Emergence of Human Races

When did today's continental-based races start to emerge? Presumably people started adapting independently to different environments as soon as the ancestral population dispersed 50,000 years ago. Yet skull types throughout the world remained much the same throughout the Upper Paleolithic period, and it seems that those typical of today's races did not appear until about 12,000 to 10,000 years ago.252 The Han Chinese originated from a small population that emerged around that time and then expanded very quickly, presumably at the expense of its neighbors. The same appears to be true of Caucasians (the peoples of Europe, India and the Near East), whose skulls resemble those of earlier Europeans, as if derived from them, but also differ from them. These earlier Europeans have larger skulls, with heavier jaws and brow ridges, and "should probably not be lumped with living Europeans in a 'Caucasoid' race," says the paleoanthropoligist Richard Klein. It is tempting to see the origin of today's Caucasians and East Asians in the people who lived in the northern latitudes of Europe and Siberia respectively some 20,000 years ago. As mentioned earlier, these populations would have been driven southward by the advancing glaciers of the Last Glacial Maximum. Since all but the southern fringes of the Eurasian continent were converted to polar desert or tundra, the heartlands of both Europe and Asia would probably have been depopulated (see figure 6.2).

When the glaciers began their final retreat 15,000 years ago, the former northerners in both halves of the Eurasian continent would have recolo nized the abandoned latitudes. In this way both Europe and East Asia would have been dominated by peoples originating from groups that 5,000 years earlier had been small populations at some northern extremity of the human population range.

A third continental race, that of American Indians, is descended from a few groups of Siberian ancestors, so also represents the expansion to continental size of a small population. Europeans, East Asians and American Indians seem therefore to be three comparatively young races, and the two other continental races, Aus tralasians and Africans, may be somewhat older in the genealogical sense (that is, have longer branches to the common origin). But Africans and Australian aborigines have had just as long to evolve and, aside from having retained darker skins, may be as different from the ancestral people as are the three races that emerged in northern latitudes. Races arise from the fact that after a population splits, its two halves continue to evolve but along independent paths. These population splits leave their mark not only in the genes but also in language. Like the genes, language is in constant flux, and diverges into daughter tongues after a population goes separate ways. At the time of the ancestral population, there was a human family that spoke, perhaps, a single mother tongue. Having considered the division of the human family into races, it is now time to look at the parallel fragmentation that has occurred in language.

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