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The origin of the Basque people has been shrouded in mystery. The Basques have occupied much the same area of northern Spain and southern France for thousands of years, extending further eastward and northwards into Gascony and the Pyrenees, as attested by archaeological and toponymical evidence, and speak a language whose ties to other living languages are unclear at best. Nowadays it is accepted that most likely, the Basques are the last surviving people from a time of European prehistory when Indo-European languages were not yet widely spoken in the continent.

Contents

Early attestation and native territory

Basque and other pre-Indo-European tribes (in red) at the time of Roman arrival

The key sources for the early history of the Basques are the classical writers, especially Strabo, who in the 1st century AD reported that the Vascones inhabited modern day Navarre, NW Aragon and lower La Rioja. He also mentioned other tribes between them and the Cantabrians: the Varduli, Caristii and Autrigones. Until recently there was no direct evidence of their language but it was commonly accepted that all these tribes were Basque-speakers - at least with great likelihood. Recently, excavations in the Vasco-Roman town of Iruña-Veleia have unearthed evidence of Basque being also spoken in the Western Basque Country at that time. Another important Basque-speaking group were the Aquitani tribes of Gascony, whose language, attested by funerary slabs, is now agreed to be very close to Basque.

Evidence from language

It is unknown whether Vascones spoke an old form of the Basque language. Surviving place names and a few personal names tend to suggest they spoke old Basque, but we cannot be sure. Equally uncertain is whether the previous inhabitants of the modern Basque territory—the Varduli, Caristii, and Autrigones—were related tribes. Some researchers, based on the meager historical evidence we possess, think that they were Celtiberian peoples, speaking languages not related to old Basque.

In fact, the best evidence for a Basque-related language is in Gascony in southwestern of France, where the local Aquitanians spoke a language which may be related to Basque. (This extinct Aquitanian language should not be confused with Occitan, a Romance language spoken in Aquitaine since the beginning of the Middle Ages.)

There is toponymical evidence that the Basque language was once spoken over a much wider area than the modern day Basque country. This is specially attested by toponymy, that extends the proto-Basque linguistic area at least to all the Central Pyrenees, Upper Ebro valley and all Gascony.

The German linguist Theo Vennemann proposes that such toponyms are found throughout Central and Western Europe, these areas having been settled by speakers of Vasconic languages after the Ice Age. That hypothesis, however, is rejected by most historical linguists.

Theories about Basque origins

The main theory about Basque origins suggested that they were a remnant of Paleolithic Europeans inhabiting continuously the Franco-Cantabrian region since at least Magdalenian times, and maybe as early as the original colonization of Europe by Homo sapiens.

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Prehistoric origin

The only archaeological evidence for an invasion of the Basque Country dates to some 40,000 years ago when Cro-Magnon people first arrived in Europe and superseded Homo neanderthalensis. Another possibility is that a precursor of the Basque language may have arrived with the advance of agriculture, some 6,000 years ago.

DNA methods for seeking ancient ancestry are increasingly being used to test the origins of the Basques.[1][2][3] An interesting possibility is that Parkinson's disease may be related to the Basque dardarin mutation.[4] Partly as a result of DNA analysis, "...there is a general scientific consensus that the Basques represent the most direct descendants of the hunter-gatherers who dwelt in Europe before the spread of agriculture, based on both linguistic and genetic evidence..."[5] This would make them the descendants of some of the earliest human inhabitants of Europe.

The Basque genetic markers also reveal a very strong relationship with the Celtic peoples of Ireland, Wales and Cornwall.[6][7] The shared markers are suggestive of having passed through a genetic bottleneck during the peak of the last ice age, which would mean the two peoples were in Europe by at least about 17,000 years ago, and probably 45,000 to 50,000 years ago. Despite the genetic connection, there is little reason to suppose that the Celtic languages are related to Basque. It is rather probable that British people related to the Iberian population switched to Celtic with La Tène culture migrations, but we can only speculate on whether these ancient peoples were using a language related to Basque or some other language.

Some authors also believe that the Basque language provides evidence for a Stone Age origin: the words for knife and axe may come from the root word for stone,[8] suggesting that the language developed when knives and axes were made of stone rather than bronze or iron (although the undisputed fact that the Basque language may be as old as that does not prove that the tribes and people that preserved it are). Mitochondrial DNA analysis tracing a rare subgroup of haplogroup U8 places the ancestry of the Basques in the Upper Palaeolithic, with their primitive founders originating from West Asia.[1]

Other theories

  • Basques as part of the migration into Western Europe, c.1300 BCE, of speakers of Indo-European languages. This is at odds with the absolute lack of Celtic influence in Basque language.
  • Basques as migrants from the North of Africa, more exactly from the Berber ethnic group. This is an old hypothesis based in pseudo-scientific comparison between Basque and Tamazight languages that is now widely discredited.
  • Basques as Neolithic immigrants or even as an Iberian tribe (the latter based in arguable similarities between Iberian and Basque languages).

Reasons for survival

Regardless of which theories are correct, it is quite possible that the Basques arrived before the Celts and likely that they are the oldest continuously surviving people inhabiting a particular location in Europe. It is believed that they have lived in or near their present location for at least four thousand years, a relatively small group of people surviving when many others were overwhelmed by invaders. A number of early Basque writers sought to explain this — in keeping with the academic fashion of their time, typically through speculation about racial superiority — but the endurance of the Basques can also be explained by good fortune: they happened to be in the right place over and over again.

Whether the Basques chose their easily defended home in the Pyrenees or were forced into it at some time in the past, it is common for mountainous regions, as with islands, to remain as bastions of an otherwise vanished culture or people. Because of this, the Basque homeland is well suited to survival. Its low mountains are combined with dense forests and vegetation which make it impassable to outsiders en masse, but still temperate enough to support a large agricultural base—one where the soil is poorer than the surrounding plains, leaving the area a much less tempting target for invaders. Furthermore, the Basque areas have few reserves of precious metals, especially in comparison to the gold reserves to the west in Spain or to the rich agricultural lands in Gascony just to the north. The Basques seem to have ended up in the best locale on the European continent for uninterrupted survival.

See also

References

  1. ^ Gonzalez AM, Garcia O, Larruga JM, Cabrera VM. The mitochondrial lineage U8a reveals a Paleolithic settlement in the Basque country BMC Genomics 2006, 7:124
  1. ^  http://cmpg.unibe.ch/teaching/HGH_3rdcourse_2005.pdf (PDF file)
  2. ^  http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/ahg/2005/00000069/00000006/art00006
  3. ^  http://news.boisestate.edu/newsrelease/archive/2005/072005/0726basquedna.html
  4. ^  http://www.mdvu.org/emove/article.asp?ID=811
  5. ^  http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/7/1361
  6. ^  http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/9/5078#B30
  7. ^  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1256894.stm
  8. ^  Online Ch.1 of The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky, 1999, ISBN 0-8027-1349-1

Genealogy

Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

The origin of the Basque people has been shrouded in mystery. The Basques have occupied much the same area of northern Spain and southern France for thousands of years, extending further eastward and northwards into Gascony and the Pyrenees, as attested by archaeological and toponymical evidence, and speak a language whose ties to other living languages are unclear at best. Nowadays it is accepted that most likely, the Basques are the last surviving people from a time of European prehistory when Indo-European languages were not yet widely spoken in the continent.

Contents

Early attestation and native territory

Main language areas in Iberia circa 200 BC.

The key sources for the early history of the Basques are the classical writers, especially Strabo, who in the 1st century AD reported that the Vascones inhabited modern day Navarre, NW Aragon and lower La Rioja. He also mentioned other tribes between them and the Cantabrians: the Varduli, Caristii and Autrigones. There's no evidence of their language but it's commonly accepted that all these tribes were Basque-speakers - at least with great likelihood. Another important Basque-speaking group were the Aquitanian tribes of Gascony, whose language, attested by funerary slabs, is now agreed to be very close to Basque.

Evidence from language

It is unknown whether Vascones spoke an old form of the Basque language. Surviving place names and a few personal names tend to suggest they spoke old Basque, but we cannot be sure. Equally uncertain is whether the previous inhabitants of the modern Basque territory—the Varduli, Caristii, and Autrigones—were related tribes. Some researchers, based on the meager historical evidence we possess, think that they were Celtiberian peoples, speaking languages not related to old Basque.

In fact, the best evidence for a Basque-related language is in Gascony in southwestern of France, where the local Aquitanians spoke a language which may be related to Basque. (This extinct Aquitanian language should not be confused with Occitan, a Romance language spoken in Aquitaine since the beginning of the Middle Ages.)

There is toponymical evidence that the Basque language was once spoken over a much wider area than the modern day Basque country. This is specially attested by toponymy, that extends the proto-Basque linguistic area at least to all the Central Pyrenees, Upper Ebro valley and all Gascony.

The German linguist Theo Vennemann claims that such toponyms are found throughout Central and Western Europe, these areas having been settled by speakers of the so-called Vasconic languages after the ice age. That theory, however, is rejected by most historical linguists.

Old theories about Basque origins

Even assuming that the Vascones were the Basques, the prehistory of the people before that time is necessarily conjectural. The major theories in contention are:

Prehistoric origin

The only archaeological evidence for an invasion of the Basque Country dates to some 40,000 years ago when Cro-Magnon people first arrived in Europe and superseded Homo neanderthalensis. Another possibility is that a precursor of the Basque language may have arrived with the advance of agriculture, some 6,000 years ago.

DNA methods for seeking ancient ancestry are increasingly being used to test the origins of the Basques.[1][2][3] An interesting possibility is that Parkinson's disease may be related to the Basque dardarin mutation.[4] Partly as a result of DNA analysis, "...there is a general scientific consensus that the Basques represent the most direct descendants of the hunter-gatherers who dwelt in Europe before the spread of agriculture, based on both linguistic and genetic evidence..."[5] This would make them the descendants of some of the earliest human inhabitants of Europe. The Basque genetic markers also reveal a very strong relationship with the Celts in Ireland and Wales.[6][7] The shared markers are suggestive of having passed through a genetic bottleneck during the peak of the last ice age, which would mean the two peoples were in Europe by at least about 17,000 years ago, and probably 45,000 to 50,000 years ago. Despite the genetic connection, there is little reason to suppose that the Celtic languages are related to Basque. It is rather probable that British people related to the Iberian population switched to Celtic with La Tène culture migrations, but we can only speculate on whether these ancient Irish and British speakers were using a precursor to Basque or some other language.

Some authors also believe that the Basque language provides evidence for a Stone Age origin: the words for knife and axe may come from the root word for stone,[8] suggesting that the language developed when knives and axes were made of stone rather than bronze or iron. Mitochondrial DNA analysis tracing a rare subgroup of haplogroup U8 places the ancestry of the Basques in the Upper Palaeolithic, with their primitive founders originating from West Asia.[1]

Thousands of years in the same region

Regardless of which theories are correct, it is quite possible that the Basques arrived before the Celts and likely that they are the oldest continuously surviving people inhabiting a particular location in Europe. It is believed that they have lived in or near their present location for at least four thousand years, a relatively small group of people surviving when many others were overwhelmed by invaders. A number of early Basque writers sought to explain this — in keeping with the academic fashion of their time, typically through speculation about racial superiority — but the endurance of the Basques can also be explained by good fortune: they happened to be in the right place over and over again.

Whether the Basques chose their easily defended home in the Pyrenees or were forced into it at some time in the past, it is common for mountainous regions, as with islands, to remain as bastions of an otherwise vanished culture or people. In a similar manner, for example, when the extensive Celtic cultures of Europe were overwhelmed by invaders, the only remaining areas speaking Celtic languages were Ireland and a number of remote mountainous or coastal bastions in Brittany, Scotland, and Wales which retain Celtic speakers to the present day.

In any case, the Basque homeland is well suited to survival. Its low mountains are combined with dense forests and vegetation which make it impassable to outsiders en masse, but still temperate enough to support a large agricultural base—one where the soil is poorer than the surrounding plains, leaving the area a much less tempting target for invaders. Furthermore, the Basque areas have few reserves of precious metals, especially in comparison to the gold reserves to the west in Spain or to the wealth in Gascony just to the north. The Basques seem to have ended up in the best locale on the European continent for uninterrupted survival.

See also

References

  1. ^ Gonzalez AM, Garcia O, Larruga JM, Cabrera VM. The mitochondrial lineage U8a reveals a Paleolithic settlement in the Basque country BMC Genomics 2006, 7:124
  1. ^  http://cmpg.unibe.ch/teaching/HGH_3rdcourse_2005.pdf (PDF file)
  2. ^  http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bsc/ahg/2005/00000069/00000006/art00006
  3. ^  http://news.boisestate.edu/newsrelease/archive/2005/072005/0726basquedna.html
  4. ^  http://www.mdvu.org/emove/article.asp?ID=811
  5. ^  http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/21/7/1361
  6. ^  http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/98/9/5078#B30
  7. ^  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1256894.stm
  8. ^  Online Ch.1 of The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky, 1999, ISBN 0-8027-1349-1
This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Origin of the Basques. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.

This article uses material from the "Origin of the Basques" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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