Basque women in Bayonne (1852)

Scientists Believe they Have Found the Origins of the Unique Basque Culture


The Basque people have been an enigma to anthropologists for years. With a unique language, traditions, and customs, Basque origins have long been a mystery. Researchers now believe they have finally pinpointed the beginnings of this special group of people - from the results of a study of eight ancient skeletons found in a cave in northern Spain.

According to the BBC, by studying the genomes of human skeletons from El Portalón, Atapuerca, Mattias Jakobsson (a population geneticist) and his team from Uppsala University in Sweden believe that prehistoric Iberian farmers are the closest match to the modern Basques. This new information contradicts the previously held belief that the Basque ancestors we earlier groups of pre-agricultural hunter gatherers.

The cave of El Portalon is well-known to archaeologists, as Dr. Cristina Valdiosera, one of the lead authors in the current study said:

“The El Portalon cave is a fantastic site with amazing preservation of artifact material. Every year we find human and animal bones and artifacts, including stone tools, ceramics, bone artifacts and metal objects, it is like a detailed book of the last 10,000 years, providing a wonderful understanding of this period. The preservation of organic remains is great and this has enabled us to study the genetic material complementing the archaeology.”

Illustration of life at El Portalon Cave during the Neolithic and Copper Age

 Illustration of life at El Portalon Cave during the Neolithic and Copper Age (Maria de la Fuente)

The eight skeletons from the new study are evenly divided between males and females. There is one male child included in the burials. By using radiocarbon dating, it has been shown that the remains are from between 5,500 – 3,500 years ago (Chalcolithic period/Copper Age and Bronze Age). The later age of most of the individuals and the artifacts found with them (such as pottery) suggest that they were farmers, not hunter gatherers.

Jakobsson and the team extracted DNA from the ancient ancestors and sequenced their genomes. They then took this information and compared their genetic profiles to various prehistoric and modern Europeans. The results showed that the ancient farmers had a mix of genes coming from earlier hunter-gatherers and other farming groups. However, the most shocking information is that the prehistoric farmers from the study are most closely related to modern Basques.

This information is surprising, and even the researchers admit that they did not expect this outcome. How can they explain the genetic and cultural uniqueness of the Basques, so linked to the eight El Portalon skeletons, yet so distinct from other European groups? The rationalization they have provided is that the ancient ancestors to the Basques arrived in the region, mixed with some other framers and hunter gatherers…and then were isolated.

One of the skeletons from the current El Portalon cave study

One of the skeletons from the current El Portalon cave study (MyNewsDesk)

They are still uncertain exactly why the group became separated from others. Jakobsson told the BBC: “It's hard to speculate, but we've been working with Basque historians and it's clear from the historical record that this area was very difficult to conquer.”

"One of the great things about working with ancient DNA is that the data obtained is like opening a time capsule. Seeing the similarities between modern Basques and these early farmers directly tells us that Basques remained relatively isolated for the last 5,000 years but not much longer," Dr. Torsten Günther told

5,000 years is still a relatively long time for a culture. That time has provided sufficient differences between the modern Basques and non-Basques living in the Iberian region. The unique non Indo-European language used by Basques is just one of the features still unexplained.

Title page of a Medieval Basque Language Book

Title page of a Medieval Basque Language Book (Wikimedia Commons)

Spoken language is not identified by artifacts or genes, thus modern researchers can only make assumptions on what could be the origins of Euskara (the Basque language.) Researchers in the current study have suggested that the early farmers from this study passed on a language that was present before the Indo-European languages swept across the continent. Nonetheless, they agree that it may be instead that the Basque language predates the farmers and descended from earlier hunter gatherers who maintained their language despite the incoming farmers. Ez dakigu…

Featured Image: Basque women in Bayonne (1852) (Wikimedia Commons)

By: Alicia McDermott



It is not Basque region (where does that come from?). It is Basque country, because all the translations, Pays Basque (France), Basqueland (German), Pais Vasco (Spain), come from the basque one, Euskal Herria, which actually means town of the basque people.

The Basque region (country is a mistranslation from the French word pays) is NOT "located between Spain and France". It IS in Spain and France,

Andorra is located between Spain and France.

Very interesting site!

"Euskaldunsarra" = Euskal-dun (The one who possesses the Language) + zaharra (old) = Speaker of one of the many old Basque dialects

"Euskaldunberri" = Euskal-dun (The one who possesses the Language) + berri (new) = Speaker of "batua" unified modern Basque dialect.

It is most ocmmon surname in Peninsular Spain... I woudl not go making assumptions on its origin. Treviño is located south of the Basque country. Before anyone starts its administrative status is of no relevance, I am meaning geographical position.

Basque were small Land owners and lived in family groups, that were commonly isolated even from each other.

In fact there was no "single" basque language, that is XIX century built, different dilaects were spoken ass per regions or even valleys, such was the isolation of the people in there,To the extent that distant comunities had difficulties to understad each other dialect. Stil today, a Euskaldunberri (native Basque speaker) will need to make and effort to be understood by an Euskaldunsarra (Which has learned the "batua" or "unified" versión of the Basque language developped since XIX cent.).

And all this is a región quite small.

No big mistery in the Basque isolation, it was a way of making thier living, isolated and tied to the land they lived from. It was not very rich región, and people were stubborn, and mostly minded their own bussiness, so no one cared much (well, there WAS a roman harbor close to Bilbao, but...) until the brits found out they could ship cheap coal from the Basque country to fuel their Steel industry and could bring back cheap ores for the Basque one, a perfect bussiness, that helped develop a burgeois capitalistic class and the main cities.


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