No Such Thing as "Mediterranean Cuisine"

September 30, 2010

What nutritionists call the "Mediterranean diet" just consists of healthy ingredients commonly found around the Mediterranean, but doesn't represent a single, unified regional cuisine because the Mediterranean isn't a single, unified region. And its many divisions are reflected in its culinary diversity.

To speak of 'Mediterranean cuisine' — to use such a catch-all classification for the wines and herbs of southern France, the intricate and bold spices of Morocco, the octopus salad of Greece, the cool yoghurt soup of Syria and the hearty fish stew of Italy's Liguria — is a fool's errand, writes Corinne Vella.

The geographical area that comprises the Mediterranean consists of three continents and more than fifteen countries. It is a region so divided socially, politically, religiously and economically, that the notion of a single cuisine being the unifying factor is a heart-warming but wildly inaccurate idea. There is no such thing as Mediterranean cuisine. It is more accurate to speak of several types of cuisine within this region.

Commonalities do exist among the richly diverse range of culinary traditions found around the Mediterranean. The cuisines of the region can be roughly clustered into three groups: North African, eastern Mediterranean and southern European. But though there are some similarities within and between each group, they remain distinct, born as they are of differing cultures.

The misconception of a common culinary identity is possibly rooted in the idea that Mediterranean countries do share some things: their climate and terrain and much of their history of imperial colonisation and trade relations. Large swathes of the area have been variously influenced by the Phoenicians, the Romans, the Arabs, the Turks and the Venetians, all of whom have left traces of their presence and the lingering impression of a shared regional identity.

Marry that lingering impression to the contemporary concept of a "Mediterranean diet" and you have the basis for a myth, the idea of the existence of a cuisine that persists in the face of evidence to the contrary.

A food could be considered normal in one culture but have shock value in another. No eyebrows are raised when wine is drunk with meals anywhere from Spain to Greece, for example, but no self-respecting Muslim community, of which there are several in the Mediterranean, would count wine as part of its cuisine. Tuscany gorges on pork products, something not done anywhere from Morocco to Turkey. Lamb, chicken and fish are typical there. Prosciutto crudo is not.

Many traditional dishes are centred on religious holidays and the practices associated with them. Certain foods, such as meat and dairy products, are prohibited at significant points in the religious calendars, giving the various cuisines at least some of their individual characteristics. Though that much seems obvious, the belief remains that there is such a thing as a Mediterranean cuisine that could be alternatively referred to as "the Mediterranean diet".

"Mediterranean diet" is not the gastronomic flipside of "Mediterranean cuisine", nor is the difference between the two terms merely semantic. The "Mediterranean diet" is a model of healthy eating, rather than a truly localised diet born of tradition. Its supposed widespread presence in Mediterranean countries is itself becoming a myth of sorts, given the inroads made by global fast food brands. Even if it were not, the "Mediterranean diet" could not be related to any cuisine in the anthropological sense.

A cuisine is not invented overnight, nor is it established in the space of a couple of generations, as the "Mediterranean diet" has been. Rather, it is the distillation of generations-worth of experience of making the most of, or making do with, whatever nature provided. Many traditional dishes from mountain villages, in Crete for example, are based on survival tactics and the art of foraging for food in the wild. The predominance of lamb, goat meat and poultry in Arab cuisine has more to do with the portability of the animals in question, and their ability to survive on meagre rations — an important factor among nomadic tribes — than it has to do with partiality of taste.

Seen altogether, Mediterranean cuisines are a colourful mix, vaguely connected when taken at face value, but, when viewed historically, as fractured and deeply divided as the region itself. It is in that sense alone, perhaps, that there can be said to be the merest shadow of a unified cuisine that is truly Mediterranean.

Corinne Vella. "The Myth of the Mediterranean Diet". Taste, November 2004.

Northern and Southern Facial Composites

September 25, 2010

Here's a comparison of phenotypes from Northern and Southern Italy using large random samples of 2000-2006 Miss Italia beauty pageant contestants, and deputies from the 14th Legislature of the Italian Republic, which were averaged out to create composite faces. Note that I've left out the soccer player composites that were part of my original post because of the small sample sizes and other issues.

40 Models from
Veneto, Northern Italy
43 Models from
Sicily, Southern Italy

36 Deputies from
Veneto, Northern Italy
56 Deputies from
Sicily, Southern Italy

The composite Veneto model's hair is about half a shade lighter than the Sicilian model's, and the Sicilian deputy is a little older, grayer and balder than the Veneto deputy. But apart from that, the similarities are quite striking — even greater than those between other adjacent Caucasoid groups. That shouldn't really come as a surprise, but I'm sure it will to Nordicists and people raised on stereotypes.

Software: Sqirlz Morph

Legacy of the Romans in Britain

September 23, 2010

This is an excerpt from one of the articles contributed by Roman military historian Mike Ibeji to an online BBC series on ancient history.

Striving to be Roman

The Roman invasion of Britain was arguably the most significant event ever to happen to the British Isles. It affected our language, our culture, our geography, our architecture and even the way we think. Our island has a Roman name, its capital is a Roman city and for centuries (even after the Norman Conquest) the language of our religion and administration was a Roman one.

For 400 years, Rome brought a unity and order to Britain that it had never had before. Prior to the Romans, Britain was a disparate set of peoples with no sense of national identity beyond that of their local tribe. In the wake of the Roman occupation, every 'Briton' was aware of their 'Britishness'. This defined them as something different from those people who came after them, colouring their national mythology, so that the Welsh could see themselves as the true heirs of Britain, whilst the Scots and Irish were proud of the fact that they had never been conquered by Rome.

Yet perhaps Rome's most important legacy was not its roads, nor its agriculture, nor its cities, nor even its language, but the bald and simple fact that every generation of British inhabitant that followed them — be they Saxon, Norman, Renaissance English or Victorian — were striving to be Roman. Each was trying to regain the glory of that long-lost age when Britannia was part of a grand civilisation, which shaped the whole of Europe and was one unified island.

I am usually asked five questions whenever people talk to me about Roman Britain, and they find the answers profoundly surprising. People's view of Rome is of a grand, monolithic dictatorship which imposed its might upon an unwilling people, dictating how they lived, how they spoke and how they worshipped. They see the Romans as something akin to the Nazis (which is hardly surprising since the fascists tried to model themselves on Rome). The truth about Roman Britain is much more subtle and surprising, and serves to show why on the one hand their legacy has endured so long, and on the other, why their culture vanished so quickly once they departed from these shores.

Dr Mike Ibeji. "An Overview of Roman Britain". BBC History: Romans, 2001-2009.

Dante Alighieri Facial Reconstruction

September 21, 2010

This paper describes the multi-disciplinary approach to reconstruct the face of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). Since Dante's sepulchre will be opened in 2021, the reconstructive process is based on morphological and metric data collected on the poet's cranium during the formal identification of his remains in 1921 by the anthropologist Fabio Frassetto, as well as on the resulting plaster model. Starting from this plaster model and a morphologically compatible reference mandible, since the original mandible was never found, a 3D digital model of the complete skull was obtained by reverse engineering and virtual modelling techniques. The most important aspect in this work was the method of virtual modelling proposed for the ex novo generation of the mandible. The physical model of the skull (cranium + mandible) was then produced by means of a rapid prototyping system. This model was finally used to recreate Dante's face via traditional facial reconstruction techniques currently used in forensic anthropology.

Benazzi et al. "The face of the poet Dante Alighieri reconstructed by virtual modelling and forensic anthropology techniques". J Archaeol Sci, 2009.

Italian-Argentineans Are Mostly Southern

September 19, 2010

The study analyzes Italian emigration to Argentina from Sicily and Calabria between 1880-1930, compared with out-migration flows from Piedmont. The concepts of cultural patrimony and of migratory strategy are used to measure the different potentials and job opportunities in the Argentinean labor market as well as in the Italian context for those returning home. Considering the high proportion of returnees, a positive or negative correlation between region of origin and of destination can be proposed. Southern Italians indicate a more permanent settlement. The authors conclude that the Argentinean society in its Italian component is the result of Southern rather than Northern influences.

Cacopardo and Moreno. "Migration from Southern Italy to Argentina: Calabrians and Sicilians (1880-1930)". Studi Emigr, 1990.

Here are some photos of the Calabrian community in Argentina (click to enlarge):

Source: Círculo Calabrés de La Plata

Few Foreigners in Ancient Rome

September 17, 2010

A common narrative is that the Roman Empire fell because Italy was overrun by (mostly non-European) foreigners who replaced the native population. But according to historian David Noy, the number of foreigners in the city of Rome — which would have been much higher than anywhere else in Italy — was only about 5% at its peak. And these foreigners (especially the slaves) had higher mortality rates and lower birth rates than natives, and were sometimes even subjected to mass expulsions.

In addition, half of the main areas from which they came were other parts of Europe adjacent to Italy: Gaul (France), Hispania (Spain and Portugal), Central Europe (Southern Germany), Eastern Europe (the Balkans), and Greece. And even those from outside of Europe were predominantly of Greek descent, while the Jewish ones never fully assimilated into Roman society, remaining an identifiable minority.

Population Size:

Immigration was essential to Rome both demographically, to increase or at least maintain the size of the city's population, and socially, to provide skilled workers and soldiers. The slave trade met some of the requirements, but free immigrants were always needed. Provincials probably began to outnumber Italians among newcomers to Rome in the first centuries BC and AD. The third century AD, when all recruitment for the Praetorian Guard was done in the provinces, may have seen the numerical peak of Rome's foreign population. It is plausible to suppose that at least 5% of the city's inhabitants were born outside Italy in that period; the reality could be much greater.


Foreigners who did not have Roman citizenship were always liable to summary expulsion from the city, and by the fourth century the possession of citizenship was no longer protection against such treatment. Although there was a certain amount of xenophobia within the Roman literary class, expulsion was only used in certain circumstances: to deal with the actual or potential misdeeds or alleged bad influence of specific groups (which could be defined by nationality, religion or occupation), or to counteract the effect of food shortages by reducing the number of mouths to feed. Expulsions were probably not carried out very efficiently, and were always short-lived.

Mortality Rate:

It is generally agreed that mortality was probably higher in Rome than elsewhere in the Roman world, because of insanitary living conditions and the risk of contagious diseases; diseases such as tuberculosis may have been endemic. Newcomers to [17th-18th c.] London were more susceptible to plague than natives were, and the same point has been made about the greater susceptibility of Rome's immigrants to plasmodium falciparum malaria. Tuberculosis might be particularly dangerous to the young adults who probably formed most of the immigrant population. [...] Slaves are likely to have suffered from higher mortality than the free population, and immigrant slaves would have been particularly vulnerable to diseases which were not prevalent in their homelands.

Birth Rate:

It is also likely that the birth rate would have been lower at Rome than elsewhere. Many migrants coming to the city would already have spent some of their fertile years elsewhere, and the slave part of the population would have been less fertile than the rest. Free male citizen immigrants may have postponed marriage until they had access to the corn dole, which from the time of Augustus was only available to a restricted number of recipients. In London, for similar reasons, the natives were closer to reproducing themselves than migrants were, and the same would almost certainly have been true for Rome.

Asia Minor:

Although literature emphasizes the significance of Asian slaves at Rome, inscriptions present a rather different picture. The large number of epitaphs in Greek, especially for people from the province of Asia, is consistent with the large number of recorded peregrini [foreigners] in suggesting that the migration of people of free status was particularly significant for this area. The evidence is, however, almost exclusively concerned with the Greek population of Asia Minor, and there is very little sign of people of non-Greek background coming to Rome except as slaves. This is consistent with the general predominance of the most romanized/hellenized section of their home society among free migrants to Rome.


However, most Syrians arrived at Rome through the workings of the slave trade. Syrus was a common slave name, although not necessarily given only to Syrians, since the association Syrian = slave seems to have been very widespread....

Voluntary migration from Syria to Rome would probably have begun in the late Republic. Most of the evidence, however, is from the second century AD or later. There is a clear implication that some of the slaves and ex-slaves labelled Syrians in the literary sources were thoroughly imbued with Greek culture, whether their ancestry was Syrian, Greek or mixed. Solin (1983, 722) notes that Syrian immigrants in general tended to be of Greek descent or at least to be from the most hellenized part of Syrian society.


Most references to Egyptians at Rome concern Alexandrians, apparently of Greek extraction, rather than 'indigenous' Egyptians. On the other hand, the stereotyped Roman image of Egyptians concentrated on the aspects of their behaviour perceived as most outlandish, particularly the worship of animal-gods, and largely ignored the Greek component of their culture. There seems to be something of a contradiction between image and reality which may be due at least in part to anti-Cleopatra propaganda and its legacy.

North Africa:

North Africa contained some cities which were Greek, Libyan or Phoenician foundations, but many of the main population centres began as Roman colonies (notably the re-established Carthage) or military settlements. Ricci (1994b, 198) believes that the colonization programme of Julius Caesar and Augustus in North Africa also stimulated a population flow from there to Rome. The inhabitants of the area came from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds (Italian, Greek, Punic, Libyan, Berber, Jewish), but, as with other areas, it is likely to have been the most romanized/hellenized section of the population which provided most of the free migrants to Rome.


The group which made the greatest effort to retain a separate identity was the Jews. In their religious and communal institutions, their use of separate catacombs, their epigraphic and liturgical use of Greek, and even their naming practices, they behaved differently from others and were able to pass on a Jewish identity, so that people whose ancestors had lived at Rome for generations and who were otherwise well integrated into Roman society were still identifiably Jewish.

David Noy. Foreigners at Rome: Citizens and Strangers. London: Duckworth, 2000.

Related: Biochemistry of Skeletons from Ancient Rome

Minimal Demographic Impact of Roman Slavery

September 16, 2010

It's commonly thought that slaves made up a huge percentage of Italy's population during the Roman Empire, and that most were of foreign origin, eventually replacing the native Italians. Historian Nathan Rosenstein turns this conventional notion on its head by showing that previous estimates of slaves' numbers are all wrong, and that increases in urban populations were caused instead by migrants from rural areas of Italy. These findings are supported by DNA evidence that detects no significant change in Italy's gene pool from the Iron Age.

Recent studies of Italian demography have further increased doubts about a rapid expansion of the peninsula's servile population in this era. No direct evidence exists for the number of slaves in Italy at any time. Brunt has little trouble showing that Beloch's estimate of 2 million during the reign of Augustus is without foundation. Brunt himself suggests that there were about 3 million slaves out of a total population in Italy of about 7.5 million at this date, but he readily concedes that this is no more than a guess. As Lo Cascio has cogently noted, that guess in effect is a product of Brunt's low estimate of the free population in Italy in A.D. 14. That is, Brunt must assume that the slave population had come to comprise nearly 40 percent of the population of Italy by the time of Augustus because he believes that the nonservile population of Italy had only managed to stay even between 225 B.C. and A.D. 14. At the same time, however, the number of residents of cities and towns throughout the peninsula and especially of Rome itself was skyrocketing. Consequently, without the supposition that slaves made up a very high percentage of the total population, not enough people would have been left in the countryside to produce the food needed to feed those in the towns. The basis for the supposition that slaves in Italy numbered as many as 3 million by the reign of Augustus in other words really consists of nothing more than a kind of elaborate circular argument in which the low free population "explains" the high number of slaves, which in turn "explains" how there could be so few free men and women in Italy.

Brunt also advances the claim that the Romans owned about 500,000 slaves circa 212, which suggests that, in his opinion, the slave population of Italy might have seen an average annual net gain between then and the end of the first century B.C. of perhaps 12,500 individuals. But the starting point for postulating such a rapid rate of increase is also based on a similar piece of guesswork. After noting that, by his reckoning, the Romans had mobilized about 11 percent of their free population in that year and mentioning the comparisons that other scholars had made to the 10 percent of their populations that some Balkan states in 1913 and Germany in 1914 had mobilized, Brunt continues, "We have only to suppose that the Romans owned not far short of half a million slaves to reduce the proportion of men in the armies and fleets far below 10 percent, even after allowing that 20,000-30,000 slaves may have been used after 214 as rowers." In other words, a slave population of 500,000 is necessary to bring the ratio of men under arms to the civilian population down into a range that Brunt finds acceptable. He makes no attempt to discover what might constitute a maximum rate of mobilization for a society such as Rome's in this period except to state that productivity per person was lower than in Germany and the war lasted longer than the modern conflicts. Of course, the cost of equipping and maintaining an army was much lower for the Romans as were the economic requirements of the civilian population. And one might suppose that more men could be spared from a simple agrarian economy like ancient Rome's than from a complex industrial one like early twentieth-century Germany's.

Consequently, Brunt's figures offer no basis for assuming that a dramatic rise in the number of Roman slaves — and hence in the number of the plantations that employed them — was getting under way during the early second century. To be sure, Livy records a depressing litany of enslavements by Roman armies in the course of their conquests in this period. But it does not necessarily follow that these would have helped bring about the sixfold increase in the Roman slave population by the reign of Augustus that Brunt postulates. Given the usual assumption in modern scholarship that male slaves significantly outnumbered females, the slave population would have been incapable of reproducing itself at full replacement level. As a result, the Romans regularly had to import substantial numbers of new slaves just to keep the slave population from shrinking. Scheidel has shown that on the assumption that slaves in 225 numbered 500,000 and were declining by only 1 or 2 percent per year, far more new slaves would have been required simply to replace current slaves who died than to generate a net increase of 2.5 million in the total slave population by 25 B.C. As large as the enslavements of this period were, therefore, they cannot in and of themselves demonstrate a rapid rise in Italy's slave population along the lines Brunt supposes. It is also worth bearing in mind that not all of those whom Rome's armies captured will have wound up in Italy, for this by no means constituted the only market for slaves in the early second century. Agriculture and manufacture in Carthage, Sicily, and elsewhere in the Hellenistic world made extensive use of slave labor, and the same factors of imbalanced sex-ratios and low birthrates that created a very high demand for replacement slaves in Italy may well have been operating in these areas also.

However, one piece of negative evidence, to which Scheidel has also drawn attention, provides an intriguing hint that conventional estimates of slaves making up as much as 40 percent of Italy's population by the late first century B.C. may be far too high. An analysis of the genetic makeup of Italy's modern population argues that the various distinctive genetic combinations currently found in different regions within the peninsula by and large track the linguistic distribution that resulted from the migrations of the Iron Age. No data indicate the subsequent large-scale infusion of new genetic material into the populations of these regions except in the case of southern Italy and eastern Sicily, which is explained by the well-documented Greek migrations there. If this finding is correct, then the slave population of Italy even at its greatest extent must have been far smaller than Brunt imagined, perhaps no more than a million. Otherwise, one must suppose that a very large number of slaves existed but made no contribution to the peninsula's genetic composition because they simply failed to reproduce themselves. Yet a very large number of slaves, on the order of 3 million, presupposes that this population was fairly successful at reproducing itself because it could never have reached that size in the first place and then maintained those numbers for centuries through imports alone. As already noted, the majority of new slaves brought into a servile population that was not reproducing itself completely would only have replaced old slaves who had died. But if a population of 3 million slaves, representing as much as 40 percent of Italy's inhabitants in the first century B.C., was successfully reproducing itself, it would surely have left its mark on the genetic makeup of contemporary Italians. That it did not argues strongly for a very low rate of natural reproduction among Italy's slaves, which in turn is difficult to reconcile with the hypothesis that the number of slaves ever grew large enough to comprise 40 percent of the Italian population.

If a dramatic rise in Italy's servile population during the second and first centuries is beginning to appear increasingly questionable, the decline in the numbers of free men and women that is supposed to have been its corollary is also being viewed with a growing skepticism. The census returns of 70 and 28 B.C. represent the linchpin for this pessimistic assessment of the condition of Italy's smallholders. For many years Brunt's powerful defense in Italian Manpower of Beloch's view that these totals demonstrate a drop in the free population of Italy remained unchallenged, even though the numbers themselves, around 900,000 in 70 and over 4 million in 28, would seem to reflect precisely the reverse. But Beloch and Brunt argue that the latter figure represents free men, women, and children, whereas the censors in 70 had counted only adult male citizens. When the totals are adjusted and allowances made for enfranchisements between 70 and 28 and citizens overseas, the result is a net decline in the free population. When these figures are in turn compared with the census returns of 225, the general regression in Italy's free population becomes patent, a regression that Brunt traces to the damage that Rome's wars and the importation of slaves inflicted on Italy's farmers.

In a provocative article, Lo Cascio has asked how it is possible to make demographic sense out of the Beloch-Brunt thesis. The argument they advance must assume that the population between 70 and 28 was declining annually by .5 percent, and the implications of such a decline, Lo Cascio believes, are unacceptable. Beyond question, the urban population of Italy increased dramatically during the middle of the first century, and any rise in urban numbers, with the possible exception of Rome itself, had to come from the rural population. In the preindustrial world, however, an urban population does not grow without a sustained growth in the rural free population whose economic products support it. Thus Lo Cascio argues that unless we are prepared to suppose that the ratio of urban to rural dwellers in Italy between 70 and 28 was far in excess of preindustrial norms — and there is no good reason to do so — the Beloch-Brunt interpretation of the census total for 28 cannot be made plausible. For it must assume that a dramatic and unparalleled drop in Italy's nonurban population was occurring at a time of unprecedented urban growth. Consequently, the figure of 4 million must represent only adult, male citizens just as had been the case in earlier republican censuses. If that is so, then as Tenny Frank long ago argued, the free population of Italy must have been growing vigorously during the second and first centuries.

Lo Cascio's article certainly will not be the final word on the controversy surrounding Beloch's and Brunt's thesis, but the mere fact that this critical prop is now being challenged renders claims about a crisis among Italy's small farmers due to war and the introduction of plantation agriculture all the more open to question. From a different perspective, Morley, too, has raised additional doubts about the conventional view. He notes that the populations of early modern cities generally could not reproduce themselves; they depended instead upon a large, steady influx of immigrants from the countryside to reach and then to maintain their size. Rome, he believes, would have been no different. Therefore the swelling of the city's inhabitants to nearly a million over the course of the second and first centuries B.C. and the stability of their numbers at roughly that level over the ensuing centuries cannot be attributed to a single, discrete event like the displacement of smallholders after the Hannibalic War. Such an episode would create a temporary increase, but then the process would slow, perhaps even reverse course, and the city would shrink as its population gradually died off.

Nathan Rosenstein. Rome at War: Farms, Families, and Death in the Middle Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Refuting Richard Lynn's Italian "IQ" Study

September 13, 2010

Controversial psychologist Richard Lynn, who looks at IQ and its correlates, has published a study claiming to show regional (North-South) differences in intelligence within Italy, which he attempts to correlate with achievement and attribute to admixture. The guy's been called just about every name in the book, and he can now add Padanian Nordicist to that list.


Generally speaking, Lynn is not to be trusted. He's been caught numerous times falsifying and manipulating data to fit his conclusions (e.g. here, here, here, here, here and here), and it looks like he's up to his old tricks again.

This time around, he's not even using actual IQ data, but the proxy of scores on reading, math and science tests administered to 15-year-olds (PISA 2006). So he's attempting to quantify innate general intelligence by looking at the academic performance of school kids, a measure that to a large extent involves learned knowledge and other factors. Indeed, while some researchers report a strong correlation between general intelligence and educational attainment, one of Lynn's own sources, Deary et al. (2007), addressing two of his other sources, suggests that caution should be exercised when attempting to equate the two:

There are various possible causes of the cognitive ability-educational achievement association. Bartels et al. (2002b) found a strong genetic correlation between cognitive ability (measured at 5, 7, 10, and 12 years) and educational achievement at age 12. In an overview, Petrill and Wilkerson (2000) concluded that genetics and shared and non-shared environmental factors all influence intelligence and education, with genetics being important in the correlation between them, and non-shared environment being important in discrepancies between intelligence and educational attainments.

Whereas the correlations indicate that around 50% to 60% of the variance in GCSE [General Certificate of Secondary Education] examination points score can be statistically explained by the prior g [general intelligence] factor, by the same token a large proportion of the variance is not accounted for by g. Some of the remaining variance in GCSE scores will be measurement error, but some will be systematic. Thus, non-g factors have a substantial impact on educational attainment. These may include: school attendance and engagement; pupils' personality traits, motivation and effort; the extent of parental support; and the provision of appropriate learning experiences, teaching quality, school ethos, and structure among other possible factors (Petrides, Chamorro-Premuzic, Frederickson, & Furnham, 2005; Strand, 2003).

But Lynn already knows the pitfalls of his approach. Finland had the highest score in Europe on the 2006 PISA tests, and using his method leads to a calculated IQ of 107, yet he reports Finns' IQ as being just 97. Romanians' PISA score is near the very bottom of Europe, leading to an estimate of 85, though their measured IQ is in fact 94 according to Lynn, just three points lower than that of Finns. With discrepancies like that, there's absolutely no reason to trust his calculated IQs of around 100 and 90 for Northern and Southern Italians. Clearly, PISA scores are not a good substitute for IQ.

Then, to try to prove that disparities in intelligence are long-standing, and therefore genetically based, he uses literacy as another (questionable) proxy for IQ. But whereas for other correlates like stature and infant mortality he includes data from the past and present to show that the North-South gap has remained fairly stable, for literacy he only includes data from 1880, when it was extremely large (55% vs. 20%, on average). Obviously, he wants to hide the fact that the gap has been closing steadily since then, and by the 21st century, literacy among Italians under the age of sixty-five was 99.7% in the North and 99% in the South (Istat 2001).


Lynn goes on to attempt to correlate his fake IQs with achievement. The primary measure he uses is per capita income, which is double in the North what it is in the South. His source is the Italian Statistical Office, but he should be aware that figures for the South's economic performance are greatly underestimated because the official statistics fail to take into account a large underground economy there, according to Burnett and Vaccara (1999):

But the third factor, somewhat alleviating the second, is the existence of a far vaster private sector than ever shows up in the economic statistics. The size of the lavoro nero sector and the black market in the South clearly exceeds that of any other EU region.... In Calabria, with its dire employment figures, 84 percent of the families own their own home. What such anomalies must mean is that real income in Calabria is far higher than what is "on the books." Many among the vast numbers of officially unemployed are, in fact, partly or fully employed. They are earning no social benefits, but they are earning the daily lire that keep their families afloat. [...] A very large part of the South's hidden labor is made up of entrepreneurs, sometimes also employing black labor, and existing themselves outside official recognition, taxation, protection, control, or counting. A recent analysis concludes that "there exists in several zones of the Mezzogiorno [Southern Italy] a whole fabric of small and very small businesses that escape every census, but that work and make profits, share among themselves a serious level of production, export to other regions [of Italy] and abroad." [...] This massive sector skews all the statistics. It means that the GDP for the Italian South (and for Italy as a whole) is far from accurate. And the unemployment figures do not reflect reality.

Then, with the same goal of establishing a pattern that extends far back in time, he also looks at historical achievement, citing Charles Murray's Human Accomplishment. But here again he plays fast and loose with the data. He adds up Murray's "significant figures" for Italy from 1400-1950 and divides them into "North", "Center" and "South" based on their origins. Almost all of them (187 out of 236) come from the "North". However, he explains that he uses the 42nd and 41st lines of latitude as borders, which are, respectively, just north of Rome and just north of Naples. So more than half of the country is put into the "North" category, while the "Center" gets flattened down and pushed into the territory of the "South" (click here to see what that looks like). This is a shameless and transparent ploy by Lynn to hugely inflate the number of significant figures from the "North" and reduce the number elsewhere in the country.

But perhaps even worse, he ignores the main finding of Murray's book, which is that achievement has been concentrated in just a few places, and Southern Italy is but one of many "low-achievement" areas throughout Europe, along with some of the northernmost regions in Italy:

As you can see — and as Murray points out in his book — the highest ranking region is Tuscany, which would normally be considered part of Central Italy. Ironically, Lynn doesn't even have PISA/IQ data for Tuscany, though its 1880 literacy rate isn't particularly high. So he's basically attributing the unique genius of that region to the brainpower of regions that have not produced the same level of genius.


Finally, Lynn offers his "explanation" for the disparities in fake IQ, which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be admixture from the Middle East and North Africa, where (according to him) IQs are in the range of 80-84. As you might expect from someone with an agenda and little knowledge of genetics, he references a lot of old studies that use single or small numbers of loci and don't directly address the question of admixture. One of them has "Neolithic demic diffusion in Europe" in its title, yet he stupidly follows the citation with references to historical groups like Phoenicians and Arabs.

Recent genome-wide studies have been able to detect and quantify admixture like never before. Li et al. (2008), using more than 600,000 autosomal SNPs, identify seven global population clusters, including European, Middle Eastern and Central/South Asian. Contrary to Lynn's claims, it's actually the overachieving Tuscans who have a small amount of non-European admixture and not the underachieving Sardinians:

López Herráez et al. (2009) typed the same samples at close to 1 million SNPs and analyzed them in a Western Eurasian context, identifying a number of subclusters. This time, all of the European samples show some minor admixture. Among the Italians, Tuscany still has the most, and Sardinia has a bit too, but so does Lombardy (Bergamo), which is even farther north:


The bottom line is, we don't know the average IQs for different regions in Italy, which is why Richard Lynn had to resort to making them up. And while Southern Italians are likely to be a few points lower than Northern Italians — as the Irish and Scottish are a few points lower than the English — there's absolutely no reason to believe that North and South would be separated at their extremes by almost a full standard deviation. Lynn certainly hasn't proven anything of the kind with this ridiculous study, nor has he provided any valid explanations for such a disparity.


Since I wrote this article, a number of studies have been published that refute Lynn and confirm what I've said:

Richard Lynn. "In Italy, north-south differences in IQ predict differences in income, education, infant mortality, stature, and literacy". Intelligence, 2010.

Southern Italy's Economy Underestimated

September 12, 2010

While it's true that poverty and unemployment are higher in Southern Italy than in the more industrialized North, the extent of these disparities has been greatly exaggerated because a large segment of the South's economy is underground and continually overlooked in official statistics. Two papers bring this fact to light.

But the third factor, somewhat alleviating the second, is the existence of a far vaster private sector than ever shows up in the economic statistics. The size of the lavoro nero sector and the black market in the South clearly exceeds that of any other EU region, a fact that can now be persuasively demonstrated. According to Italstat, the most reliable source of national economic statistics, "black" labor in the Mezzogiorno amounted to an even fifty percent of all "jobs" by the end of 1998. Six months later, Italstat raised its figure to 51 percent. The figure for the North was bad enough — 31.5 percent — but more in line with other Mediterranean EU countries. For any projection toward 2007, however, it is the trend that must be noted. Italstat found that the gap between North and South was growing continually wider. Indeed, when actual laborers were counted (rather than jobs), the South's percentage was double that of the North and Center.

These raw figures require a closer look, because one economist's analysis of Calabria found low pay, high unemployment, and a very high level of consumer spending. In 1994, the government insurance agency placed the number of business enterprises in Calabria at 23,758, while Istat, carrying out the 1996 census, found about 90,000 businesses in the same region. The economist Domenico Marino concluded, on the basis of 4,000 interviews in Calabria, that 75 percent of the Calabrian work force would refuse a fairly low-paying job, despite a very high official level of unemployment. In Calabria, with its dire employment figures, 84 percent of the families own their own home. What such anomalies must mean is that real income in Calabria is far higher than what is "on the books." Many among the vast numbers of officially unemployed are, in fact, partly or fully employed. They are earning no social benefits, but they are earning the daily lire that keep their families afloat.


A very large part of the South's hidden labor is made up of entrepreneurs, sometimes also employing black labor, and existing themselves outside official recognition, taxation, protection, control, or counting. A recent analysis concludes that "there exists in several zones of the Mezzogiorno a whole fabric of small and very small businesses that escape every census, but that work and make profits, share among themselves a serious level of production, export to other regions [of Italy] and abroad." A map of the South's submerged economy shows a series of ink blots in every region, "where work is done without any controls, safe from the tax collector but not safe from accidents and injuries, usually in violation of a number of laws [governing commercial outlets, working conditions, etc.], totally outside official cognizance."

Every year brings plans either to stamp out or to "regularize" the South's submerged economy. But a professor of political economy at the University of Naples warns to go slow: "if we observe these initiatives carefully the image of a Mezzogiorno that is forever the panhandler does not seem to be confirmed. What confronts us is a creeping vitality, almost a new frontier." According to Professor Meldolesi, the submerged economy is several times bigger than officially estimated.


In most cases, "black" workers suffer no risk from the State. Controls on black labor are few and not enforced. Yet they live dangerously. They work — sometimes doing heavy and dangerous work — with no social net, no pensions (other than the minimal social security that everybody gets), no other welfare assistance, no protection at the work place, and no control over labor conditions. The State is nowhere present in their lives, as either law-enforcer or protector.

This massive sector skews all the statistics. It means that the GDP for the Italian South (and for Italy as a whole) is far from accurate. And the unemployment figures do not reflect reality.

Burnett and Vaccara. "Looking to 2007: Italy Times Two". Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), 1999.

As mentioned when discussing Figure 1 (see also Jones and Riddell, 1999), the definition of unemployment is unavoidably less than clear-cut. In Italy, as we discuss below, several types of temporary layoff, non-market employment, and 'activation' programs make up a gray area of individuals who are not really employed but (as is the case for ALMP participants in other countries) are not counted as unemployed.

Further, official employment statistics (though not, at least in principle, the survey-based ones) may be imprecise due to undeclared or 'black' employment pools. The shadow economy is important in Italy and, like in other European countries, its size trends up in time: different estimates suggest that shadow activity increased by some 10-15 percent of GDP in the 70s to some 30-40 percent in the 1990s. This upward trend parallels that of Italy's aggregate unemployment rates. Not surprisingly, and quite interestingly from the institutional perspective we lay out below, the incidence of the shadow economy varies importantly within Italy, again quite like unemployment. Regions with low productivity and high unemployment display significantly larger shares of unregistered activities and employment than the country averages. Boeri and Garibaldi (2002) offer a detailed account and analysis of this phenomenon. Figure 6, reproduced from that paper, plots the average shadow employment rate over 20 Italian regions, and shows that shadow employment varies between 10 percent in Piedmont (North-West) and more than 30 percent in Sicily (South). These estimates suggest that the proportion of irregular employment may be as high as 30-35 per cent in the South, around 20 per cent in the Centre and at one-digit level in the North-West and the North-East, the latter macro-region being the one with the lowest level of shadow activity. A portion of this variability may be accounted for by the various regions' heterogeneous production structure. However, it is large within industrial branches marked not only in agriculture, but also within industry, with the South displaying an incidence of shadow employment that is twice as high than in the rest of the country. There is no tendency over time to the narrowing of the regional differentials in the incidence of the shadow economy: in 1995 the South to Centre-North gap was roughly the same as 10 years earlier.

Bertola and Garibaldi. "The Structure and History of Italian Unemployment". CESifo Working Paper Series No. 907, 2003.


September 9, 2010

This blog will be a collection of material focusing on the biological and social anthropology of Italy and Italian people around the world. Topics will be varied and include physical anthropology, population genetics, phenotypes, aesthetics, art, history, language, politics, economics, crime, immigration, intelligence, education, and popular culture, among others.

An underlying aim will be to refute falsehoods about Italians spread by Afrocentrists, Nordicists and Northern Italian supremacists, as well as the misinformation that these falsehoods have given rise to elsewhere in society, including among a subset of Italians obsessed with current notions of "whiteness" and "anti-defamation" who, although in the minority, tend to dominate discussions about Italian ethnic identity.

Whatever your point of view or area of interest, you'll find something here to inform or get you thinking. Feel free to leave comments on individual posts. Just remember to be civil, write clearly, proofread and preview, don't troll or spam, and stay on topic. General comments about the blog can be left below.

Thank you for reading, and don't forget to subscribe to receive updates.