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THE ETHNOGRAPHY OF EUROPE.
BY JAMES HEATH.
December 14th, 1880.
THE Birmingham Historical Society is, I suppose, founded for the investigation of the history of mankind everywhere and under all circumstances, and it would therefore no doubt welcome a paper by one of its members on the ancient civilization of Egypt or of Assyria, or on the very interesting history of India.
European history however, if not our only, is our principal subject, and I have therefore thought that in this paper I could not do better than discuss the earliest distribution of the nations of Europe and the race affinities which unite or contrast them. And first of all I must ask you to dismiss from your minds the idea that there is any such thing as a division of the human race into Caucasian, Mongolian and so forth. This division was the invention of Blumenbach, who was a professor at the Hanoverian University of Göttingen ninety years ago, and it is unfortunate in more ways than one. Blumenbach had formed a large collection of human skulls, and his notion was that skulls which were alike in appearance and developement must belong to the same race. It was an idea flattering to our self love, for he took the most civilized populations of the world, the nations of modern Europe, the ancient Egyptians, and the Jews, and made of them one race, superior to the rest of mankind. Then he wanted a name for this superior race; the most beautiful skull in his collection was that of a Georgian woman from the Caucasus, and he therefore pitched on Caucasian as the title of the highest type of mankind. But the whole thing is absurd : the Jews, the ancient Egyptians, and the nations of modern Europe belong to three very different divisions of the human family. The word Caucasian was most unfortunate as a title of any race; for the inaccessible mountain range of the Caucasus has been, and is at this moment, the refuge of the broken remnants of many different races; and the Georgians of the Caucasus, so far from being connected with the European nations, belong to the division of the human family which Blumenbach himself called Mongolian. The fact appears to be that all races in an advanced stage of civilization will have well developed skulls : and that in order to learn the race affinities of mankind we need to study not merely their bodily conformation, which may be influenced by climate and habits, but their history and their language. Taking all these means of arriving at the truth modern Ethnologists say that the European nations belong to the Indo-European, or as it is now generally called the Aryan family of nations. Now what does that mean? In the first place it has nothing to do with the Arian theology supported by Arius the presbyter of the Church in Alexandria. It means the agricultural nations, the ploughing nations, it is derived from the same root as the Latin aro, to plough, the root from which comes in English the word earing in the sense of ploughing in our version of the Bible, "the oxen and the young asses which ear the ground," that is plough the ground, so the earth means originally that which is eared, that which is ploughed, and an oar is that with which you plough the waves. What we mean is that there was a time when the ancestors of the Greeks and Romans, and French, and Germans, and English, and Irish, and Russians, and Poles, and the ancestors of the Persians and of the Hindoos all lived together somewhere in Central Asia as one tribe, or as one knot and bundle of tribes, probably long after many other divisions of the human race had wandered off in quest of distant settlements. They lived together long enough to develop a particular form of language, particular views about religion, particular customs and laws, and even a particular series of legends and nursery tales, before they broke up and separated. They called themselves the ploughing nations as distinguished from the wandering nomad tribes by which they were surrounded and with which they were continually at war, tribes which like the modern Tartars had no agriculture and no settled habitation, but only flocks and tents, and whom from the word Tura a horse, we call the Turanian races. When at last, at a comparatively late period, the Aryan nations themselves broke up and began to wander from their original seat, one body of them turned southward and invaded India, subduing the original inhabitants, and became the ancestors of the Hindoos proper, that is of the Sanskrit speaking tribes of Northern Hindostan; another detachment settled in Persia, where their descendants remain to this day, speaking a language derived from the ancient Zend dialect. These two branches together form what I have called the Eastern Aryans. The other great division of the same main stock turned westward, and not all at once, but by successive waves of migration found and occupied settlements in Europe.
The settled population of early Europe seems to have been of this Western Aryan race.
The Southern branch of it I have ventured to call Pelasgian. If any scholar objects to that term I will explain that I merely use it in its widest and loosest sense to express that chain of Aryan tribes which spread in succession from east to west through the peninsulas and islands of the Mediterranean, thus occupying Greece, Illyria, Italy and Sicily, the coast of France, and most probably at least some part of Spain. North of them stretched the kindred Keltic race in its two branches of Gaels and Kymri, occupying not only those which we now consider Keltic countries, viz. Wales, the south west of Ireland, and the north west of Scotland, but all Ireland, all Great Britain, the whole of France except the southern coast, all Belgium, the whole of what is now south Germany, and onward into the mountain districts of Switzerland and the Tyrol. We know the history of the Mediterranean Aryans at Greece and Rome pretty clearly from about B.C. 500. The palmy days of the Kelts to the north of them were perhaps about the year B.C. 400, when not yet invaded by the Germans they became themselves the invaders, extending their frontiers southward, overrunning and occupying Lombardy, and even sacking Rome. But our present concern is not so much with their later exploits as with their earlier condition. What sort of people were these Western Aryans when they first occupied Europe ? The answer I think as regards both Kelts and Pelasgians must be the same. They were not yet a highly civilized race, but they were certainly not savages. The three necessary arts of civilization, agriculture, weaving and metal working, were known and practised among them. Agriculture indeed was the very thing which distinguished them from their Turanian enemies. Then they did not clothe themselves in the skins of beasts, but wore woollen garments which their women spun and wove.
And they certainly brought with them a knowledge of metal working. Iron indeed, the hardest of the metals to smelt was unknown or rare, but they had bronze weapons and implements without which indeed they must have failed to clear ground for their husbandry amid the hitherto unbroken forests of Western Europe. As for their form of government it was that of a patriarchal chieftainship, where the ruler of each little tribe is at once the sovereign, and the real or supposed kinsman of his dependents, the form of government which we find in the Homeric poems, and which has existed almost to our our own time in the clans of the Scotch Highlands. The question of course arises, whether these Pelasgian and Keltic tribes of the Aryan stock were the first inhabitants of Europe. I believe that they were the first population. By this I mean that they were the first race who occupied the land, cut down forests, broke up the soil with the plough, built villages, and in course of time made some sort of roadway from one village to another. They were in short in Europe what the first settlers were in America or Australia. But it is equally clear that they were preceded by a people who were not settlers. Along all the sea coasts of Europe, and up most of the great rivers, but almost always near the water, there are to be found remains, for the most part sepulchral remains, of an earlier race of inhabitants. These remains consist of barrows and mounds of earth sometimes protected and supported by a cromlech or edifice of unhewn stones, with flint arrow heads and other weapons rudely fashioned either from stone or bone. There is no reason to suppose that any Aryan tribe even on its first entry into Europe was so destitute of the arts of life. But at present the only instances of primeval non-Aryan tribes in Europe are the Lapps, Finns, and Esthonians in the North Western