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Old January 11th, 2015, 09:17 PM   #1
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Sumerians and their appearance

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The Sumerian civilization is often called the Sumero-Akkadian, but the Akkadians learnt much from the Sumerians, and we concerned here with origins. There is no intention to disparage the Akkadians, for at later stages they added much to the joint civilization properly termed Sumero-Akkadian. The Sumerian artists left an abundant supply of images, mostly bas-releifs in profile view, intended to represent two kinds of people that formed the population of the southern parts of Mesopatamia in ancient times. The shaven heads and faces of the Sumerians stand in sharp contrast to the long haired and heavy bearded Akkadians; but the early period, before the incursion of Armenids into any part of the region, the physical features of the peoples, as opposed to their differences in coiffure and clothing, were not very marked. In their own representations of themselves the Sumerians generally appear with protruding occiput and extremely receding forehead. The pointed nose projects strongly forward; it is narrow, with small alae, and straight or slightly convex; the chin and mouth are small, the lips narrow, the eyes and ears large. The strong projection of the pointed nose, combined with the recession and insignificance of the chin, give a curiously birdlike appearance, which is emphasized when the nose is slightly convex. Almost any book on Sumerian civilization will provide numerous examples. The figurines are mostly less reliable as images than the bas-reliefs, because in so many cases the pointed noses have been blunted accidentally.

There is no known human taxon, past or present, that presents precisely this form of head and face. The closest to it that I have been able to find anywhere is given by two photographs on which Kurds are seen in profile view. These are in papers by Chantre and Von Luschans. If one somewhat exaggerates the features seen in these photographs, one has an approximation to those that the Sumeria artists were accustomed to provide; but rather a wide variety of types is found among the Kurdish population.

A considerable proportion of the Kurdish people are fair, with blue eyes. The coloring of the Sumerian does not appear to be known. The Kurds are sometimes described as 'Proto-Nordic', but there does not appear to be any strong reason, based on morphological features, for not attaching them to the Mediterranid-Orientalid-Nordindid group oftaxa. Chantre considered them as descendants of the Kushites, who seem to have been the main element in the population of the country round the Persian Gulf in ancient times.

For more reliable information one naturally turns to the bones left behind in the cemeteries of ancient peoples of this part of the world. During the last few milenia before Christ, in the periods of the Sumero-Akkadian and Indus valley Civilization, two types of human beings having different skull forms were very widely distributed in the countries we now call Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. It will be convenient to include skulls from Iran in this discussion, although the civilizations with which we are primarily concerned are those of Mesopotamia and the Indus valley. Every scrap of information about the ancient skulls of this while region is worth using, for material is pitifully scarce. It is sad fact that in searching in the Near East for every little piece of pottery or other artifact of former times, archeologists have sometimes actually thrown away the skeletal remains disclosed in the course of their excavations.

The British anthropologists Dudley Buxton and Talbot Rice found both types of skulls among human remains excavated at the Sumerian palace at Kish in Mesopotamia, and at near-by-mound. These remains were assigned to the eighth and fifth centuries B.C. The same or similar two types were found again by the French Anthropologist H.V. Vallois among remains collected at Siak, halfway between Tehran and Isfahan, some 415 miles east by north of Kish in deposits extending in date from before the beginning of the age of metals up to the ninth century B.C. More than a thousand miles east-south-east from here is Mohenjo-Daro, one of the best known sites of the Indus Valley civilization, and here again the same two types of skulls were found by Col. R.B.S. Sewell and Dr B.S. Guha of the Zoological Survey of India. The civilization of the Indus Valley is often called "Chalcolithic", because copper and bronze had not entirely replaced stone in making certain implements. As Mackay points out, the term used might suggest that the civilization was rather primitive, which is very far from being the true. The stone implements are ribbon flakes of flint, serving as cheap knives.

The physical anthropologists mentioned above give detailed descriptions of each skull. The following account is an attempt to give an impression of each of the two types by compressing the mass of avaibale information into short statements. Actually there was a considerable amount of variation.

In one type the skull is dolicocranial, or just beyond the borderline to mesocranial; it 'well-filled', but rather small. Superciliary ridges are slight, and the glabella scarcely projects; the forehead does not recede strongly(indeed, it is almost vertical in specimens regarded as female); the vault is rather high. The pterion is spheno-parietal. Musculature impressions are not strongly marked. The face is rather long. The zygomatic arches recede(i.e. the face has no tendency to flatness. The orbits are moderately high. The nasion is not much depressed; boney bridge of the nose is narrow and projects considerably. The nasal aperture falls into the category of mesorrhine ; its lower border is usually(but not always) oxycraspedote. The palate is rather elongate, and there is a tendency to slight prognathism. The mandible is rather feebly built, but the chin is fairly prominent.

The few available long bones suggest that the stature was rather low. The skulls of thos type are obviously Europid. Buxton and Rice sat that many ways they resemble Mediterranids; Sewell and Guha say more definitely, This type of skull we considered to represent true Mediterranean race'(i.e. the Mediterranid subrace). Vallois assigns it to the type proto-mediterraneen on teh grounds that the structure is coarser than in modern Mediterranids, the ridges more marked, and the cranial index slighly lower. It is permissible to describe the skulls of this type as in a broad sense Mediterranid, with the reservation that Orientalids and Nordindids have very similar skulls, so that certainty on this point is not easily reached when no other part of the body is available for comparison.

Such differences as exist between these three subraces reside chiefly in the soft parts of the body, and in frequencies of the genes for blood-group 'B' and of the set f Rhesus factors(cf. Schwidetzky 1953). Indeed, the Nordindids were formerly termed die osmediterrane Rasse. Vallois regards the Orientalids as subdivision of the Mediterranids(or, to use his terminology , the race sud-orientale is a sous-race of the race Mediterraneene); and he says that the Nordinids(race indo-Afghan) do not differ fundamentally from the Mediterranids.

The Skulls of the second type found at Kish, Siak and Mohenjo-Daro are alos described in detail by the authors mentioned above. Once again there is considerable variation, but it is possible to form an impression of the general type. An attempt is made in the following paragraph to condense the main facts into a short statement.

The skull is thick-walled and extremely dolichocranial(hyper-and even in one case ultradolichocranial), as a result of the exceptionally long extension of the occiput behind the external auditory meatus. It is 'ill-filled', for the sides rise almost vertically, and then, as they turn inwards towards the middle line, they are again somewhat flattened, and there is in some cases a keel-like ridge where they meet(i.e. the skull is scaphocranial); but the cranial capacity is remarkably high. The glabella and supracilary ridges are prominent and the forehead recedes behind them, but the cranium rises to a high vault(i.e. it is hypsicranial). The muscular impressions are strongly indicated, and those of the temporal muscles are situatied exceptionally close to the middle line. The zygomatic arches do not recede quite so much as those of the Mediterranid type.* The face is rather long, like that of the Mediterranids. The orbits are high. The nasion is markedly depressed. The bony bridge of the nose resembles that of the Mediterranids in being narrow, but it projects rather more strongly. The nasal aperture is mesorrhine or even platyrrhine; its lower border is usually oxycraspedote. There is marked sub-nasal and some general prognathy, and on correspondence with this the platate is very long. The mandible is robust, with powerful ramus, and the chin is powerfully developed. The bite is edge-to-edge, not overlapping. The scanty remains of long bones again suggest low stature.

This brief description may still further summarized by saying that the skull is in several ways rather primitive, but in strong contrast with the cranial capacity is particularly high(higher than in Mediterranids).

A skull of remarkably similar form to this, with almost complete skeleton, was discovered in 1909 in a deposit of early Aurignacian age at Combe-Capelle, near Montferrand in the Dordogne, central France. The discoverer was the enthusiastic archaeologist O. Hauser, who has left a graphic account of the circumstance in a paper containing excellent photographs and a detailed description of the skull and the rest of the skeleton by Professor H. Klaatsch. I take the opportunity to suggest the name Compe-Capellid, or Capellid for short(aurignacensis Hauserin Linnean nomenclature), for people of this type, who may be regarded as forming a subrace of the Europid race.

It is claimed that the people of this type survive to this day in places scattered over western Europe and North Africa, and for that reason they have been called 'Eurafrica'. This, indeed is the name applied by Buxton and Rice to the specimens of this type that were found at Kish, but unfortunately it is subject to strong objections.The name 'Eurafrica' had previously been used by Sergi in an entirely different sense; and further, it is misleading, because it unintentionally suggests a Negrid element in the ancestry. Vallois term 'type hyperdolichocephalic proto-iranian' is too long for general use.

Sewell and Guha at first placed their Capellid skulls from Mohenjo-Daro in a 'Proto-Australoid race', a surprising assignment in view of the very high cranial capacity(among other features); but later when had the opportunity to examine Buxton's skulls at oxford and keith's at the Royal College of Surgeons, Guha became convinced that the hyperdolichocranial ones from Mohenjo-Daro were in fact 'Caucasic' or 'Caucasians"; that to say, Europid. It was Guha's opinion that Capellids entered what is now Pakistan during the Neolithic age, and have survived there in India. 'Mixed with the long headed Mediterranean race which constitiued the major poqar of the Indus valley people in Chalcolithic times,' he writes, it forms today the bulk of the population of the Peninsula and the considerable proportion of Northern India.' He does not make it clear whether he uses the word 'mixed' to mean 'interspersed' or 'hybridized'. The latter seems the more probable, for it would probably be had to find a typical Capellid among the populations of India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh today.

A few brachycephalic skulls found at Kish and were regarded by Buxton and Rice as probably Armenoid. Some were also found at Sialk, though none from the most ancient deposits. Vallois classied the other brachycephalic skulls as Armenoid, and provisionally assigned the more recent ones to the Alpine group. Sewell and Guha found two brachycephalic skulls at Mohenjo-Daro. They considered that one of these was Alpinid, while the other showed resemblances to certain Naga skulls. It must be allowed however, that Naga skulls do not by any means conform to a single type.

"No traces', say Buxton and Rice, have yet appeared of either Negroid or East Asiatic[Mongoloid] blood at Kish, and with exception of a single skull at Mohenjo-Daro, mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the same remark aplies to the place and to Sialk.

At Kish and Mohenjo-Daro, then the populations consisted mainly of Mediterranids(or some closely similar people) and the Capellids. The majority of the skulls from Kish were Capellid, of those from Mohenjo-Daro Mediteranid; but there were not enough from either place to justify the drawing of conclusions about the relative numbers in populations. The numbers of Mediterranid and Capellid skulls found at Sialk were almost exactly equal, but there were also quite a lot of brachycranials at this site, except in earliest of period.

Since the population of Kish consisted of Sumerians and Akkadians, one is tempted to pronounce one type of skull as Sumerian and the otjer as Akkadian, though puzzled to decide which is which. Buxton and rice were themselves unable to decide whether the two types corresponded to the two elements in the population, whose dress, coiffure and language are know from their monuments to have been so very different. The matter is complicated by the opinion of Sir Arthur Keith that there were not two types of skulls in the Ancient Mesopotamia, but only one variable type.

Keith's skulls had been excavated by the joint British and American expedition led by Leonard Woolley. Some of them had been obtained at ur, others from 'later cemetery' at neighboring site of Al- 'Ubaid. There is no positive evidence of the presence pf Akkadians at either of these two places, when the people represented by the skulls were living. Another ancient people, the prehistoric makers of painted pottery, had indeed occupied Al 'Ubaid in earlier times, but there is no indication that any of their remains were interred in the later cemetery. The archeological evidence obtained by Woolley himself led him to conclude that the skulls of Al-'Ubaid studied by Keith were those of Sumerians belonging to the First to Third Dynasties. In one of them there was a clay vase, 'of a type that runs through virtually the whole period covered by the cemetery'; it bore an inscription in Sumerian characters. Wooley concluded to the fully developed Suemrians period. The Skulls from Ur were from a very much later period. Woolley's estimates was between 1900 and 1700 B.C.

Keith regarded all the skulls from Al-'Ubaid and Ur as Sumerian and assigned them to a simple taxon, which he identified as 'Arab' (presumably Orientalid). Having examined Buxton and Rice's specimens at Oxford, he maintained the same conclusion about these also. 'I have no doubt', he says, 'that the same race['Arab'] now occupies the lower plains of the Tigris and Euphrates that occupied them in ancient times.' He remarks that the diversity 'is not more than is met with in races[subraces] of mankind considered to be pure'; but it is difficult to accept this opinion.

It seems unlikely that one could find any modern Orientalid skulls with such extreme Capellid characteristics as his No II skull, shown in his Plates LXIII and LXIV. This skull has strongly marked glabela and supramiliary ridges, and teh occiput projects enormously; the cranial wall is seven millimeters thick along the vault and then at the parietal eminence. Keith admits his doubt his doubt when he makes this: 'It is possible that on no Arab community of today does there exist a group pf individuals with such large heads, big brains, and massive jaws as those whose remains Mr. Woolley recovered at Al-'Ubaid[i.e. the skulls from that site which he (Keith) studied and described].' Sewell and Guha place keiths skulls Nos. I, II, III, IV and VII (all from Al-Ubaid) in the group termed Cappellid.

A photograph in Keith's Plate LXVI shows that his skull No. VIII(from Al-Ubaid) was orygmocraspedote. There are skulls among those described by Keith that seem to fall into the Mediterranid category(in the wide sense of that term), as well as Capellids and intermediates. It is not easy to draw a sharp dividing-line in his material, and the possibility of hybridization in southern Sumeria cannot be excluded. Vallois found intermediates between the types her termed Mediterranid and Capellid in his material from Sialk.

Guha considered it probable that 'the Mediterranean group' were respobcle for the origin of the Indus valley civilization. He appears to ave based this opinion on the fact that the skulls of this type were more numerous than Capellid ones in the available material.

What, then is certain and what is possible about the Taxonomic position of the Sumerians and the founders of the Indus Valley civilization? Certainly there is no evidence of any Mongoloid or Negrid element in these Europid people, nor were they Armenids(though members of the later taxon played a large part in the civilization in Babylon). The people who originated civilization in Sumerian and the Indus Valley may have been Mediterranid, or may have belonged to the somewhat similar Capellid taxon, or may indeed have belong to both, and may have included hybrids between the two.

It may be remarked in passing that it would useful to have a comprehensive name for the Mediterranids and the other peoples that cannot be clearly distinguished from them by cranial criteria. This might turn out to be a valid taxon.
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Old January 12th, 2015, 02:02 AM   #2

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Racial theories are distasteful. The Sumerians are interesting, but there is only one human race. Attempts to divide humanity into different races as though they are separate species have been discredited by science. Why is it important what 'race' they were? These so-called 'races' are a product of human cultural conditioning. There are no races. All humans belong to a single race.
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Old January 12th, 2015, 11:22 AM   #3

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Originally Posted by RoyalHill1987 View Post
Racial theories are distasteful. The Sumerians are interesting, but there is only one human race. Attempts to divide humanity into different races as though they are separate species have been discredited by science. Why is it important what 'race' they were? These so-called 'races' are a product of human cultural conditioning. There are no races. All humans belong to a single race.
Beside you believe in race or not it's very useful to find origins and determine some problems. You can say what you want but there's still deferences between humans, not that ones are better than the others.
The existence of race can support equality: it means that every human group had the same ability to change it's physical characteristics to adapt different environments and conditions.
And ignoring all other reasons, don't you have curiosity about the aspect of ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Paleo-Indians or so many other groups?
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Old January 12th, 2015, 07:41 PM   #4
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The Sumerians called themselves ug sag gig-ga or black-headed people, probably referring to black-haired people. But as to their physical appearance and stature is kinda hard, but are a chalcolithic people: meaning they might have retained some primitive homo sapien features. Now I may be wrong, but that's where you guys come in.
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Old January 13th, 2015, 02:32 AM   #5
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Old January 21st, 2015, 02:37 AM   #6
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I think if you could transport a Sumerian to the present day London dress him in a suit collar and tie no one would take a blind bit of notice of him.
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Old January 24th, 2015, 03:48 PM   #7

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Originally Posted by Rainham Red View Post
I think if you could transport a Sumerian to the present day London dress him in a suit collar and tie no one would take a blind bit of notice of him.
The screaming abdabs, to which he would probably succumb would most likely attract some attention though...

But forced to disagree with RoyalHill1987. It seems to me likely we shall never know the influence 'race' makes to peoples and individuals because the topic is verboten, burdened and contaminated by the poisonous ideologies of the 20th C.

The proper study of mankind is man which I always took to mean we'd best understand ourselves if we wish to understand God (According to Pope, but we might say the universe). We may have all begun in the same place and we may even end up in one place. But what changes were wrought by thousands of years of separation could be extremely valuable knowledge. Of course we are all the same species but there are patently different varieties of humans and we cannot study the variations in case some simpletons use it as an excuse to emulate the obnoxious jackbooted maniacs.

Another thing that seems quite clear is since we are now capable of destroying ourselves, understanding ourselves has become a matter of urgency! All of which is why think our attitude to 'race' may yet turn out to be the most toxic legacy of the twelve year reich in the long run.
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Old February 6th, 2015, 07:13 PM   #8
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Yes, agree. IQ is another loaded subject that, if discussed, opens one to the charge
of being sub-human. But don't we really need to know all that we can, whether the
information is uncomfortable or not? It's interesting - Mesopotamian cylinder seals have
been found in pre-dynastic Egyptian contexts. So was that trade or gift exchange or possibly the impetus behind Egypt's unification? Someone will be uncomfortable reading
this, and you're right, we need to know, regardless. Anyway, we really can't tell a lot
from ancient depictions of heads. I've yet to see an Egyptian tomb painting that looks like the bust of Nefertiti.
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Old February 6th, 2015, 09:42 PM   #9

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But Neffi was a Mitanni princess, wasn't she?

Which makes her IE, or at least Indo-Iranian, rather than native African.
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Old August 25th, 2016, 07:12 PM   #10
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Thanks, Vinnie for the comprehensive information. I appreciate the scope of what you did here. I realize that there is not enough evidence for sure conclusions, but still it is very useful to explore origins and even to conjecture about these interesting people and their times,for they are connected to all of us.
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