Clinal Differences in Pigmentation

December 31, 2019

People often mention the fact that Southern Italians are darker than Northern Italians like it proves something about "racial differences" in Italy, but clinal north-south or east-west differences in pigmentation (and other traits) are normal and can be seen in other European countries too, like Germany, France and the British Isles:


British Isles

Looking at Europe as a whole, the differences within Italy are small compared to differences between Italy and North-Central Europe:

This can also be seen within the border nation of Switzerland, between the Italian-speaking south and the German-speaking parts in the north:

Despite stereotypes of Northern Italians looking "Germanic" or "Celtic" compared to "dark" Southerners, and dumb movies claiming that they all have blond hair and blue eyes, people with that combination are only ~3-6% of the population in the North, compared to ~1-3% in the South, and red hair is <1% (~0.3-0.9) everywhere:

Blond Hair and Blue Eyes
Red Hair (per 1000 people)

You can see in the large random samples from all regions here and here that most Italians are in the medium pigmentation range. And you can see how similar they all are on average in these facial composites.


Lucian said...

These north-south variations in skin/hair/eye color in Italy are actually smaller than what the colors on the maps suggest. The colors or gray tones are meant to differentiate, and rightly so, but in fact, the difference between a group with 6% blonds and another one with 2% is small. We should not be mislead by the first being 3 times the other, because the percentages of non-blonds are very similar (98% <-> 94%). And this north-south gradient is very smooth as well. As a foreigner who has been in Italy about 12 times, in the north, center and south as well, I could hardly see differences in pigmentation between people in these different regions of Italy. There is no reason to suspect it was different in ancient times.
Also, there is a large number of blue-eyed brunets in Italy, not included in the 2-6 percent, who make this transition even smoother (e.g. Gianluigi Buffon:
Regarding the percentage of red-haired Italians (0.3%-0.9%), we can imagine Cato the Elder in his time being the only one in the whole Roman Senate (or maybe along with 1-2 more senators), which is about the same percent, and this seems a reasonable assumption to me.
One question: how was the skin pigmentation determined in the studies? By biochemical analysis or just a skin tone measurement as it is seen? Because, in the latter case, the results would be greatly distorted by environmental factors and the habits of those people. For example, I don't think the general pigmentation in Sardinia is that dark, as I can recall from my travel there in summer time. Most people were sun-tanned indeed, but I also noticed that blue eyes were not at all uncommon.

Unknown said...

do you consider Swiss Romansh to be Swiss Italians?