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asia people traits features

When adaptive traits are considered, the aphorism coined by Frank Livingstone more than forty-five years ago still holds true: “There are no races, there are only clines” (1962, p. 279). Each such trait is distributed as a gradient controlled by the distribution of the selective force that controls the intensity of its expression, and no two such selective forces have the same distribution. In order to make biological sense out of trait distributions, each has to be analyzed separately. The pattern made by the intersection of such traits has no meaning in and of itself. However, people in a given part of the world cluster together and look more like each other than they look like people in other parts of the world. What is being expressed in this is simply local relatedness—“family resemblance writ large”—and such regional groupings based on the sharing of similar traits can be called “clusters” (Brace 1996, p.136; 2005, p. 16).

The features that demonstrate the visible relatedness of local or larger regional clusters of people almost certainly have no particular adaptive value. Where a set of traits operates to show the relatedness of people in a particular region, it can be taken as a given that those traits are unimportant for the survival of the people in question. Whether the shape of the eye sockets is round or oblong, whether their lateral edges are on the same plane as the root of the nose or swept backwards, whether the outline of the whole skull viewed from the top is round or oval, whether the skull viewed from the rear has an unbroken oval contour or displays vertical sides that abruptly change directions at a boss as the flat sides of the roof angle up to the midline—but none of these have any influence on the differential ability to survive.

Such features are clearly different between one population and another and warrant recognition. The problem is in finding an appropriate designation for obvious clusters. The common use of the word “Mongoloid” to refer to the people of Asia runs into the problem that, when craniofacial features are analyzed, the Mongols themselves tend to share the fewest features with the rest of the inhabitants of Asia. If the features of the inhabitants of the Caucasus between Russia and Iran are used to describe “Caucasians,” then the Norwegians and the English do not qualify for this designation. “Negro” is based on skin color, an adaptive trait, and it thus lumps together long-time residents of the tropics all the way from New Guinea to southern India and equatorial Africa, even though they may have been separated for the better part of the Pleistocene.

The best thing to do when identifying clusters is to indicate geographic area. One can speak of the inhabitants of Asia, and, when needed, specify whether Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, or West Asia is meant. The same approach can be used for any of the geographic entities of the world. Specifying a locale of long-term residence basically solves the problem of naming human clusters.

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