Western Europe and the Alpine race

By this time we have studied all of the approaches by which Neolithic food-producers invaded Europe, and have seen that in all known cases these immigrants belonged to some branch of the Galley Hill stock or wider Mediterranean race. We flOW come to the portions of Europe in which the Mesolithic cultural tradition had a strong survival—as a blend into the Neolithic economy, or as an absolute continuation. These portions may be divided into three general groupings: (1) Western Europe—that is, Switzerland, France, and Belgium; (2) Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the eastern shores of the Baltic; (3) The forest belt which stretches across northern Russia into Siberia. It is with the first of these that we are immediately concerned.

Commencing with Switzerland, we find, in the so-called Lake Dwelling culture of the Neolithic, a blending of the old with the new. The early Lake Dwelling culture of western Switzerland, centered about Lake Neufchatel, consists of the grafting of North African Neolithic agriculture upon a local Mesolithic base, while that of eastern Switzerland represents the same phenomenon to which a Danubian element may later have been added. Toward the end of the Neolithic period, just before the introduction of metal, the Corded people invaded Switzerland from the north, and at this time local, sectional differences were to some extent ironed out.66

Under these circumstances, we may expect to find, in all Swiss Lake Dwelling skeletal collections from the Early and Middle Neolithic, examples of the small Mediterranean race, representing the bringers of agriculture and animal husbandry to the hunting and fowling communities of the lake shores; as well as survivors of the previous population, whatever, in a racial sense, they may have been.

Unfortunately, the archaeologists have yet to discover the cemeteries in which the Lake Dwellers buried their dead; what few remains have been found seem to have been for the most part those of persons who died by accident, and especially of children. Schlaginhaufen states that seventy three Lake Dwelling skulls, suitable for the study of the cranial index, are known to exist, but few of these have been made available to the profession through publication. Schiaginhaufen could find but nine adult crania with measurable faces.67

His conclusion is that in the earliest phase of the Swiss Neolithic, brachycephals predominate; in the late stages, round and long skull forms are about equal in number, with few intermediate forms; later, the two blend, and there is a reinforcement of dolichocephals at the beginfling of the metal period. The brachycephals of the Early Neolithic were short statured, low faced, low orbitted, and broad nosed; later, their face form became longer and narrower, producing, by the end of the Neolithic disharmonic forms. The original combination of round heads with low faces and orbits had been upset by mixture with the invading Mediterraneans.

One must remember that these conclusions on changes in linkage between head form and face form are presumably based on no more than nine specimens. Five of these may he studied directly from readily available published data.68 Three of them are brachycephalic, two mesocephalic. The former have upper facial indices below 50, and nasal indices above 50; while the latter fall on the other side in each case. In the orbital index two of the brachycephalic crania fall below 80, and one above it; while both of the dolichocephals are above. In these five examples, then, the round skulls have short faces, low or broad noses, and low orbits, while the longer specimens are higher and narrower in face, orbit, and nose form.

The dolicho- and mesocephalic Swiss Lake Dwelling crania seem to belong without exception to some variety of small Mediterranean, such as might have entered either from the east or the southwest, with agricultural movements. The brachycephals, which are most numerous and least mixed in the earliest levels, form the one element in the Lake Dwelling racial complex which cannot be derived from known Neolithic sources, and may, therefore, be circumstantially linked to the Mesolithic element so important in Swiss Lake Dwelling cultures.

Besides the Lake Dwellings, with their meager supply of human remains but rich yield of cultural objects which have perished elsewhere, there are Neolithic sites of other kinds in Switzerland, including rock shelters and cist graves. Most of these dry land burials, which were not, in most cases at least, Lake Dwelling cemeteries, contain human remains of Mediterranean type, although a few brachycephals have been found in them.69

The most extensive single series is that from the cist cemetery of Chamblandes, with ten male and eight female skeletons.70 (See Appendix I, col. 14.) These remains are those of small, light-boned Mediterraneans, dolicho- to mesocephalic, mesorrhine, and shallow jawed, with very little metrical sex differentiation. Basically, these Chamblandes people resemble the smaller groups of predynastic Egyptians very closely, but are even closer to Muge. There seems to be a perceptible negroid element in the Chamblandes groups, which accentuates the African relationship. In vault size and height, they do not resemble the Danubians.

The Chamblandes culture was mid-Neolithic, and probably represents the northward intrusion of a semi-nomadic tribe or band from northern Italy, where cist burials of the same type have been found.71 Since the Chamblandes physical type is an excellent example of the small Mediterranean race, that type must, therefore, have been prevalent in the Early and Middle Neolithic of northern Italy. Its presence furthermore illustrates the complexity of ethnic movements in Neolithic Europe.

The racial problems exposed by the study of Neolithic man in Switzerland apply equally to France, which presents an even more complex archaeological situation. Along the whole Atlantic coast, and most of all in Brittany, dolmens and other kinds of megalithic monuments were built in abundance. The north of France, especially the Paris Basin, formed the westernmost reflection of the Danubian invasions from the east, through the mixed cultures of southern Germany, but in the Paris Basin this culture was mingled with megalithic elements, since many of the burials are in hewn underground vaults and in dolmens.

The southeast of France contained a surviving cave culture, while the whole eastern section of the country, in the valley of the Rhône and the borders of Switzerland, was occupied by farmers with the same blend of Mesolithic and Neolithic cultural elements which in Switzerland appear in the western Lake Dwellings. Both Dechelette and Menghin derive the agricultural element in the French Neolithic south of the Paris Basin from North Africa.72

Although, if one may judge by the number of finds made, France was a densely populated country during the Neolithic, the distribution of people was very uneven. It is very likely that large areas, notably in the Massif Central, the mountain core of south-central France, where a thin soil and granite base are inimical to agriculture, were still inhabited throughout the Neolithic time span by scattered bands of Mesolithic hunters and grubbers. The bulk of the population lived in the great river valleys.

As an indication of the head form of the French Neolithic people, we may turn to a compilation of 608 crania, out of which 43 per cent are dolichocephalic, 38 per cent meso-, and 19 per cent brachycephalic.73 Although this distribution is not bimodal, there are at least two types present, a long and a round one.

The long-headed type or types belong clearly to the Mediterranean category. Although most series include brachycephalic crania, a few are purely long headed. Some of them, such as the series from L’Homme Mort and Lozère74 (see Appendix I, col. 15), are low dolichocephals, with means of 72; these approach but do not quite approximate the British Long Barrow standards of size. The skulls from the corridor tomb of Vaudancourt, Oise, are of full Long Barrow size, and the stature of the skeletons is tall. Thus there was, apparently, here and there, a tall, large, and very long-headed element in the French Neolithic, related to that which predominated in the British Isles. It was rarely, however, pure.

The mesocephalic crania are, as a rule, larger in vault size than most of the Mediterranean groups which we have studied, such as the Danubians, the Chamblandes series, and the Mesolithic skulls from Muge. One suspects that the mesocephaly so common among Neolithic French crania may, in part, be due to a mixture between a Megalithic, rather than a small Mediterranean, dolichocephalic type with brachycephals. This is supported by the evidence of stature, for means of French Neolithic series run to 164 and 165 cm., taller than the majority of Mediterraneans proper.

In certain definite ways, the long-headed crania of the French Neolithic, as a whole, show a western affiliation: the vaults are wider than they are high, and the noses are leptorrhine or low mesorrhine. In these respects they differ from the Danubians, as well as in size; and in the vault form, they differ from the Corded group. These peculiarities further strengthen the similarity between the longer and larger examples, and the British Long Barrow type. We may conclude from this that most of the Mediterranean racial element in France came from North Africa and the Mediterranean, and little from central and eastern Europe.

The geographical distribution of Neolithic crania by head form can be partially determined from Salmon’s study.75 In all, forty-one departments are represented, covering less than half of France. Of these forty-one, only fifteen departments, one-sixth of France, have ten or more crania each. As far as we can tell from this fragmentary distribution, there were two centers of high brachycephaly, one in the Auvergne region, crossing the Rhône to Savoie, and fading out in the Massif Central; the second in the north of France, from Paris over to the Meuse. The Atlantic coastal region below Brittany, and the west central part of France, were dolichocephalic strongholds during the Neolithic.

The range of indices in the French Neolithic extends from 63 to 97, which is practically the normal range for the world. Whole groups of over thirty skulls (as at Beaumes Chaudes), found in single caves, are entirely long headed, showing that some purely dolichocephalic local populations existed in Neolithic France, as they do in parts of the country today76 (see Appendix I, col. 16); while smaller interments contain wholly brachycephalic clusters. Hyperbrachycephaly had already developed as an evolutionary phenomenon, for twenty-five out of Salmon’s six hundred and eight crania have indices between 85 and 97. Others over 90 were found in the Swiss collection. This extreme head form was not, apparently. as common then as it is today.

Salmon’s list luckily contains data as to mode of interment as well as to cranial index and locality. Most of the crania come from either megalithic tombs or caves. Rock shelters and caves contain the same head form ratio as the total for France; and this is also true of the totality of megalithic tombs. Brachycephalic crania are found in all kinds of interments; there is nothing of an archaeological nature to distinguish them socially or ethnically from the others. They were, therefore, an integral part of the Neolithic population in all sections where they have been found. They cannot have belonged to a separate, unified group of immigrants, but formed rather a residual element in the total population, with a strong genetic impulse for the perpetuation and increase of its peculiar head form, regardless of other racial factors.

The further examination of this problem of western European brachycephaly can best be pursued by a study of Belgium, which formed an extension of the archaeological province of northern France during the Neolithic. Most of the sites of this period come from the Ardennes hills, from the present Walloon-speaking part of Belgium, for the swamps and fens of the Flemish country offered little inducement to Neolithic farmers. It is perhaps for this reason that Neolithic Belgians were even more brachycephalic than their relatives in France—out of seventy skulls of both sexes,77 one-half have cranial indices above 80. The largest series, that of Hastière,78 has a mean of 79.8; and a high variability.79

Among the readily available published crania one may senate eighteen male specimens80 for which adequate measurements have been given. The eighteen adult male skulls divide themselves naturally into two sub groups, of eight and ten, respectively. The first ranges in cranial index from 74 to 77; the second from 80 to 83. This natural division is so marked that it would be futile to seriate the eighteen as a whole, for the mean would fall at a point unrepresented by a single specimen. Seven female crania which accompany this series likewise have none in the middle brackets.

The dolichocephalic group of eight male skulls belongs to a normal Mediterranean type, mesocephalic, and relatively low vaulted. The brachycephals (see Appendix I, col. 17), the important group for our preent purpose, may serve, through comparison, to help elucidate the problem of western European Neolithic brachycephaly.

In Switzerland we had only a few individual crania for study; in France the brachycephalic crania are mingled in individual series with dolichocephalic ones. In the small Belgian group of ten males, however, we have a purely brachycephalic series for comparative purposes.81

In searching for the prototype of these Neolithic Alpine skulls, one turns naturally to the few Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic crania of brachycephalic type for comparison.82 In vault diameters, the Neolithic skulls correspond nearly to the Ofnet ones of the same sexes, but the female examples are smaller than those from the Upper Palaeolithic. All specimens, of all three periods, are low vaulted.

The Neolithic Alpine faces, insofar as we can judge, run somewhat smaller and narrower than do most of the earlier ones; the orbits are much the same, but the noses seem smaller in size. On the whole, the Neolithic brachycephalic crania are less rugged and much smoother than the earlier examples, more globular, and more infantile. The faces look, in many cases, little different from those of the Mediterraneans which accompany them. The stature of these brachycephals varies, but is greater than that of the accompanying long-heads, reaching 165 or 166 cm. for males in the few ascertainable instances. This correlation would favor the Upper Palaeolithic comparison.

It is impossible, in an orderly and logical manner, to explain the presence of these ancestral Alpines during the Neolithic in Europe west of the Alps, north of the Pyrenees, and south of the Rhine. But certain hypotheses83 merit discussion, and by elimination of lesser probabilities we may narrow the field. The most important of these hypotheses are:

(1) The Alpine brachycephals came into the area in question during the Neolithic period, as part of an agricultural invasion, from the east. This theory, which has been accepted as fact by the majority of anthropologists for some thirty or more years, may be practically ruled out. All the evidence in existence serves to contradict it.

(2) The Alpine brachycephals came into the area in question during the Mesolithic, as part of a preagricultural invasion, from North Africa by way of the Iberian Peninsula. This theory is based upon the discovery of allegedly brachycephalic crania at Muge in Portugal. Vallois has recently shown that the Muge crania are in reality of Mediterranean type, and that most, if not all, of the alleged brachycephaly was due to the post-mortem deformation of a few skulls. Hence, in its usual form, this theory may also be considered unlikely, although less improbable than the first.

(3) The Alpine brachycephals are Afalou type round-heads, carried up to western Europe with the Mesolithic movements from North Africa, or from Asia by some unknown Mesolithic movement. We have already suggested that the Ofnet skulls might have had some such origin. But the Alpine crania are smaller, and more globular. The faces are much smaller, though similar in proportions. These differences may possibly be explained by mixture with small-headed and short-statured Mediterraneans.

(4) The Alpine brachycephals represent a continuation of the Aurignacian brachycephalic tendency found at Solutré. The Azilian culture was a blend of Capsian and Magdalenian elements. It is possible that a brachycephalic clement from Palaeolithic France passed into this Mesolithic cultural expression, and was carried over into the Neolithic, which retained many Mesolithic Cultural forms.

(5) The Alpine brachycephals are the result of a genetic tendency toward a globular skull form acting a dolichocephalic group. Without reasonable doubt, there has been a tendency toward an increase in brachycephaly in the Alpine racial zone in modern times. We are as yet unaware of its true cause and of its mechanism. But we cannot, for various reasons, suppose that the Neolithic Alpines were merely brachycephalized Mediterraneans. They were often taller, and had larger vaults, lower orbits, shorter faces, and wider noses. Furthermore, the soft-parts of living representatives of this type are distinctly un-Mediterranean.

The true answer to the question, “What is the origin of the western European Alpines?” cannot yet be given. But we may be reasonably certain that they are older than the Neolithic, that they may owe part, at least, of their reduced size of vault and face to mixture with Mediterraneans, and that their round headedness possessed a strong genetic survival value. At the moment, the theory of an Upper Palaeolithic survival somewhat reduced in head and face size, seems the most reasonable.


66 Childe, The Danube in Prehistory, p. 186.

67 Schlaginhaufen, O., Die menschlichen Skeletrester aus der Steinzeit des Wauwilersees.

68 Covering the following crania:
(1) Pittard, E., ASAG, vol. 7, 1935, pp. 118—122. One female, Lake Neuchatel.
(2) Pittard, E., Anth, vol. 10, 1899, pp. 281—289. One female, Point, Lake Neuchatel
(3) Schenk, A., REAP, vol. 15, 1905, pp. 389—407. One female,Lake Leman.
(4) Koilman, J., KDGA, vol. 29, 1899, p. 116. One female, Auvernier.
(5) Schlaginhaufen, O., op. cit. One female, Greifensee.

69 Schlaginhaufen O., op. cit.

70 Schenk, A., REAP, vol. 14, 1904, pp. 335375.

Childe, The Danube in Prehistory, pp. 163, 174.

Dechelette, J., Manuel d’archaeologie prehistorique.
Menghin, O., Weltgeschichte der Steinzeit.

73 Salmon, P., REAP, vol. 5, 1895, pp. 155—181. Series re-divided to agree with conventional partitionment of cranial index.

74 Unpublished measurements by Mrs. Ruth Sawtelle Wallis.

75 Salmon op. cit.

76 Bonin, G. von, considers the Beaumes Chaudes series a Palaeolithic survival into Neolithic times. HB, vol. 7, 1935, pp. 216—217.

77 Including those on Salmon’s list and others.

78 Salmon, 1895, 33 crania.

79 Range 72—88, o = 3.65.

80 Anvers, 3; Sandron, 10; Préalle, 4; Grotte du Docteur, Huccorgen, 1.

81 These crania come from the same series as the dolicho- ones, Sandron and Préalle, plus the Huccorgne cranium. There is no such thing as an exclusively brachycephalic Neolithic group of any size from any one place.

82 Solutré #2, #5, Le Placard (1881). Solutré #1 and #3, and Le Placard F and B, are high mesocephals. Among Mesolithic crania, Ofnet 1800, 1801, 1802, 1806, 1815.

83 The hypothesis that they were the ancestors of the Lapps serves in no direct way to explain their origin and will be dealt with later.