Olive Skin and Other Undertones

June 9, 2019

Many people think "olive" is a skin color like white, black or brown and refers to a separate or "mixed" ethnicity with some kind of "tan" complexion, usually in the Mediterranean region. But it's actually just one of several skin undertones that are found in all races, light and dark. The 4 undertones are: Cool (blue/pink), Neutral (yellow/beige), Olive (green/gray) and Warm (red/gold). And Southern Europe, including Italy, has the same variation as anywhere else in Europe or the world.

Here's what an untanned Italian woman would look like with each undertone:

And here are some other examples of Italians with different undertones:

You can see more, including some very tanned individuals, in these random samples of Big Brother and talent show contestants.

Italian Beauty: Anita Caprioli

April 19, 2019

Curly Hair Distribution

April 4, 2019

Like all Europeans, most Italians have straight or wavy hair. Curly hair in Caucasoids is a western trait that decreases as you move east toward Asia. It's most common along the Mediterranean and Atlantic shores, with an average rate of ~17% in Italy, which is a little higher in the South than in the North, but not by much.

Hair form...is of little use in distinguishing white sub-groups. Most European hair is straight or slightly wavy, although exceptional individuals in the straightest-haired groups have ringlet forms. Curly hair of this description is quite common in western Ireland and in Wales; it is also frequent in the whole of North Africa and in the western Mediterranean shorelands of Europe. Eastern Europe is predominantly straight haired, and as one approaches mongoloid territory this condition of course becomes more pronounced.

Carleton S. Coon. The Races of Europe. New York: MacMillan, 1939.

Frequency of Curly Hair in Italy
(Darker Shading = More)

Ridolfo Livi. Antropometria Militare. Roma, 1896-1905.

Convex and Concave Noses

March 24, 2019

Thin, high-rooted convex noses, which are common in Dinaric and Mediterranean types, exist at a frequency of ~15% in Italy. Wide, low-rooted concave noses, which are common in Alpine types, exist at a frequency of ~19%. The former are slightly more frequent in the North, and the latter slightly more in the South, which matches the distribution of sub-racial types throughout the country. The remaining ~66% of noses are straight or almost straight.

Frequency of Nasal Convexity
(Lighter Shading = More)
Frequency of Nasal Concavity
(Darker Shading = More)

Ridolfo Livi. Antropometria Militare. Roma, 1896-1905.

Nationalist Attitudes Highest in Italy

June 26, 2018

Nationalist and anti-immigrant attitudes in Western Europe have been an issue in a number of recent national elections around the region, particularly after the influx in the past few years of refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. But Western Europeans vary by country when it comes to having positive or negative views about immigrants and religious minorities, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

To better examine the prevalence of these attitudes, the Center developed a scale to measure the extent of Nationalist, anti-Immigrant and anti-religious Minority (NIM) sentiment. The NIM scale combines answers to 22 survey questions on a wide range of issues including views on Muslims, Jews and immigrants, as well as immigration policy.

Respondents' scores increased if they said that immigration to their country should be reduced; that they were unwilling to be neighbors or relatives with Muslims or Jews; that immigrants from certain regions are not honest or hardworking; that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with their national culture and values; that being born in their country is important to being "truly French," "truly German," etc.; and for expressing a host of other sentiments on related topics. The higher the score, the more likely a respondent had expressed nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-religious minority sentiments during the survey. Scores on the scale range from 0 to 10.

Relatively few adults in every country surveyed score above 5 on the scale. But there is considerable variation across countries. In Sweden, just 8% of those surveyed scored higher than 5, the lowest amount in any country, while in Italy, 38% did, the highest share in any country. In most countries, the share scoring 5.01 or higher was between 15% and 25%. For example, in both Norway and France, 19% of respondents scored 5.01 or higher.

Jeff Diamant and Kelsey Jo Starr. "Western Europeans vary in their nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-religious minority attitudes". Pew Research Fact Tank, June 19, 2018.

Related: Anti-Immigration and Pro-Italy, Anti-Minority Sentiment

Mycenaeans and Italians

January 15, 2018

We don't have Ancient Roman DNA yet, but now we have the next closest thing: Ancient Mycenaean Greek DNA. This new study shows that Mycenaeans, like their Peloponnesean descendants, are genetically similar to modern Italians (and other Southern Europeans) because both are similar mixes of Neolithic farmers and Indo-Europeans, and also because of Ancient Greek settlements in Southern Italy.

We estimated the fixation index, FST, of Bronze Age populations with present-day West Eurasians, finding that Mycenaeans were least differentiated from populations from Greece, Cyprus, Albania, and Italy (Fig. 2), part of a general pattern in which Bronze Age populations broadly resembled present-day inhabitants from the same region (Extended Data Fig. 7). [...] Other proposed migrations, such as settlement by Egyptian or Phoenician colonists, are not discernible in our data, as there is no measurable Levantine or African influence in the Minoans and Mycenaeans, thus rejecting the hypothesis that the cultures of the Aegean were seeded by migrants from the old civilizations of these regions.


The Mycenaeans settled all of mainland Greece up to Thessaly, and throughout the Aegean islands. There is evidence of extensive Mycenaean acculturation in Western Anatolia, Italy and Cyprus and trading relations with Egypt and the Near East. The Mycenaeans were literate and used for accounting purposes a syllabic script, Linear B, written in an early form of the Greek. They introduced this script into Crete after they occupied the island.

Lazaridis et al. "Genetic origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans". Nature, 2017.

European Hair Texture

November 4, 2017

William Z. Ripley was a little confused about the racial make-up of Europeans because early anthropology was pretty basic, but he collected some useful data, like in this world map of hair texture showing Italians to resemble other Europeans:

What shall we say of the European races, the third of our intermediate types? Here also all individual variations occur, seemingly in utter defiance of any law. The Italian is as apt to be straight-haired as the Norwegian; in either nation the curly variety seems to occur sporadically. Yet common observation, to say nothing of microscopical examination, would naturally class the population of Europe among the fine-textured, wavy-haired races of the earth. One never sees the wiry form so familiar in the American Indian, or the frizzle of the full-blooded negro.

William Z. Ripley. "The Racial Geography of Europe. XII.—The Aryan Question". Popular Science Monthly, Vol 52, Jan 1898.

Related: Curly Hair Distribution

Italy World's Healthiest Country

August 14, 2017

The Italian economy may not be in great shape, but Italians certainly are, according to a ranking of the world’s healthiest nations.

The Bloomberg Global Health Index ranks Italy top of 163 countries, followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia.

While Italian babies can expect to live into their eighties, at the other end of the scale in Sierra Leone, life expectancy is just 52.

The index gave countries a ‘health score’ based on metrics such as life expectancy and causes of death, and then took into account ‘health risk penalties’. These included high blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol, as well as the prevalence of obesity, alcoholism, smoking and childhood malnutrition. It also considered environmental factors such as carbon emissions and access to drinking water.

The US, which has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, is in 34th place, with a health grade of 73.05 out of 100.

The key to Italy’s good health?

Despite a struggling economy with low growth and high unemployment, especially among young people, Italians are in far finer fettle than Americans, Canadians and Brits, who have higher blood pressure and cholesterol and poorer mental health.

Could the Mediterranean diet be a critical factor? Bloomberg notes that Italians enjoy a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fish, lean meats and olive oil, and that there’s an “excess of doctors” in the country.

When it comes to living a very long, active life, scientists believe one place in Italy may hold the secret. The Cilento peninsula, south of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, has an unusually high number of sprightly centenarians.

Researchers found that residents of one village, Acciaroli, where more than one in 10 of the population is over 100 years old, had remarkably good blood circulation. Though an exact reason has yet to be determined, scientists believe it could be a combination of the residents’ healthy diet based on vegetables, herbs and fish, being physically active and genetic factors that have developed over centuries.

Rosamond Hutt. "Italy may have a struggling economy but its people are the healthiest in the world". World Economic Forum, 18 Apr 2017.

Reconstruction of a Herculaneum Resident

July 11, 2017

The exploded skull of a man who died in the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago has been pieced together, giving scientists a unique opportunity to capture the ancient face using 3D imaging.

It is the first real-life reconstruction of the features of a victim of the volcanic disaster who lived in the ill-fated seaside town of Herculaneum.

The appearance is that of a typical southern European who may have been wealthy and educated because he was 50 years old when he died — an unusual milestone for the time.

He was one of 350 casualties discovered frozen in time, buried under volcanic ash in Herculaneum.

Every single resident perished instantly when the southern Italian town was hit by a 500° centigrade pyroclastic hot surge in AD 79.


The excavation of Pompeii, the industrial hub of the region, and Herculaneum, a small beach resort, has given unparalleled insight into Roman life.

"This is the beginning of what we're hoping will be an on-going project to reveal the faces of the ancient Roman inhabitants of Herculaneum and Pompeii", said Italian 3D graphic designer Gianfranco Quaranta who is leading the initiative as part of the Association for Research and Education in Art, Archaeology and Architecture (AREA3).

Janet Tappin Coelho and Phoebe Weston. "EXCLUSIVE: Scientists piece together the exploded skull of a 50-year-old man, who died in 500°C heat from the Mount Vesuvius eruption 2,000 years ago, to reveal his face for the first time". DailyMail.com – Science & Tech, 06:14 EDT, 21 June 2017.

Complex Spread of Indo-European Languages

June 22, 2017

In this recent post, I talked about how ancestry clines in Italy could be due to the way Indo-European languages spread, and a new study suggests the same thing. Italy and the Balkans, especially the southern parts, differ from the rest of Europe by having a lot of the Caucasus Hunter-Gatherer (CHG) component of Yamnaya, but not much of the Eastern Hunter-Gatherer (EHG) component. The authors conclude that Italic, Greek and Balkan branches of Indo-European may have spread directly from the Caucasus through Anatolia and not via the Russian Steppe.

The most recent literature demonstrated significant impact of Caucasus-related ancestry in the Central European Late-Neolithic and Bronze-Age through the migrations of Yamnaya/Pontic-Steppe herders. Accordingly, our results confirm that Caucasus-related admixture via Yamnaya is present in Eastern and Central-Western European clusters (i.e. Continental Europe; Supplementary Table S8, Supplementary Information). However, among our Mediterranean groups, evidence of Yamnaya (and EHG) introgression seems to be present at a lesser extent and was detected mainly in Balkan-related groups (Supplementary Table S8, Supplementary Information), which in turn display traces of admixture with Eastern Europe (Fig. 4, Supplementary Fig. S2). In addition, outgroup-f3 values for Late Neolithic/Bronze Age samples (especially Yamnaya) appear lower in all our newly analysed Mediterranean populations (Supplementary Fig. S9). These results suggest that the genetic history of Southern Italian and Balkan populations may have been, at least in part, independent from that of Eastern and Central Europe, involving specific migratory events that carried Caucasian and Levantine genetic contributes along the Mediterranean shores (see Supplementary Information). This picture may bring important implications for our understanding of the cultural history of Europe, and in particular for the diffusion of Indo-European languages. The Steppe in the Early Bronze Age has been supported as a source of at least some Indo-European languages entering North-Central Europe at that time. In southern Mediterranean Europe, however, our results suggest lower impacts. Any significant Steppe/northern component may have arrived in the south Balkan mainland and southern Italy only later, by which time Indo-European languages of the Italic, Greek and various Balkan branches had already established themselves there. This would suggest that a Bronze Age Steppe source may be not highly consistent with all branches of the Indo-European family (see also Broushaki et al.).


Summing it up, our analyses show that a Caucasus-related ancestry is observed in both Southern Italian and Southern Balkan populations. Nevertheless, these populations do not seem to reveal such significant evidence of Bronze-Age Yamanya-like introgressions, which have been interpreted as the most probable vectors of CHG-like ancestry in Central-Eastern and Northern Europe and were also linked with the demographic diffusion of some Indo-European languages. These results may suggest that Caucasus-related ancestry reached our Mediterranean populations through migratory events at least partly independent from those postulated for Central Europe, most likely through Anatolia. If so, the spread of Indo-European languages in Europe may be envisaged as a more complex multi-way phenomenon, rather than the one-way result of a single diffusion process.

Sarno et al. "Ancient and recent admixture layers in Sicily and Southern Italy trace multiple migration routes along the Mediterranean". Scientific Reports, 2017.