Category Archives: Hidden & forgotten history

Aryans – native after all?

(based mainly on Jagat K. Motwani’s None But India [Bharat]: The Cradle of Aryans, Sanskrit, Vedas, & Swastika – ISBN 9781450261272)

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In Western academia the story goes like this: Continue reading Aryans – native after all?

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Cheddar Man: DNA shows early Briton had dark skin

(Reposted from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/amp/science-environment-42939192)

Cheddar Man: DNA shows early Briton had dark skin

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DNA shows early Brit had dark skin
Image caption DNA shows early Brit had dark skin

A cutting-edge scientific analysis shows that a Briton from 10,000 years ago had dark brown skin and blue eyes.

Researchers from London’s Natural History Museum extracted DNA from Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, which was discovered in 1903.

University College London researchers then used the subsequent genome analysis for a facial reconstruction.

It underlines the fact that the lighter skin characteristic of modern Europeans is a relatively recent phenomenon.

No prehistoric Briton of this age had previously had their genome analysed.

As such, the analysis provides valuable new insights into the first people to resettle Britain after the last Ice Age.

The analysis of Cheddar Man’s genome – the “blueprint” for a human, contained in the nuclei of our cells – will be published in a journal, and will also feature in the upcoming Channel 4 documentary The First Brit, Secrets Of The 10,000-year-old Man.

‘Cheddar George’ tweet on early Briton

Cheddar Man’s remains had been unearthed 115 years ago in Gough’s Cave, located in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge. Subsequent examination has shown that the man was short by today’s standards – about 5ft 5in – and probably died in his early 20s.

Prof Chris Stringer, the museum’s research leader in human origins, said: “I’ve been studying the skeleton of Cheddar Man for about 40 years

“So to come face-to-face with what this guy could have looked like – and that striking combination of the hair, the face, the eye colour and that dark skin: something a few years ago we couldn’t have imagined and yet that’s what the scientific data show.”

Cheddar Man
Image captionA replica of Cheddar Man’s skeleton now lies in Gough’s Cave

Fractures on the surface of the skull suggest he may even have met his demise in a violent manner. It’s not known how he came to lie in the cave, but it’s possible he was placed there by others in his tribe.

The Natural History Museum researchers extracted the DNA from part of the skull near the ear known as the petrous. At first, project scientists Prof Ian Barnes and Dr Selina Brace weren’t sure if they’d get any DNA at all from the remains.

But they were in luck: not only was DNA preserved, but Cheddar Man has since yielded the highest coverage (a measure of the sequencing accuracy) for a genome from this period of European prehistory – known as the Mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age.

They teamed up with researchers at University College London (UCL) to analyse the results, including gene variants associated with hair, eye and skin colour.

Extra mature Cheddar

They found the Stone Age Briton had dark hair – with a small probability that it was curlier than average – blue eyes and skin that was probably dark brown or black in tone.

This combination might appear striking to us today, but it was a common appearance in western Europe during this period.

Steven Clarke, director of the Channel Four documentary, said: “I think we all know we live in times where we are unusually preoccupied with skin pigmentation.”

Prof Mark Thomas, a geneticist from UCL, said: “It becomes a part of our understanding, I think that would be a much, much better thing. I think it would be good if people lodge it in their heads, and it becomes a little part of their knowledge.”

Unsurprisingly, the findings have generated lots of interest on social media.

Cheddar Man’s genome reveals he was closely related to other Mesolithic individuals – so-called Western Hunter-Gatherers – who have been analysed from Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary.

Dutch artists Alfons and Adrie Kennis, specialists in palaeontological model-making, took the genetic findings and combined them with physical measurements from scans of the skull. The result was a strikingly lifelike reconstruction of a face from our distant past.

Pale skin probably arrived in Britain with a migration of people from the Middle East around 6,000 years ago. This population had pale skin and brown eyes and absorbed populations like the ones Cheddar Man belonged to.

Chris Stringer
Image caption Prof Chris Stringer had studied Cheddar Man for 40 years – but was struck by the Kennis brothers’ reconstruction

No-one’s entirely sure why pale skin evolved in these farmers, but their cereal-based diet was probably deficient in Vitamin D. This would have required agriculturalists to absorb this essential nutrient from sunlight through their skin.

“There may be other factors that are causing lower skin pigmentation over time in the last 10,000 years. But that’s the big explanation that most scientists turn to,” said Prof Thomas.

Boom and bust

The genomic results also suggest Cheddar Man could not drink milk as an adult. This ability only spread much later, after the onset of the Bronze Age.

Present-day Europeans owe on average 10% of their ancestry to Mesolithic hunters like Cheddar Man.

Britain has been something of a boom-and-bust story for humans over the last million-or-so years. Modern humans were here as early as 40,000 years ago, but a period of extreme cold known as the Last Glacial Maximum drove them out some 10,000 years later.

There’s evidence from Gough’s Cave that hunter-gatherers ventured back around 15,000 years ago, establishing a temporary presence when the climate briefly improved. However, they were soon sent packing by another cold snap. Cut marks on the bones suggest these people cannibalised their dead – perhaps as part of ritual practices.

Image copyright CHANNEL 4Ian Barnes
Image caption The actual skull of Cheddar Man is kept in the Natural History Museum, seen being handled here by Ian Barnes

Britain was once again settled 11,000 years ago; and has been inhabited ever since. Cheddar Man was part of this wave of migrants, who walked across a landmass called Doggerland that, in those days, connected Britain to mainland Europe. This makes him the oldest known Briton with a direct connection to people living here today.

This is not the first attempt to analyse DNA from the Cheddar Man. In the late 1990s, Oxford University geneticist Brian Sykes sequenced mitochondrial DNA from one of Cheddar Man’s molars.

Mitochondrial DNA comes from the biological “batteries” within our cells and is passed down exclusively from a mother to her children.

Prof Sykes compared the ancient genetic information with DNA from 20 living residents of Cheddar village and found two matches – including history teacher Adrian Targett, who became closely connected with the discovery. The result is consistent with the approximately 10% of Europeans who share the same mitochondrial DNA type.

Follow Paul on Twitter.

 

Third time lucky!

A few weeks ago (2-9/11/2017) I was in Gambia – and I absolutely loved it! To be sure, it’s not my first time in Africa. I’ve been to

Continue reading Third time lucky!

The term “Europe”

This word has had a very interesting history. Now it has a more or less concrete definition, complete with boundaries, maps and dictionaries to back it up. But it wasn’t always this way. Even today there’s no physical boundary between it and Asia. Consider this quote from Wikipedia (bolding mine):

“Europe is a continent that comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia. Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. The eastern boundary with Asia is a historical and cultural construct, as there is no clear physical and geographical separation between them; Europe is generally considered as separated from Asia by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways of the Turkish Straits.[4] Yet the non-oceanic borders of Europe—a concept dating back to classical antiquity—are arbitrary. The primarily physiographic term “continent” as applied to Europe also incorporates cultural and political elements whose discontinuities are not always reflected by the continent’s current overland boundaries.”

– Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europe, 4th May 2017

Continue reading The term “Europe”

Back when Racism didn’t exist

Inspired by Frank M. Snowden’s Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks, ISBN 9780674063813. This should be essential reading in all ‘white’-majority countries, especially England and USA.

9780674063813

In a nutshell Snowden says that for a long time before the TAST (all the way from the beginning of Egyptian Pharaonic civilisation to the spread of Christianity through the Greco-Roman empire, approximately 3000 years) ‘whites’ did not hold negative views of ‘blacks’. They in fact held mostly positive stereotypes, even to the degree that Greeks regarded Aithiopians* as the gods’ favourite people!

* Since this is the original Greek form of Ethiopian they meant all east & east-central Africans, sometimes all “sub-Saharan” Africans, not nationals of the modern country Ethiopia. These were the same people called Nubians/Nehesyu by the Egyptians and Kushim/Kushites by the Jews & early Christians. For clarity Snowden also uses the labels Napatans for those living in the period of the Napatan Kingdom of Kush (~750-300BC) and Meroïtes for those in the Meroïtic Kingdom (~350BC-300AD). Nubia/ Kush was divided into upper & lower parts exactly as Kemet (Egypt), also with south = upper and north = lower:

Before Color Prejudice, Nile Valley.jpg
Notice there was no division between modern Ethiopia & Sudan, they were the same nation

Also be aware that Africa was the Roman term for the region we now call north Africa (excluding Egypt); Libya, Tunisia, Algeria & Morocco. 

Before Color Prejudice, Nafrica

To further clarify context, it should be understood that generally ‘whites’ didn’t know other continents than Africa & Asia (including Europe, which was eventually seen as separate) and they didn’t know how big they really were. For that reason north Asia (the Eurasian steppes) and equatorial Africa were believed to be the ends or extremities of the world. However, Arabs and Indians at least knew about China & southeast Asia, while west Africans at least knew about southern Africa & the Americas. 

So how did ‘whites’ & ‘blacks’ even know each other that long ago?

By travel. No ethnic group stayed totally where they were in the world. If we did there’d have been no out-of-Africa migrations – can the Horn of Africa sustain 6.8 billion people?!? The Mediterranean was effectively the rendezvous point. Generally ‘whites’ lived north of it while ‘blacks’ lived south & east of it, though there was crossover in all directions.

Snowden lists Pharaoh Psamtik II’s Greek contingents as among the first Europeans to directly meet Africans face to face (as opposed to listening to hearsay or glimpsing relics of long-gone people). Psamtik had been on a rampage to eradicate Nubian monuments & pharaohs’ names from Egypt’s 25th Dynasty (late 500s BC) and assembled an army to kick them out physically so they couldn’t reconquer*. Those Greeks in his army caught wind of the Nubians’ prior rule of the country and told their fellow Greeks back home. Greeks met Egyptians and Aithiopians again during Pharaoh Amasis II’s occupation of Cyprus during the mid-early 500s BC, and Aithiopians once again in Persian king Xerxes’s army in the 400s BC. After that Egypt maintained relations with Elis (a district in south Greece where the very first Olympic festival was held); travel became commonplace and Greeks were able to travel throughout the country for themselves – including Simonides the Younger and “father of history” Herodotus.

* Note that not all Egyptians were happy with this. Some of Psamtik’s own soldiers defected and sought refuge in Nubia to get away from him! 

For clarity’s sake: the word gets thrown around a lot but where exactly is the Mediterranean? Just the countries surrounding the Mediterranean sea:

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Where the bloodclaat is that?!?

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That’s better!

As you can see the Mediterranean comprises of north Africa, southwest Asia (the “Middle East”) and south Europe. But even people from further south (east, central and west Africa), east (the Arabian peninsula, Indian subcontinent, & possibly southeast-east Asia?) and north (north & west Asia including Europe, the Eurasian steppes) also travelled and encountered each other. The Greeks regarded them as just different types of people, and were intensely curious about them – especially ‘blacks’ it seems, judging from the amount of sculptures, literature, dramas & plays, idols, even cookware dedicated to them.

Yes, cookware! The image on the book’s front cover is a type of bowl called a phiale, with concentric rings of ‘black’ men’s faces all the way through (except for the innermost ring, which is of acorns for some reason).

The Greek island of Crete has the oldest depictions of Africans outside Africa. Several profiles & frescoes from the 2nd-1st millennia BC show people of the “true Negro” phenotype – rounded noses, plump lips, tightly coiled hair. From ~550BC Greeks also depicted mixed-race looking people. Snowden asserts those ‘blacks’ depicted in Greek, Roman, Iberian & Egyptian art were not cookie-cutter models, as some modern historians have tried to claim, but live people standing directly in front of the artists. That’s why they paid so much attention to individual details; no-one could tell them ‘blacks’ all look alike. Furthermore, while some scholars have claimed those artifacts were designed to look grotesque, ugly &/or comical, Snowden points out that there’s nothing in the artists’ work suggesting that was normal. ‘Whites’ and even gods were also depicted satirically at times. The anti-‘black’ perception is all in modern ‘white’ minds:

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(admittedly this one’s not ancient but is based off ancient Greek artwork. See below, lower right corner)

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I shouldn’t have to point this out but for completion’s sake I will. There was no automatic association between ‘black’ and servant/ criminal/ slave/ fool. Snowden asserts that one of the most common associations is ‘black’ and warrior, while the vast majority of slaves ALL OVER THE MEDITERRANEAN were ‘whites’. Yes we were stereotyped as warriors, and damn good ones! Whether with weapons (bow & arrows, spear, sword, khopesh, etc.) or sheer muscle power & stamina, our strength was quite literally legendary (see the Greek legend of Memnon as an example, & sometimes Zeus & Heracles were described as ‘black). Because of this, and previous military encounters with Aithiopians, the Mediterranean as a whole developed a tendency to employ ‘blacks’ in their armies, and many ‘blacks’ likewise saw the economic advantages of a military career. This may seem inconsistent with nationalistic principles, but it must be remembered that in the ancient world loyalty was to your kith, kin & district first, not so much to your ruler or country.

Despite the legends and reputation it was rare to hear about ‘blacks’ as pillagers, expansionists, conquerors or the like*. ‘White’ civilians generally knew us as staunch defenders of our loved ones and our borders – which of course their armies hated us for when trying to conquer our lands, but strength soon begets respect & admiration.

* Not for want of trying, since Nubians & Egyptians had been trying to reclaim each other for ages. But after almost 500 years of Egyptian occupation and rule, Nubians gained control of Egypt in less than 100 years! Snowden describes it as “a kind of Third Intermediate Period” (i.e. the 25th Dynasty) during which Napatans controlled Egypt all the way up to the Mediterranean, which even their ancestors from Kerma hadn’t managed to do! The now-Meroïte Nubians (as the capital was changed from Napata to Meroë) had control of Egypt for 1000 years – longer than any single period of native Egyptian unification. During this time they instituted a policy of self-defence instead of conquest & aggression against other nations, and integrated into Egyptian and Greek societies while still maintaining sovereignty against more Greco-Roman incursions! The authors of the Bible knew Nubia as a sovereign military nation with a thriving economy up until the collapse of Meroë in the early 300s AD.

Herodotus claimed there had been 18 Nubian pharaohs of Egypt (versus 1 Egyptian pharaoh of Nubia), and they were considered to be revivers and protectors of Egyptian tradition during Greek & Roman invasions. And those Greeks & Romans always kept their eye on Nubian warriors, whether in Egypt or not. Roman emperor Augustus’s occupation of Egypt saw Nubians rise up yet again, with them even enslaving his soldiers, and although he eventually won Augustus’s victory was laden with policies to keep them sweet – including scrapping the tribute he’d imposed on the country before!

From the 200s-500s AD Romans were getting it in the neck from another ‘black’ race: the Blemmyes (almost unanimously believed to be the ancestors of modern Beja people). But even the Carthaginians of the Punic wars (some of whom were known to have increased the ‘black’ presence in north Italy), Moors and Garamantes were staunch opponents of Roman rule in Africa. Even Assyrian king Ashurbanipal noted Egyptians taking refuge from him under Nubian pharaoh Taharqa, and despite Assyrian victory Taharqa’s sovereignty of Nubia was untouched.

(Maybe the self-defence policy is where Marvel got the inspiration for Black Panther’s Wakandan warrior culture?)

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Ironically, the positive perceptions persisted even when Greeks encountered Aithiopians who went against them! It’s almost like they admired us so much they couldn’t accept the concept of villainous or weak ‘black’ people! For those rare occasions when some of us were “savages” it was explained away as being due to inhabiting the southernmost extremity of the world, exactly as those ‘whites’ who lived at the northernmost tip of the world, and it was freely acknowledged that everyone was liable to turning savage in bad enough environmental conditions. Romans & Greeks went to a lot of trouble to record everything they could about different peoples of the world*; they came to know of different groups of Aithiopians, and there were points when Europeans were building temples to worship African deities (Iset/Aset/Auset, better known as Isis) and inviting Aithiopians to be their priests! Italy seems to have hosted the clearest examples of this.

* Not always accurately though, nor without resorting to the occasional mythical beings; men with 3 and 4 eyes, men with feet like leather straps, men with faces on their chests instead of their heads, etc. 

Perhaps even more ironic was early Christianity’s treatment of ‘blacks’. It basically continued the Mediterranean tradition of universalism, granting people all over the world full access and opportunity to “the truth of  the gospel”. In the same way ‘whites’ & ‘blacks’ worshipped an African goddess together, they worshipped a ‘black’ Jesus & Mary together. Italy at least still does; Google ‘black madonna vatican’.

Now pay attention because this is where it gets confusing.

While racism didn’t exist, it becomes easy to see its origins in Christianity. Why? Because of its heavy emphasis of using white & black to symbolise good & evil, even to the point of occasionally describing devils as Aithiopian (but only in colour, not in ethnic background or other features like hair, nose, etc.).

So how did this not equate to racism? 2 reasons:

  • the Mediterranean view of ‘blacks’ as the first and first God-conscious people was well in force (Snowden calls this belief Aithiopian priority), and
  • the symbolism was universally understood to mean an inner spiritual state dictated by choice as opposed to skin colour dictated by biology – or the sun, according to contemporary thought.

Another common perception was that we were very just, honourable and even-handed when by rights we could’ve been total assholes. The Aithiopian king Hydaspes, though fictional, was said to follow Egyptian queen Piye’s tradition of taking prisoners alive and granting mercy if they pleaded. As alluded to above, ancient Egyptians regarded Nehesyu (southerners, i.e. Aithiopians) as the world’s very first people, and Greeks considered us favoured by the gods because we were the first to recognise and worship them! Amun/Zeus came to Earth to have an annual 12-day feast in Kush, with Iris & Poseidon joining in! Agatharchides talked about a tribe of Aithiopians he called Fish-Eaters (Ichthyophagi) who, despite wearing no clothes and living in wilderness, were so civilised and moral they didn’t need written laws or bother invading other nations – unlike his fellow Greeks. Even Origen seemed to agree with the Greco-Roman belief in Aithiopian priority in recognising divinity.

It was also taken for granted that we were good-looking. How good-looking was down to individual preference; Snowden posits the somatic norm theory that basically says “of course any given people will prefer the looks of their own kind over others.” Despite that Greeks and Romans recognised their own subjectivity and were able to appreciate & describe the beauty of other races in dramatic poetic detail. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for individuals to openly state their preference for people of other backgrounds. Herodotus for one called Aithiopians the handsomest people in the world, and Martial was in love with a woman “blacker than an ant” while rejecting the advances of a woman who was “whiter than snow”. The zeitgeist was that nobility was attained through culture not birth or race.

Interracial relationships were common and no-one gave a shit, so there was no stigma against a ‘white’ woman for marrying & having children with a ‘black’ man or vice versa. On the topic of adultery, Martial said the only reason mixed-race babies aren’t more common is the high rate of abortion. The only time interracial relationships were made an issue is for questions of fidelity (e.g. if a ‘white’ woman gave birth to a ‘grey’ baby while her husband was ‘white’).

One thing that jarred me, though, was Snowden’s understanding of who was who:

  • He described Maures (Moors) as “predominantly white” – but Europeans from the 8th-14th centuries never knew them as anything but ‘black’,
  • He said the Egyptian queen Tiye’s dark skin implied Nubian ancestry, which there is no evidence for,
  • Any ‘blacks’ who in his words have “less pronounced Negroid” features must be mixed or ‘white’,
  • He says Egyptians never made mention of Nubian skin colour because they “became” familiar with Nubians in 2000BC, as if they weren’t familiar with them before. That is strange since he mentions elsewhere that Egyptians were regarded as descendants of Aithiopians and therefore would’ve been familiar with them since forever!

In short, he seems to be flip-flopping between the contemporary Eurocentric belief in the “pure Negro” and the modern knowledge of features never being specific to any race or group.

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However, his comment about Garamantes (closely related to Moors but from modern Fezzan, Libya) being largely ‘mulatto’ could be true. For several millennia north Africa had been taking in escaped European slaves (like the ancestors of modern Amazigh according to some), and from roughly the spread of Islam in the region (as well as the Arabian peninsula) started actively taking European slaves in the millions, thereby increasing the ‘white’/mulatto presence. The Egyptians depicted Libyans as ‘white’, while Hesiod considered the god Kronos’s son Epaphus to be the common ancestor of both (‘black’) Libyans and “high-souled” Aithiopians.

Furthermore, Snowden alluded to his contemporaries’ distinction between ancient peoples as sometimes pointless and deliberately obfuscating:

“Nubians … may be described as black or white according to the prejudices of one’s time and temperament. On the question of physical characteristics of African blacks, however, the ancients were far from unclear …

Regardless of modern opinions as to the precise racial identity or proper anthropological classification of Kushites, Nubians, or Ethiopians, the blacks of ancient artists often bear a close similarity to racial types designated in the modern world as “colored,” “black,” or “Negro.” And many of these, had they lived at a later time, would have been regarded as black or Negro and subjected to prejudice because of their color…

Following the Greek and Roman practice, I use a color term, “black,” as a general designation for the dark- and black-skinned Africans of this study. Like the word “Ethiopian,” “black” in my usage properly emphasizes color and includes the colored peoples comprehended by the classical term.”

(pp. 16-17)

And towards the start of the book he mentioned that since ‘black’ people were seen as individuals their skin colours were likewise not regarded as the same. All populations in the world were thought to have an average skin colour, which was darker the closer they were to the Equator and lighter the further they were from it:

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Aithiopians/Kushites/Nubians were the blackest of all,
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Then INDIANS,
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Then Egyptians,
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Then Moors – but this might be talking about mixed-race descendants of European slaves in Moorish lands rather than native Moors, especially since many designated “Aithiopians” came from northwest Africa too

And in ancient Greece exactly as Aithiopians were the blackest of all people, Scythians* were seen as the whitest people of all complete with stereotypical thin hooked noses and lank hair. However, as they were so fascinated by dark skin Greeks & Romans didn’t even mistake Aithiopians as being all the same colour; ‘blacks’ were described as fusci (dark), nigerrimi (very black), perusti (sunburnt), furvi (swarthy), nigri (black), adusti (scorched) and more in various attempts to describe different degrees of ‘blackness’. They acknowledged that despite general trends, there was widespread variation among individuals; sometimes Egyptians were described as Aithiopian to emphasise their ‘blackness’. Snowden doesn’t mention it but I believe it’s likely they were not just describing tint, tone & shade but actual hues too, exactly as Arabs had different words for different hues (aswad/sawad for darkest-skinned or literally black, adam & asmar/ sumra for dark brown, akhdar/ khidr [lit. green!], abyad for “yellow/golden-black”, ahmar/hamar [lit. red] for ‘white’, etc).

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Whoa! She fine!!!
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This is the god Amun, whom the Greeks equated with their king of gods Zeus

Who were the Scythians? An Iranic tribe from the central & south parts of the EURASIAN STEPPES including much of modern eastern Europe, north India and parts of east Asia, which gives yet more credence to the ‘whites’-are-albino-Asians theory. They were also known as Yuezhi (by the Chinese), Saka, Sakae, Iskuzai, Askuzai and Sai.

circassian-people-kabardino-traditional-costume-balkaria-karachay-cherkessia-north-caucasus-circassian-men-women-900x600
Took you a while to mention us, didn’t it Tawny? Anyway thanks, have some food.

Though they were seen as the ‘whitest’ people on Earth, Scythians were not known for having any hair colour other than black or eye colour other than brown. Other hair & eye colours, especially blond/ginger & blue respectively, were much more commonly ascribed to Germanic tribes such as were encountered by the Romans when they first invaded western Europe & the British isles. Germanic tribes included the Angles & Saxons (ancestors of modern English people, where the term Anglo-Saxon comes from), Goths, Jutes, Norsemen (whose seafaring criminals we call Vikings), Suebi, Vandals, and others. In his book Germania, Tacitus describes them thus:

Unde habitus quoque corporum, tamquam in tanto hominum numero, idem omnibus: truces et caerulei oculi, rutilae comae, magna corpora et tantum ad impetum valida: laboris atque operum non eadem patientia, minimeque sitim aestumque tolerare, frigora atque inediam caelo solove adsueverunt.

Which translates to something like:

Hence, too, the same physical peculiarities throughout so vast a population. All have fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for a sudden exertion. They are less able to bear laborious work. Heat and thirst they cannot in the least endure; to cold and hunger their climate and their soil inure them.

Despite Snowden’s minor misidentifications of ancient peoples, Before Color Prejudice made for a very informative read shedding light on a side of history kept hidden for a long long long time.

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