: The Supreme Court Rejects Citizenship for Asian Indians", History Matters
  41. ^



  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Varieties of Mankind (1775) — the book that introduced the concept
  • — a history of the pseudoscience of race, skull measurements, and IQ inheritability
  • — a major reference of modern population genetics