Passing under my nose in the Rare Materials Room this week was a fascinating tome by the Reverend Thomas Price, writing passionately in 1829 about Goths (not the pasty-faced variety clothed in black but the ancient tribe).
Wrestling with the belief that all humankind is descended from the same parents, Price considers how we ended up looking different (skin colour, physical type, hair variations, etc). It is a fascinating insight into the age before Darwin’s theory of evolution. For example, Price observed that dark-eyed people lived near coal mines and he believed this was just one example of environment shaping our appearance. He did not worry about scientific proof but concludes that this must be a significant factor.
Normans, Goths, Celts, Picts and many others come under close scrutiny as does ancient Roman writings on what these people looked like. The Roman authors were very much at odds with each other over the distinguishing features of other ‘national’ tribes. Even as long ago as that, appearances, it seems, are very much in the eye of the beholder.