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Origin of the Basques

history of the basques, origin of the basques
The origin of the Basques and the Basque language is a controversial topic that has given rise to numerous hypotheses Modern Basque, a descendent or close relative of Aquitanian and Proto-Basque, is the only Pre-Indo-European language that is extant in western Europe The Basques have therefore long been supposed to be a remnant of a pre-Indo-European population of Europe

The main hypotheses about the origin of the Basques are:

  • Native origin, the mainstream theory, according to which the Basque language would have developed over the millennia entirely between the north of the Iberian Peninsula and the current south of France, without the possibility of finding any kind of relationship between the Basque language and other modern languages in other regions
  • Basque-Iberism theorizes the existence of a kinship between the Basque and the Iberian language, and therefore between their speakers Others claim there is not a direct connection, including Mitxelena, who claims the similarities between Iberian and Basque are attributed solely to the relationship of vicinity, and not to any kinship[1][2]
  • Caucasian origin theorizes that the Basque language and the languages of the Caucasus may have a direct relation, explaining why they share some linguistic typologies absent in the Indo-European languages


  • 1 Native origin theory
    • 11 Paleogenetic investigations
    • 12 Linguistics
    • 13 The aizkora controversy
  • 2 Alternative theories
    • 21 Basque-Iberism
    • 22 Caucasian origin
    • 23 Old European
  • 3 Roman records
  • 4 Historiography
    • 41 Tubalism
      • 411 Tubalism and Basque-Iberism
      • 412 Basque-Cantabrism
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References

Native origin theory

Distribution of Paleolithic settlements in Europe

According to Stephen Oppenheimer, from c 16,000 BC, the warmer climate allowed the expansion of proto-Basque groups, or proto-Europeans, across the north of Africa and the entire continent of Europe,[3][page needed] expanding the Magdalenian culture across Europe

In 2008, the Finnish linguist Kalevi Wiik proposed that the current Basque language is the remainder of a group of "Basque languages" that were spoken in the Paleolithic throughout western Europe and that retreated with the progress of the Indo-European languages Wiik states that his theory coincides with the homogeneous distribution of the Haplogroup R1b in Atlantic Europe[4]

Ludomir R Lozny states that "Wiik's controversial ideas are rejected by the majority of the scholarly community, but they have attracted the enormous interest of a wider audience"[5]

Paleogenetic investigations

In May 2012, the National Geographic Society Genographic Project released a study that showed through detailed DNA analysis of samples from French and Spanish Basque regions that Basques share unique genetic patterns that distinguish them from the surrounding non-Basque populations The results of the study clearly support the hypothesis of a partial genetic continuity of contemporary Basques with the preceding Paleolithic/Mesolithic settlers of their homeland[6]

Paleogenetic investigations by the Complutense University of Madrid[7] indicate that the Basque people have a genetic profile coincident with the rest of the European population and that goes back to Prehistoric times[8] The haplotype of the mitochondrial DNA known as U5 entered in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic[9] and developed varieties as the U8a, native of the Basque Country, which is considered to be Prehistoric,[10] and as the J group, which is also frequent in the Basque population[10]

The works of Alzualde A, Izagirre N, Alonso S, Alonso A, de la Rua C[11] about mitochondrial DNA of the Human remains found in the Prehistoric graveyard of Alaieta, in Alava, note that there are no differences between these remains and others found across Atlantic Europe

Studies based on the Y chromosome genetically relate the Basques with the Celtic, Welsh, and Irish;[12] Stephen Oppenheimer from the University of Oxford says that the current inhabitants of the British Isles have their origin in the Basque refuge during the last Ice age Oppenheimer reached this conclusion through the study of correspondences in the frequencies of genetic markers between various European regions[13][14][15][16]

The haplogroup R1b, which originated during the last ice age at least 18,500 years ago,[17] can be found most frequently in the Basque Country 91%, Wales 89% and Ireland 81% The current population of the R1b from western Europe would probably come from a climatic refuge in the Iberian Peninsula, where the haplogroup R1b1c R1b1b2 or R1b3 originated During the Allerød oscillation, c 12,000 years ago, descendants of this population would have repopulated Western Europe[13] The rare variety R1b1c4 R1b1b2a2c has almost always been found among the Basque people, both in the Northern and Southern Basque Country The variety R1b1c6 R1b1b2a2d registers a high incidence in the Basque population, 19%[18] The Y-DNA haplogroup R-M269 R1b1a2 is also prominent among the Bashkirs of Volga[19]

On the other hand, the geneticist Spencer Wells, director of the Genographic Project, has pointed out that the Basques are genetically indistinguishable from the rest of Iberians[citation needed], a result that was confirmed in 2010 by a study led by Jaume Bertranpetit, at the Pompeu Fabra University, in Barcelona[20]

Similarly, in 2015, a new scientific study of Basque DNA was published which seems to indicate that Basques are descendants of Neolithic farmers who mixed with local hunters before becoming genetically isolated from the rest of Europe for millennia[21] Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden analysed genetic material from eight Stone Age human skeletons found in El Portalón Cavern in Atapuerca, northern Spain These individuals lived between 3,500 and 5,500 years ago, after the transition to farming in southwest Europe The results show that these early Iberian farmers are the closest ancestors to present-day Basques[22]

The official findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America[23] "Our results show that the Basques trace their ancestry to early farming groups from Iberia, which contradicts previous views of them being a remnant population that trace their ancestry to Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups," says Prof Jakobsson[24]


In the field of linguistics, there are two lines of investigation, both based on etymology; one on toponyms, not only in the Basque Country but also in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula and Europe, and the other on the etymology of Basque words[citation needed]

The aizkora controversy

Some vasconists have, in the past, suggested that Basque may have several words, all related to tools, that are derived from the root word for "stone", haitz These include:

  • haizkora "axe"
  • haitzur "hoe"
  • haitzur "shears"
  • haiztur "tongs"
  • aizto "knife"

Theories regarding the possibility of such a shared root have been put forward by Louis Lucien Bonaparte, Miguel de Unamuno, Julio Caro Baroja and others[25] One inference of these hypothetical and controversial etymologies was that some aspects of the Basque language had been stable and uninfluenced by other languages since the Stone Age

However, these etymologies are now doubted by mainstream vasconists Aizkora has been identified as a loan from the Latin asciola[26] The root of the remaining terms – based on the Roncalese dialect, which is known for its preservation of historical nasals and has the documented forms antzur, ainzter, aintzur and ainzto – was ainz- and thus the reconstructed root was anitz or anetz There are no traces of such a nasal sound in the word haitz "rock" cf Roncalese aitz[25]

Alternative theories


Sides of an Iberian coin with the inscription Baskunes

The theory of the Basque-Iberism claims that there is a direct relationship between the Basque language and the Iberian language, meaning either that Basque evolved out of the Iberian language, or that its precursor belonged to the same language family The first author to suggest this theory was Strabo in the 1st century BC at a time when the Iberian language was still spoken; he asserted that the Iberians and the Aquitanians were similar physically and that they spoke similar languages and had similar customs

The German linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt proposed, in the early 19th Century, a thesis in which he stated that the Basque people were Iberians, following some studies that he had conducted[vague][citation needed]

Caucasian origin

Some researchers have propounded the similarities between the Basque language and the Caucasian languages, especially the Georgian language

The comparison between the matrilineal and patrilineal DNA of the native peoples from the Basque Country and Georgia has allowed the discovery of significant differences The hypothesis that related both populations is only based on the typological similarities, which is never a good marker of linguistic kinship These superficial similarities in the linguistic typologies do not seem to accompany a genetic relation at a population level[27] The possible relation between Basque and the languages of the Caucasus is denied by authors such as Larry Trask, who stated that the comparisons were wrongly made, given the fact that the Basque language was compared with several Caucasian languages at the same time

Old European

Main article: Vasconic substratum theory

These theories are based on the Old European hydronymy, assuming that the first inhabitants of Europe spoke a common tongue[28] or languages of the same language family This theory is not accepted by most linguists, who believe that, in a territory as large as Europe, more than one language had to be spoken[28]

In January 2003, the Spanish edition of the popular science magazine Scientific American published a study conducted by Theo Vennemann,[29] professor of theoretical linguistics of the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he concluded:

Much of the names of settlements, rivers, mountains, valleys and landscapes in Europe would have their origin in Pre-Indo-European languages, specifically the Basque language


We do not fall in exaggeration if we say that all the Europeans are Basques

According to Vennemann, the Proto-Basque language or a language family from which the Basque language originated was the linguistic stratum in which the Indo-European languages later settled He found, among other examples, the Basque words "ibai" river and "ibar" bottom to repeat continuously in European rivers, or the word "haran" valley in toponyms such as Val d'Aran, Arendal, Arundel, Arnach, Arnsberg, Aresburg, Ahrensburg, Aranbach or Arnstein

The Vennemann theory has been criticized by Basque scholars and it is not accepted by most linguists[30]

Specifically, Trask, after many pointed critiques of the methods employed, affirmed that Vennemann had found an agglutinative language, but with no relation to the Basque language, and that probably it is simply the Indo-European language, as many other linguistic scholars agree[31]

Joseba Andoni Lakarra, a researcher of the Proto-Basque language, criticizes the thesis of Vennemann, saying, like Trask, that he identifies modern Basque roots that are not related to the archaic Basque In the same way, Lakarra says that, despite Basque now being an agglutinative language, there are reasons to believe that previously it was not so[31]

Roman records

See also: History of the Basque people and Vascones Basque and other pre-Indo-European tribes in red at the time of Roman arrival

The early story of the Basque people was recorded by Roman classical writers, historians and geographers, such as Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Pomponius Mela The present-day Basque Country was, by the time of the Roman arrival in the Iberian Peninsula, inhabited by Aquitanian and Celtic tribes The Aquitanians are also known[by whom] as the "Proto-Basque people", and included several tribes, such as the Vascones, who were located at both sides of the western Pyrenees In present-day Biscay, Gipuzkoa, and Álava were located the Caristii, Varduli, and Autrigones, whose origin is still not clear[32] It is not known if these tribes were of Aquitanian origin, related to the Vascones, or if they were of Celtic origin The latter seems more likely, based on the use of Celtic and Proto-Celtic toponyms by these tribes These tribes would have then gone through a Basquisation, caused by progress of the Aquitanian tribes on their territory

Strabo in the 1st century AD reported that the Ouaskonous Vascones inhabited the area around the town of Pompelo, and the coastal town of Oiasona in Hispania He also mentioned other tribes between them and the Cantabrians: the Varduli, Caristii, and Autrigones[33] About a century later, Ptolemy also listed the coastal Oeasso beside the Pyrénées to the Vascones, together with 15 inland towns, including Pompelon[34] Pompelo/Pompelon is easily identified as modern-day Pamplona, Navarre The border port of Irún, where a Roman harbour and other remains have been uncovered, is the accepted identification of the coastal town mentioned by Strabo and Ptolemy[35] Three inscriptions in an early form of Basque found in eastern Navarre can be associated with the Vascones[36]

However, the Vascones appear to have been just one tribe within a wider language community Across the border in what is now France, the Aquitani tribes of Gascony spoke a language different from the Celts and were more like the Iberi[37] Although no complete inscription in their language survives, a number of personal names were recorded in Latin inscriptions, which attest to Aquitanian being the precursor of modern Basque[38] this extinct Aquitanian language should not be confused with Occitan, a Romance language spoken in Aquitaine since the beginning of the Middle Ages



Between the 14th and 15th century, a series of historical legends were created with the objective of defending the singularity of the Basque people and their Fuero system, which regulated the relations between the Basque territories and the Crown Among these legends are the Basque-Iberism, the Basque-Cantabrism, and The Battle of Arrigorriaga These legends were used in a context of political vindication In the 19th century, the Basque nationalists would use these legends as the basis for their vindications[39]

Tubalism and Basque-Iberism

Developed by Esteban de Garibay and Andrés Poza, this legend states that the Basque people are direct descendants of Tubal, grandson of Noah, fifth son of Japheth According to the legend, Japheth and his tribe, the Iberians, departed to the Iberian Peninsula, settling between the Pyrenees and the river Ebro, right after the confusion of languages in the Tower of Babel

Then, the Basque language would be one of the 72 languages that were created as a punishment of God after the Tower of Babel[39]


It is based on a historical and geographical distortion of the Cantabrian Wars, based on a manuscript gloss that Cristóbal de Mieres, secretary of Lope García de Salazar 1399–1476 introduced on a 1491 copy of Las bienandanzas e fortunas This legend makes the Vascones the protagonists of these wars

See also

  • Basque portal
  • Aizkolaritza
  • Basque people
  • Basque language
  • Basque Country greater region
  • Haplogroup R-DF27
  • Genetic history of the Iberian Peninsula


  1. ^ Karmele Artetxe Sánchez 2005: «Egungo euskoiberismoa, berrikuspen historiografikotik abiatuz», Kondaira 3, 2005, 1-53, ISSN 1698-9287
  2. ^ Karmele Artetxe Sánchez 1999: «Egungo euskoiberismoari buruzko zenbait ohar», Euskonews & Media 54, 1999-11-12
  3. ^ The origins of the British; author Stephen Oppenheimer; Editor: Constable and Robinson 11 Sep 2006, ISBN 1-84529-158-1
  4. ^ Kalevi Wiik Were did european men come from 2008

    The most plausible candidates for the ancient languages of the Iberian refuge are the Basque languages still spoken by about half a million people in the Basque area of Spain and France Earlier, there were several languages belonging to this language group, but mainly because of the intensive spread of IE languages in Western Europe, the area of the Basque languages has shrunk ever since It is probable that the entire Atlantic Coast was linguistically Basque during the Last Glacial Maximum LGM and the millennia after it The area was homogeneous also in respect to subsistence system and genetics: the men were reindeer hunters and their main Y-chromosome haplogroup was R1b

  5. ^ Lozny, Ludomir R 2011 Comparative Archaeologies: A Sociological View of the Science of the Past Springer p 156 ISBN 978-1-4419-8224-7 
  6. ^ Doron M Behar, Christine Harmant, , and The Genographic Consortium 2012-05-04 "The Basque Paradigm: Genetic Evidence of a Maternal Continuity in the Franco-Cantabrian Region since Pre-Neolithic Times" American Journal of Human Genetics 90 3: 486–493 doi:101016/jajhg201201002 PMC 3309182  PMID 22365151 CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list link
  7. ^ Eva Fernández et al: "Hacia el Origen de los vascos: Secuencias de DNA mitocontrial antiguo del País Vasco" Archived 2011-12-05 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Dupandunlop, Isabelle; et al 2004 "Estimating the impact of prehistoric admixture in the genome of Europeans" Molecular Biology and Evolution 21 7: 1361–1372 doi:101093/molbev/msh135 PMID 15044595 
  9. ^ Maca-Meyer, N; González, AM; Larruga, JM; Flores, C y; Cabrera, VM 2001 "Linajes mayores del genoma mitocondrial trazan antiguas expansiones humanas" [Major genomic mitochondrial lineages delineate early human expansions] BMC Genetics 2: 13 doi:101186/1471-2156-2-13 PMC 55343  PMID 11553319 
  10. ^ a b Alfonso-Sánchez, MA; Cardoso, S; Martínez-Bouzas, C; Peña, J A; Herrera, R J; Castro, A; Fernández-Fernández, I; Pancorbo, M De 2008 "Mitochondrial DNA haplogroup diversity in Basques: A reassessment based on HVI and HVII polymorphisms" American Journal of Human Biology 20 2: 154–164 doi:101002/ajhb20706 
  11. ^ Temporal mitochondrial DNA variation in the Basque Country: influence of post-neolithic events Alzualde y otros
  12. ^ BBC Genes link Celts to Basques
  13. ^ a b The origins of the British; author Stephen Oppenheimer; Editor: Constable and Robinson 11 Sep 2006, ISBN 1-84529-158-1 and from the same author Myths of British ancestry
  14. ^ Los británicos descienden de los vascos de la Edad de Hielo elcorreodigitalcom
  15. ^ Británicos de origen vasco
  16. ^ Genes link Celts to Basques "On the Y-chromosome, the Celtic populations turn out to be statistically indistinguishable from the Basques," Professor Goldstein said
  17. ^ Karaet, Tatiana; et al 2008 "New binary polymorphisms reshape and increase the resolution of the human Y chromosomal haplogroup tree" Genome Research 18: 830–838 doi:101101/gr7172008 PMC 2336805  PMID 18385274 
  18. ^ Rosser, Zoë H; et al 2000 "Y-Chromosomal Diversity in Europe Is Clinal and Influenced Primarily by Geography, Rather than by Language" The American Journal of Human Genetics 67 6: 1526–1543 doi:101086/316890 PMC 1287948  PMID 11078479 
  19. ^ Lobov A et al 2005 "Y chromosome analysis in subpopulations of Bashkirs from Russia"
  20. ^ Domínguez, Nuño 19 February 2010 "Los genes de los vascos no son diferentes" El Público in Spanish Archived from the original on 21 February 2010 Retrieved 21 February 2010 
  21. ^ Ancient DNA Elucidates Basque Origins Researchers find that the people of northern Spain and southern France are an amalgam of early Iberian farmers and local hunters By Bob Grant | September 9, 2015, thescientistcom
  22. ^ Ancient DNA cracks puzzle of Basque origins, BBC, 7 September 2015
  23. ^ Ancient genomes link early farmers from Atapuerca in Spain to modern-day Basques, September 9, 2015, pnasorg
  24. ^ Ancient genomes link early farmers to Basques, physorg, September 7, 2015
  25. ^ a b Trask, L The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  26. ^ Trask, L† edited by Max W Wheeler 2008: Etymological Dictionary of Basque, University of Sussex unfinished
  27. ^ Martinez Bouzas, Cristina 2003 "Relaciones Filogenéticas entre las Poblaciones Autóctona Vasca, Georgiana Cáucaso y Bereber Mauritania desde la Perspectiva de la Región Hipervariable del ADN Mitocondrial y Polimorfismos del Cromosoma Y" UPV / EHU
  28. ^ a b El Euskera arcaico Luis Núñez Astrain page 183
  29. ^ Vennemann's website Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Au sujet de l’histoire de la langue basque et de ses apparentements Archived 2006-12-09 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ a b El Euskera arcaico Luis Núñez Astrain pege 185
  32. ^ Ethnic maps of Iberia Archived October 6, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ Strabo, Geography, III, 410
  34. ^ Ptolemy, Geography, II, 5: Tarraconensis Hispania
  35. ^ RJA Talbert, Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World 2000; J Santos Yanguas, Identificación de las ciudades antiguas de Álava, Guipúzcoa y Vizcaya: Estado de la cuestión, Studia Historica: Historia Antigua, vol 6 1988, pp 121-130; JL Ramirez Sádaba, Las ciudades Vasconas segun las fuentes literarias y su evolucion en la tardoantigüedad, Antigüedad y Cristianismo Murcia, vol 23 2006, pp 185-199
  36. ^ R L Trask, The History of Basque 1997, chapter 6
  37. ^ Strabo, Geography, book 4, chapter 2
  38. ^ R L Trask, The History of Basque 1997, chapter 6
  39. ^ a b Bazán y Otros, Iñaki 2006 CIUDAD:Madrid EDITORIAL: La esfera de los libros, ed De Túbal a Aitor Historia de Vasconia ISBN 84-9734-570-3 

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