The Mountains
of Giants

Papers of the Peabody museum of American Archeology and Ethnology , Harvard University vol.XXIII-NO.3

The Mountains of Giants
A racial and cultural study of the Northern Albanian mountain Ghegs
By Carleton S. Coon

The Dinaric Problem

Deniker (1852-1918) was the first major taxonomist of man to recognize the difference between 2 types of European brachycephal, the curvoccipital of Alpine with his round face, low-bridged blobby nose, and stocky build; and the taller leaner Adriatic or Dinaric with his planoccipital skull, his long triangular face and his long narrow and convex nose. He correctly located the Dinaric concentration in the mountains which skirt the eastern Adriatic coast. A similar form the Armenoid, he also found in the mountains of Armenia and the Caucasus. Series measured since Deniker’s day hace confirmed the existence of such people in these areas. Other evidence has shown that Dinaric features are not confined to the white race, but may be seen on parts of Asia and Oceania, and among some of the Indians from Mexico and Peru. These observations have led to the theses that Dinaricization is a biological proces which can happen to people anywhere under circumstances yet to be established.
In all of the early cranial material discovered so far in the world, Dinaric specimens are absent. Nothing could be more removed from the cranial and facial form of Neanderthal Cro-Magnon, Galley Hill, or any other known fossil. A short, high head a long face with a narrow jaw a flat occiput-all these features stand at the opposite evolutionary pole form the early specimens. Non of the early skulls from America are Dinaric, nor are any to be found in the far East and Africa are almost uniformly Mediterranean, and what tendency toward brachycephaly occurs is cur occipital , presumably a survival from the earlier populations.
The earliest Dinarics known consist of a few skulls from Bronze Age sites in Mesopotamia, and late Copper Age burials in Cyprus, dated at about 3000B.C. Even then, Dinarics were a minority. Fragments of three presumably Dinaric skulls have been unearthed in Spanish Bell Baker tombs, while in Britain, Austria, Germany and the Adriatic Alps a hundred or more may attributed to the Bronze Age. Tomb forms and frave furniture indicate without question that these people were immigrants from eastern Mediterranean .
During the whole racial history of Europe there is but one time when these migrations could have taken place-the beginning of the Bronze Age. Even then the immigrants could not have come in large numbers, nor as a racially homogeneous population.

Today the Dinaric concentration lies in the Adriatic Alps, with a smaller nucleus in the Carpathians.
Authors who published before 1929 felt that the very center would be found in northern Albania, because the country was wild and rugged, the local speech the most archaic in Europe, and because the small series of mountaineers already measured in Scutari (Shkoder) so indicate. Ghegia seemed the strategic place in which to study the Dinaric problem. This is really 2 problems: (a) to describe in detail the Dinaric type and (b) to explain it.

We shall attempt both.

Modern biology offers at least 2 theories which would explain Dinarization.

1. The Hybridization Theory.

A combination of dominants in a cross between 2 genetically different populations, one long headed and narrow faced, the other round headed and broad faced, If the short head, boad head , high head, broad forehead narrow jaw, kong face lang nose narrow nose-tall these were dominant over their opposite numbers, and brought together, a Dinaric form might result.

2. The Evolutionary Theory.

As Dobzhansky points out , most geneticists now hold that mutations take plase gene by gene. If Dinaricization is an evolutionary process, when only one gene is involved. To determine this we must study the mechanics of the Dinaric head and face form. Furthermore, if this is true Dinaric European should not differ from other Europeans, or Dinaric American Indians from other American Indians, etc.
In “The Races of Europe” I pointed out that all over central Europe different populations had been experiencing a steady rise in the cephalic index from about the 6th century A.D. onward, I attributed this to the re-emergence of genetic elements derived from pre-Neolithic populations. As farmers and herdsmen penetrated Europe, the hunters and gatherers withdrew to the forests and mountains . Eventually submerged element in the general population. The historic increase in brachycephaly was thus due to the selective value of that particular head form as their conquerors killed themselves off in war or were selectively reduces by immigration.

Weidenreich has recently taken the position that branchycephalization is a progressive evolutionary step. He claims that it produces a more efficient container for the brain that a long, narrow skull; that a round head is best suited for the requirements of the erect posture. Whether or not this thesis is mechanically correct, Weidenreich has done a service in lending his support to the manifest conclusion that European branchycephaly is endemic and not of recent derivation from other continents. That in an isolated population may be dominant is one of our present subjects of investigation.

The present material is suited for such a study. The land of the trabla Ghegs is small country , little more than, 3500 miles square. It’s population probably runs to about 250.000 of whom 90.000 may be Catholics and 160.000 Moslems. In 1930 we were told that the population of Mirdita was about 11.000-all Catholics; that Puka 14.000 of whom 8.000 were Moslems and 6.000 Catholics. These figures are probably too low. The 1927 census reported 814.485 persons in Albania; the 1930 census raised the figure to 1.003.124, of whom 104.184 were Catholics . The 1930 census gives the population density for Albania as 36.5 per square kilometer, or 102 per square mile. The mountain Gheg country, newly divided into 3 provinces without regard to tribal boundaries, was said to have 100 inhabitants per square mile in Dibra province, 75 in Scutari province and 64 in Kosovo province .

In 1930 the land area of Albania was 10,600 square miles. With a population of 1.003.124 the density was thus 94 per square mile, not 102. If we subtract the 8 from each of the other figures, we obtain the following corrections:
Dibra-91, Scutari-67 Kosova-56. This can be checked by means of the Catholic figures . Of the 104.000 Catholics at least 14.000 lice in cities, leaving no more than 90.000 ion tribal lands. Tribal lands exclusively Catholic cover 1225 square miles; those occupied by Catholics and Moslems together about 440 square miles. Thus 1450 square miles may be considered Catholic country, and with a population of 90.000 this yields 62 persons per square miles. Which accords with the correct census figure. Striking a point between the Dibra and Kosova figures we obtain about 70 per square mile for Moslems lands, which cover about 2300 square miles. This yields a population of about 160.000. One hundred and sixty plus 90 equals 250. Hence our estimate of a total Gheg population of 250.000. Oue series of nearly 1100 men may represent one per cent of the adult male total, a large sample, compared to other national surveys of equal detail. It was drawn from all tribes and from every part of each tribe. It concludes chief elders gendarmes, farmers, what artisans there are, bodjas and in short a complete cross section of the population, both to differentiations based on rank and occupation. We did not measure mountain man who had come down to the cities; we went into the mountains and measured them in their homes

Beside the anthropometric data itself we have taken some trouble to describe and discuss the natural and social environments in which our subjects lived. This material is as essential for our study as the measurements and observations on the men themselves. Ti not only described the physico-chemicla influences that bear on the growing organisms, but also designates their system of mating, which are of prime importance to anyone interested in genetic problems. Furthermore, and as we shall see this is also of primary importance, it reveals the cultural controlled mechanical influence which literally “shape our ends” the techniques of cradling babies while their heads are still plastic, and which the Albanian mountaineers, like other peoples in southeastern Europe and western Asia, employ.
In the following chapters we shall not attempt to cover every detail of Gheg civilization . This is not a work of ethnography, but one of cosmetology. We are interested in the main outline of the culture as a whole and only in those details that bear specifically on outr problem: who are the Ghegs and how did they acquire their present anatomical characteristics?

One further act of definition s necessary: to place our sample on the scale of time. In describing any culture, the ethnographer must set his scene at some specific point in time. All cultures change, either in complexity or merely in detail, and even those which move the most slowly vary enough in a few years to make this step necessary. Such a specific time locus is called the “ethnographic present”
For those purposes of this study the ethnographic present should be the time between the date at which the majority of our anthropometric subjects were conceived and that at which they had reached adult physical form. Thus both heredity and environment will be given due attention. The 1063 men in our series range from 18 years of age to senility with the majority between 25 and 49.
The mean was 39.4 years. We did our measuring in 1929-30. The mean date of birth was thus 1890, with a range of from 1860 or earlier to 1911. If we add 20 years for the maturation process the range rises from 1860 to the date or measuring, with its mean at 1910.

Our ethnographic present is therefore a time band 2 decades wide, concentrated in the period 1890-1910. At this time the mountain tribal areas of Ghegnia formed, like rest of Albania, part of the Turkish Empire, and the heroic age of family feuds and intertribal warfare was in full swing. In the cultural descriptions given in chapter 3 on “technology and Occupation” through 6 “Ritual Life” the reader must remember that unless other wise specified we have reference only to this epic age.


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