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Variants of demarcation between Europe and Asia:
The two red lines mark
the border to Strahlberg .

Europeans are called the inhabitants of Europe or the citizens of all European countries. Since Europe has no clear geographical or geological border to Asia in the east , the demarcation of Europeans from Asians is a question of social agreement. The border chosen by Philipp Johann von Strahlberg in 1730 is often used, which he laid along the Ural Mountains and its Obschtschi Syrt tributary to the southwest, then along the Volga and the lower Don .

In the anthrological context, all people of European descent - regardless of their place of residence - are sometimes called Europeans .

Concept history

For the first time an anonymous Spanish author wrote of Europeans in the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754. With the Latin neologism of Europenses , this chronicler summarized the Franks , Lombards , Saxons and Frisians who in 732 under the command of Karl Martell in the battle of Tours and Poitiers had stopped an operation of the Islamic expansion of the Arabs ( Saracens ) under their general Abd ar-Rachman .

From a scientific point of view, Carl von Linné classified the people living in Europe from 1735 in his work Systema Naturae initially as "Homo europaeus albese", that is, as a white geographical variety of the genus Homo . At the same time, he provided the Europeans with three other varieties according to their skin color (red, dark, black): "Homo americanus rubese" (Americans), "Homo asiaticus fuscus" (Asian) and "Homo africanus nigr" (African). From the 10th edition of his work (1758, page 20), these varieties were grouped under the name Homo sapiens , the color assignment was changed slightly (white, red, yellow, black) and, in addition, supposedly distinguishing characteristics of temperament and posture were given - the four varieties were now called "Homo europaeus albus", "Homo americanus rufus", "Homo asiaticus luridus" and "Homo africanus niger". Linné's system is thus in the tradition of race concepts , which are now out of date.

Since the end of the 19th century there has been talk of Europeanism , an attitude, a being of the European. In this respect, people who live in other parts of the world but are family or culturally anchored in a European country are also referred to as Europeans .

In South Africa, for example, in the first half of the 20th century, Europeans were all persons who “came directly from immigrants from the European continent”. The term became increasingly fragile in practice when people of non-European ancestors were also accepted into families. Due to this fact, the term "whites" initially only spread to them, provided that they were accepted based on their social status and appearance. During the apartheid period of South Africa, the Boers referred to themselves as Europeans to the blacks , coloreds and Indians , while they referred to each other and to residents of English descent as Afrikaaner (Afrikander) . In South Africa, the group designation “Europeans” is no longer in use as a domestic demographic characteristic.

In the 20th century the idea of Europe developed , the idea of ​​the union of European nations and peoples. In the last few decades, people who campaign for European unification , are members of the European movement or express a strong European identity have been referred to as (“convinced”) Europeans .

First settlement in Europe

Even before anatomically modern humans ( Homo sapiens ) became at home in Europe, close relatives of Homo sapiens had already settled in Europe for several hundred thousand years : the Neanderthals , the Denisova humans and Homo heidelbergensis, who is considered their ancestor . During the cold maxima of the Ice Ages , however, at least Central and Northern Europe were repeatedly largely depopulated and were only repopulated after the mean annual temperatures rose again; the most recent period of depopulation occurred around 20,000 years ago, previously it was around 70,000 years ago, around 150,000 years ago and around 270,000 years ago.

In 2018, Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology came to the conclusion that “even in times of their greatest spread” there had not been more “than an estimated 10,000 'Neandertal Europeans'” at the same time; the size of the individual groups comprised “at most 50 to 60 women and men” who, as hunters and gatherers, roamed “probably many thousand square kilometers of land”.

Colonization by Homo sapiens

In the Hengelo Interstadial of the most recent Ice Age (about 44,000 years ago cal BP ), Homo sapiens penetrated north from Africa via the Middle East and subsequently occupied the entire habitat of the Neanderthals. However, the date from which the Neanderthals became extinct has not yet been reliably dated. However, according to a study published in 2011, the fossils from the Caucasian Mesmaiskaya Cave (39,700 ± 1,100 cal BP ) mark the most recent Neanderthals with an indubitable dating.

The methods for reconstructing the history of European settlements have been significantly expanded by the human genome project , which was founded in 1990 with the aim of fully deciphering the human genome . After the sequence of the base pairs of today's human DNA was published in 2003, it became possible to compare the DNA of hominine fossils (→ aDNA ) with the DNA of people living today.

Epoch of the Cro-Magnon people

According to estimates by Isabell Schmidt and Andreas Zimmermann ( University of Cologne ) from 2019, the average population in the Aurignacien (about 42,000–33,000 years ago, cal BP) in Western and Central Europe was 1500 people (800 to 3300 people). “According to these estimates, only five areas in Europe had a viable population of around 150 people or more: Northern Spain, southwest France, Belgium, parts of the Czech Republic and the upper Danube region. The fact that the centers of these viable populations were about 400 kilometers apart is a Europe-wide uniform pattern. ”In addition, other areas of Europe were at least cyclically settled - during certain seasons. They were "highly mobile hunter-gatherer groups", "who regularly covered distances of 200 km and were also adapted to different habitats."

Paleoanthropological Findings

The oldest evidence for the presence of Homo sapiens in Europe comes from the Bacho Kiro Cave ( Bulgaria , 45,820–43,650 cal BP), the Grotta del Cavallo ( Italy , 45,000–43,000 cal BP) and Kents Cavern ( England , 44,200-41,500 cal BP). Further paleoanthropological evidence is stone tools from Willendorf , Austria . They have been dated to be 43,500 years old Cal BP. The bone finds from a cave in Romania ( Peștera cu oasis ) are somewhat more recent : In 2003, an age of around 40,500 calendar years ( radiocarbon dating, calibrated ) was calculated for the lower jaw Oasis 1 ( radiocarbon dating, calibrated ), and around 35,000 BP (which also calibrates an age ) for the skull Oasis 2 of around 40,000 years); In 2020, a recalculation was published for Oasis 1, which resulted in an age of 41,770 to 37,310 years in calibrated calendar years (cal BP) for the fossil. These people obtained their food, comparable to the way of life of the Neanderthals, as hunters and gatherers and are - in the European research tradition - referred to as Cro-Magnon people . It has been certain since the 1980s that, like all populations of Homo sapiens living today , they ultimately descended from African ancestors (→ Out-of-Africa theory ).

Genetic Findings

In the years 2013 to 2015, published genetic analyzes of the Homo sapiens finds from Peştera cu Oase in Romania and Ust-Ischim in Siberia provided evidence of Neanderthal DNA in both fossils. Accordingly, a successful mating between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens can be assumed not only in the Levant , but also in Eastern Europe and in Siberia. In the case of Oase1 , an apparently “dead line”, no genetic traces to today's Europeans can be found. When Ust-Ishim was found, 2 percent of Neanderthal DNA was found. The time of gene flow was dated to around 7,000 to 13,000 years before the individual's lifetime (it died around 45,000 years ago) - with genetic proximity to people living in Eurasia .

A study published in Nature in 2016 showed that no - or at best very small - genetic traces of the Cro-Magnon humans who came to Europe around 45,000 years ago can be detected in today's European populations; however, the Cro-Magnon humans can be traced back to a common founder population based on DNA finds that are 37,000 to around 14,000 years old.

Practically all Europeans today, however, show genetic traces of an ancient population from Central Asia , which in connection with archaeological finds is interpreted to mean that their immigration did not come from the south, but from the east. Their origin from Central Asia also explains - as evidenced by a find in Malta (Russia) - the relatively close genetic proximity to the native Americans who came from Asia to North America via a land bridge ( Beringia ). However, the Kostenki 14 find from western Russia , which is at least 36,000 years old , shows a genetic relationship with more recent finds from Europe, but it has no genetic proximity to similarly old fossils from Asia; apparently the European (Western Eurasian) population had separated from the Asian (Eastern Eurasian) population already in this epoch.

Sedentary lifestyle and the "neolithic revolution"

Based on archaeological finds, it was already known that around 11,000 years ago in the Middle East - in the so-called Fertile Crescent - an agriculture-based, sedentary way of life developed and around 7500 years ago in Europe, coming from the region now known as Anatolia , began to spread ("Neolithic Revolution"). However, it remained unclear whether the Cro-Magnon people had adopted the new way of life or whether it was immigrants who brought this sedentary way of life with them and settled in Europe. Only genetic analyzes provided strong indications that the genes of the Cro-Magnon people - as already mentioned - can at best be found in very small proportions in the genome of Europeans living today, while hereditary characteristics of immigrants are predominant. The dark-skinned hunter-gatherer populations living in Europe until then died out without having mixed with the immigrants to any great extent. This applied to the settlement of western, central and southern Europe as well as - with a time lag - to Scandinavia and the Baltic States . However, a greater degree of intermingling could be demonstrated in some areas of Southeast Europe and France.

“The ever-growing population in the Fertile Crescent was forced to look for new acceptable arable land. First it went through Anatolia, then over the Dardanelles to Greece , soon into the Balkans and finally to Central Europe , which in the middle of the 6th millennium BC was discovered by the first farmers within less than 200 years - or as the archaeologists put it, the first early Neolithic culture in Central Europe, the linear ceramic band - was taken into possession. [...] As migrants from the Orient, they brought with them the 'Neolithic package' of cultivated plants and domesticated animals. With their stone axes , they cut down centuries-old trees, built longhouses and cultivated hacking fields . That was backbreaking work, the plow had not yet been invented. "

The immigrants had gene variants that made for a light skin color that was adapted to the relatively low-UV sunlight. Genetic studies on aDNA of people over the past 5000 years have also shown that during this period of time in Europe, too, there was a high selection pressure towards light skin color and consequently the “white” skin of Europeans was a relatively young characteristic and not a “racial characteristic” (an allegedly “ europiden race ") is. The reason for this development is that dark skin color u. a. is a protective factor to limit the destruction of folic acid (= vitamin B 9 ) by UV radiation. In northern latitudes this protective factor is less important, but at the same time the production of cholecalciferol (= vitamin D 3 ) in the skin is becoming more and more difficult due to the very low UV radiation, at least in the winter half-year, especially with sedentary farmers who have few cattle and who are themselves therefore could only get a little vitamin D 3 through the diet .

In 2014, further refined DNA analyzes provided evidence of a further archaic population, the genes of which were to a large extent incorporated into the genome of people living in Europe today. According to the analyzes, it was a population of nomadic ranchers who immigrated from the Eurasian steppe around 4800 years ago , who displaced more than 75 percent of the genes of the local people, but whose genes can also be detected in the Indians of North America and which are related was brought with the bearers of the Cord Ceramic Culture and the spread of Indo-European in Europe. The spread of the bell-beaker culture is also attributed to immigrants from the West Asian steppe, who, at least in Great Britain, previously displaced people from the gene pool there , but in other parts of Europe mixed with the residents who had already been encountered. The paleogeneticist Johannes Krause wrote:

“The first major immigration to Europe around 7,500 years ago can be explained well by the changed lifestyle: Agriculture and cattle breeding enabled a more stable supply of food and thus led to a population increase, which resulted in a territorial expansion of arable farming. The second major shift in the genetic composition of Europeans around 4800 years ago as a result of massive immigration from the Pontic steppe can only be explained poorly with the different way of life, as it is - at least in Central Europe - both with immigrants from the steppe and the residents were arable farmers or cattle breeders. "

According to Krause, a research group led by the Danish biologist Simon Rasmussen published a plausible explanation in 2015, who succeeded in detecting Yersinia pestis , the causative agent of the plague , in skeletons up to 5200 years old from the Central Asian steppe :

“This is where the disease could have originated and spread to the west with the steppe dwellers. This suggests that the researchers also found what they were looking for in skeletons from Central Europe and the Baltic States, around 4500 years old . It is possible that the first major plague epidemic occurred 5000 years ago, spreading westward from the steppe and affecting the early farmers of Europe more than the nomads of the Pontic steppe. The latter have probably always lived with the plague pathogen and therefore possibly had a higher immunity . An epidemic-related collapse of Europe's arable farmers could in turn have caused a population vacuum into which the steppe nomads were able to penetrate. "


  • Catherine Brahic: The ancestry clues in the oldest European genome. In: New Scientist . Volume 224, No. 2995, 2014, p. 11, full text
  • Yuval Itan et al .: The Origins of Lactase Persistence in Europe. In: PLoS Computational Biology. Volume 5, No. 8, 2009, e1000491, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pcbi.1000491 .
  • Johannes Krause : The European is also genetically a potpourri. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. No. 286 of 7 December 2016, p. N2
  • Vagheesh M. Narasimhan et al .: The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia. In: Science . Volume 365, No. 6457, 2019, eaat7487, doi: 10.1126 / science.aat7487
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Web links

Wiktionary: Europeans  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

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