March 22, 2006

Chinese, Korean, or Japanese?

Dienekes has been posting a lot of composite photographs of multiple faces (an investigative technique invented by -- who else? -- Sir Francis Galton) of different nationalities. Which of the composites is Chinese? Which is Korean? Which is Japanese? Click here to find out.

I got it right, which I guess is proof that I haven't forgotten quite everything I learned at UCLA from 1980-1982 while getting my MBA.

And here's a pretty easy one: Which is Germanic? Which is Slavic? Click here.

His latest is "The geography of European phenotypical variation: 27 composite pictures of male athletes."

This raises the old question about the difference in looks between a racial average and a "type." As you can see from the composites, the differences between averages, while noticeable, are not huge. On the other hand, if you went to, say, Poland and Germany, you'd be able to find individuals in each country whom represent their types so extremely that very few adults would mistake their nationalities.

For example, Charles De Gaulle, perhaps partly through some act of will involving how he chose to hold his face, always struck me as ineffably French-looking. (Indeed, the incredibly French-looking classic 1960s Citroen luxury car always seemed to me to somehow look like De Gaulle.) That doesn't mean the average Frenchman is as French-looking as De Gaulle. But it does mean that there are tendencies within the French which De Gaulle took to an extreme. (Keep in mind that differences in looks between cultures aren't just genetic, but also involve customary facial expressions.)

Another complicating factor is that there are often multiple types within a nationality. For example, when I went to Moscow in 2001, the first night the young singer in a 1950s rockabilly band was a dead ringer for Putin and his skull-like head. "Now, that's a Russian!" I said to myself. The next morning, an elderly WWII veteran begging in the subway looked exactly like Brezhnev and his luxurious eyebrows. "Now, that's a Russian!" But, of course, Putin and Brezhnev are quite different-looking. Russia, being a vast country, is full of recognizably Russian types that don't look to much like each other.

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1 comment:

Dai Alanye said...

The most remarkable thing about these photos is how lacking in distinctiveness they are, possibly because of their composite nature. But the whole idea of nation-to-nation comparison is fraught with difficulty because most nations are of mixed racial heritage.

Let us take Ireland as an example. Being at the far northwestern end of Europe, it has been invaded from south and west by anyone who had the urge or was driven by some other, farther-out invader. I'm not an expert in the history of Eire, but it has had round-barrow people, long-barrow people, Goidels and Germanics invade at one time or another, and I've surely have missed some others.

There is a recognizable Irish "type" who tends to look like Reagan or Doug Flutie -- bony face, long upper lip. But there's another who has a roundish flat face and a tendency toward red hair. And if you visit Ireland you find all sorts of "types" or those who seem to be no type at all.

As for a German types, they're all over the map. I believe Coon's The Races of Europe gives a good idea of this. Poles: there is a Polish type characterized strikingly by flaring gonial angles, but there are plenty of other Poles who don't show this characteristic.

And Russians, as you point out, are highly varied -- not surprisingly since every westward invasion of Europe from the Cro-Magnons to the Golden Horde traversed some part of western Russia, while Balts, Poles and Germans carried some genes eastward. Then there are the Lapps and Mordvinians, among others non-Indoeuropean speakers with their own racial characteristics.