Ancient-to-Modern Genetic Distances

October 8, 2020

Someone at Anthrogenica made these genetic distance maps that visualize how Modern West Eurasians are related to samples of Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, with redder coloring indicating more genetic affinity. The Ancients are all closest to Modern Southern Europeans — mostly Italians from all over, but often also Greeks, Iberians, South French and Balkan peoples. (Note: The "Imperial Romans" sample includes some foreigners from the Eastern Mediterranean, who later disappeared).

Minoan Greeks:

Mycenaean Greeks:

Iron Age Romans:



Imperial Romans:

Late Antiquity Romans:

Medieval Romans:

Related: Genetically Italian Iron Age Balkans

Rosanne Cash's "Passing" Mother?

September 8, 2020

Rosanne Cash is the daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife Vivian Liberto, whose parents were Thomas Liberto, a Sicilian American, and Irene Robinson from Texas. In some photos Vivian could almost be an exotic European type, like Sophia Loren, Victoria Beckham or Sarah Hyland, but most of the time she looks more ambiguous and mixed-race, like Rosie Perez or Eartha Kitt.

Ken Burns' recent documentary on Country Music talks about an incident in the 60s when a racist group in Alabama with links to the KKK questioned Vivian's whiteness, saying she looked like a "negro", but in an interview Rosanne claims that she was just very exotic looking because "her people were Italian", without even mentioning the Robinson side of the family.

Not everyone's buying it, like in this popular blog thread where many commenters believe she was black passing for white. There are the usual idiots repeating refuted lies about Sicilians being "African" and North Africans being "black", but one comment focusing on the Robinson line (if accurate) solves the case:

I dug around into her genealogy a bit out of curiosity – the commenters who stated that her parents (and maybe grandparents too) are white according to the census etc just didn’t dig far back enough. Also, regarding the census, it does have mistakes at time and people would just tell the census taker their info – so if they say so and so is from a certain place, or that they’re white then that’s what will be put down. Anyhow, Vivian’s mom was Irene Robinson. Irene’s mom was Dora Minnie, and Dora’s dad was Lafayette Robinson, born 1844. In the 1880 census he is listed as “mulatto” and by the 1910 census he is listed as “white,” so I’d assume that somewhere in that time he decided to start passing as white. His mother, Sarah, born about 1830 was also listed as “mulatto.” You can see various photos and family trees of the family on and one of them has Sarah’s mother listed as an unknown black slave and her father looks to be a slave owner by the name of William Shields. Sarah is listed in the 1870 census as “mulatto” and then in 1880 she is listed as “white.”

Anyway, here's a photo of Johnny Cash with Irene Robinson and Tom Liberto:

Which parent do you think Vivian gets her "exotic" looks from?

UPDATE: Genealogical research and genetic testing done on the show Finding Your Roots has confirmed that the Robinson line was mulatto passing for white.

Al Capone: From "Dark" to "Fair"

August 26, 2020

Recently I posted about how fairly light-skinned Italian criminals were often falsely stereotyped as "dark" or "swarthy" in the media. Because Al Capone is so famous, a lot of his rap sheets and wanted posters are uploaded online, and I was surprised to find that they don't all describe him the same way.

His hair is always Dark Brown or Black, and on his wanted poster it was assumed that his eyes would be Brown, but on his rap sheets they're described as either Blue, Grey or Green (his relatives have said that they were blue). But his complexion ranges from Dark all the way to Fair:

Dark Ruddy
Medium Dark

Medium Fair

Of course, this inconsistency doesn't reflect any kind of "questionable racial status" for Italians because, first of all, complexion and color (i.e. race) are two different things, and whenever a file mentions Capone's color, it's always White:


And second of all, this kind of thing wasn't limited to Italians and other "ethnics". I also found that criminals of Northern European descent were not always described as stereotypically Fair, but often also as Medium and even Dark:

John Dillinger:
Willie Sutton:
Medium Dark
Fred Barker:

Harvey Bailey:
Homer Van Meter:

Green Book's Made-Up Scene

August 11, 2020

The movie Green Book is "inspired by a true story" about an Italian American bouncer who takes a job driving a black pianist (Don Shirley) on a tour through the Deep South in 1962. But as always it doesn't stick closely to the facts. In one scene, Tony "Lip" Vallelonga punches a cop who accuses Italians of being part black:

What's this last name say?


'Hell kind of name is that?


Oh, now I get it. That's why you driving this boy around... you half a nigger yourself.

Since that sounds more like something that would be in a dumb Spike Lee or Quentin Tarantino movie, or posted online by some Afrocentrist or Nordicist troll, I decided to check if it really happened. That scene is actually based on two separate events:

There were a lot more things that happened with the cops, and we combined two, when my father punched out a cop and that was one time they got arrested. They also got arrested when they were going 25 mph and a cop said they were doing 75. It was a shakedown and the cops were pissed my father was driving this black man.

The one where the cop is mad about a white man driving a black man around was only about that and had no violence and no mention of any name-calling:

Tony and the Mississippi policeman argue about the fact that Tony is driving a black man. The policeman calls Tony a racial slur, and Tony punches him. The camera pans to the two men in a jail cell. [...] In Shirley's own telling, Tony didn't throw blows, Shirley was not arrested, and they were driving through West Virginia.

"What happened was they stopped us and charged us for speeding in a 35 mile (per hour) zone we were going 25, okay, but they said we were going 75, and it was all pure racism," Shirley said in an interview with Astor. "They got pissed because he was white, driving me. That's what it was about. They made us turn around and come back 50 miles to McMechen, West Virginia, okay?"

The one where Tony punches the cop happened later and it was because he was called an ethnic slur for Italians, not blacks:

Did Tony Lip and Don Shirley really end up in jail due to Lip punching a police officer?

Yes. Lip became enraged at the officer for calling him a derogatory name for Italians. Lip did punch the officer and they ended up in jail, but it happened a year later, in the fall of 1963.

So there's no evidence that any cop ever made that claim. It was very likely invented by the writers and put in the movie to make a point about racism and "whiteness":

The point of the film is, to a certain extent, that because Tony is experiencing these prejudicial encounters with Don, that they slowly chip away at his conditioned hostility and he begins to view people of colour as something approaching equal. At one point, a police officer pulls over their car and seems intent on humiliating both Tony and Don, and calls Tony 'half a nigger.' To which Tony responds in the only way he knows with a swift one to the jaw. This is presented as pivotal by Farrelly, a Damascus moment where Tony experiences life as a member of the oppressed. But in actuality, Farrelly is showcasing a kind of inverse Uplift Suasion, where instead of a high achieving person of colour changing a racist mind via the sheer will of their achievement, a white person literally has to be called a 'nigger' before they begin to contemplate racial equality.

Misleading Genetic Distance Claim

July 22, 2020

Raveane et al. (2019) show that genes mirror geography, but then they make a misleading claim implying that genetic distances (Fst) within Italy are as great as those "across the whole of Europe". To Nordicists who wrongly believe that only their corner of Europe is "fully European" and the others are "mixed", that kind of distance perpetuates the myth of racial differences between Northern and Southern Italians.

But we already know that all Italians cluster between Spaniards and Greeks, which would make "across Southern Europe" a more accurate statement. So what exactly are the authors talking about?

They base their claim on the finding that the median Fst between all of their Italian clusters is 0.0044, which is about the same as the median Fst between all of the European clusters (excluding outlier Finns), and higher than within any of the other countries examined (0.0001 to 0.002). They say that they got similar results after also excluding outlier Sardinians and Basques, but don't show the data.

However, they're still including the Northern Italian clusters from the small regions bordering France, Austria and Slovenia that have many outliers as well, which increases the genetic distances. If you just compare typical Northern Italians (from Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto) to deep Southern Italians (from Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily), Fst between them ranges from 0.001 to 0.0054, with a median of just 0.0024, and an average of 0.0029.

That's not too much higher than the maximum distances within the other examined countries, and it's a lot lower than truly cross-Europe Fst, which ranges from 0.005 to 0.011 between Iberia and Eastern Europe (med. 0.008, avg. 0.0077), and from 0.004 to 0.008 between Greece and Northern Europe (med. 0.005, avg. 0.0055).

It also happens to be the same as the Fst between Southwest (Spain) and Southeast (Greece) Europe (0.002 to 0.003, med. 0.003, avg. 0.0029), which is itself lower than the Fst between Northwest (Britain) and Northeast (Baltic) Europe (0.003 to 0.007, med. 0.005, avg. 0.0049).

[NOTE: The highest in their data is 0.02 between Finns and Basques, both of which I excluded from all the above calculations, along with other outliers like Orcadians and Mordovians.]

So even though genetic distances in Italy are somewhat high for a single country, they're not as extreme as implied, and they don't represent any kind of "racial" or other significant difference, but merely a normal cline that's entirely within Southern Europe and likely related to the ancient spread of Indo-European languages.

"Dark" and "Swarthy" Italians Are Still Light

July 3, 2020

We've seen how olive skin is misunderstood by people to mean "tan" or "non-white", now let's look at the same thing with words like "dark" and "swarthy" used to describe the complexions of Europeans. Applied mostly (but not exclusively) to Southern Europeans, people treat them as evidence against "whiteness", but they're really just exaggerations of reality, like in this passage from White on Arrival about how Italian gangsters were portrayed in the media:

Al Capone was constantly portrayed in books, magazine articles, pulps, and movies as having a "dark" or "swarthy" complexion. When he appeared in court in 1929 in Philadelphia on charges of having concealed a weapon, the Chicago Daily News noticed that his "face, which is rather dark, assumed a dull reddish hue." No one emphasized Italians' dark features more than popular writer and former newsman Walter Burns. In his book, The One-Way Ride, Johnny Torrio was "a slight, dapper, dark young man"; gunmen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi had "dark faces"; the Genna brothers were "swarthy, black haired, black eyed, looked not unlike Arabs, and probably had in their ancestral strain a strong dash of Saracenic [North African] blood".

From these descriptions you'd probably picture really dark Saudi Arabians or maybe even mixed-race Berbers, but here's what those people actually looked like (the rare mugshot of Capone has been skillfully colorized to show his blue eyes):

Al Capone
Genna Brothers

Johnny Torrio
John Scalise and Albert Anselmi

This kind of exaggeration is similar to English ideas about the so-called "Black Irish". They're really just white people from the British Isles (not just Ireland) who have dark hair and eyes and a Mediterranean appearance — like Colin Farrell, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sean Connery, Mr. Bean, Russell Brand and many others — but old school Nordicists used to claim that part of the Celtic physiognomy was "black-tinted skin".

Benjamin Franklin was even more extreme, basically lumping all whites who weren't Anglo-Saxon into a "swarthy" group with non-whites, including some who are probably lighter than English people:

All Africa is black or tawny. Asia chiefly tawny. America (exclusive of the new Comers) wholly so. And in Europe, the Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes, are generally of what we call a swarthy Complexion; as are the Germans also, the Saxons only excepted, who with the English, make the principal Body of White People on the Face of the Earth.

So the lesson is to not take descriptions like that literally or as meaning something "non-white". Europeans (including Southern Europeans) actually have the lightest untanned skin in the world, so even when they're "dark" or "swarthy", they're still lighter than everyone else.

Related: Al Capone: From "Dark" to "Fair"

Italy Is Over 2000 Years Old

April 8, 2020

People with an agenda to divide Italy who say that it's "not a real country" because it "didn't even exist until 1861" don't know their history. Italy was first unified by the Ancient Romans, and then it was divided by foreign powers after Rome fell. The movement for national unity was actually a reunification movement that went back to the Renaissance and was supported by many prominent Italians.

Italy was unified by Rome in the third century BC. For 700 years, it was a de facto territorial extension of the capital of the Roman Republic and Empire, and for a long time experienced a privileged status and was not converted into a province.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy remained united under the Ostrogothic Kingdom and later disputed between the Kingdom of the Lombards and the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire. Following conquest by the Frankish Empire, the title of King of Italy merged with the office of Holy Roman Emperor. However, the emperor was an absentee German-speaking foreigner who had little concern for the governance of Italy as a state; as a result, Italy gradually developed into a system of city-states. Southern Italy, however, was governed by the long-lasting Kingdom of Sicily or Kingdom of Naples, which had been established by the Normans. Central Italy was governed by the Pope as a temporal kingdom known as the Papal States.

This situation persisted through the Renaissance but began to deteriorate with the rise of modern nation-states in the early modern period. Italy, including the Papal States, then became the site of proxy wars between the major powers, notably the Holy Roman Empire (including Austria), Spain, and France.

Harbingers of national unity appeared in the treaty of the Italic League, in 1454, and the 15th-century foreign policy of Cosimo De Medici and Lorenzo De Medici. Leading Renaissance Italian writers Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Machiavelli and Guicciardini expressed opposition to foreign domination. Petrarch stated that the "ancient valour in Italian hearts is not yet dead" in Italia Mia. Machiavelli later quoted four verses from Italia Mia in The Prince, which looked forward to a political leader who would unite Italy "to free her from the barbarians".

The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 formally ended the rule of the Holy Roman Emperors in Italy. However, the Spanish branch of the Hapsburg dynasty, another branch of which provided the Emperors, continued to rule most of Italy down to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14).

A sense of Italian national identity was reflected in Gian Rinaldo Carli's Della Patria degli Italiani, written in 1764. It told how a stranger entered a café in Milan and puzzled its occupants by saying that he was neither a foreigner nor a Milanese. "'Then what are you?' they asked. 'I am an Italian,' he explained."

Roman Italy at the death of Augustus (14 A.D.)

Genes and Geography (Italy vs. Britain)

January 16, 2020

All else being equal, genes mirror geography in Europe. We've already seen this by comparing Italians to Germans, and now we can do another similar comparison. A new study that has even better geographical coverage than Sazzini et al. (2016) shows the samples clustering to form an almost perfect map of Italy, while another new study shows the same thing in the British Isles.

[NOTE: For the samples in gray, "NWEur" is actually Southern French, "WEur" are Spanish and Portuguese, and "SEEur" is Greeks.]

Raveane et al. "Population structure of modern-day Italians reveals patterns of ancient and archaic ancestries in Southern Europe". Sci Adv, 2019.

Gilbert et al. "The genetic landscape of Scotland and the Isles". PNAS, 2019.

Related: Misleading Genetic Distance Claim