Category Archives: Basque origins

Basque and other European origins according to ancient mtDNA

This is a (partly shortened) version of an article I wrote recently in Spanish language for Ama Ata.
For reasons of the variegated methodology used by the various researchers this comparison across time and space has to be simplified. Still it is a valuable insight on the demographic changes produced in the Neolithic and later on in three European regions: Germany, Portugal and the Basque Country. 
As you surely know already, the results of archaeogenetic sequencing in Central Europe have produced quite perplexing results: not just the Neolithic wave seems to have caused major changes but also this one was victim of similarly radical later changes in the demography. Visually:

The first period when we see an mtDNA pool similar to the modern one is already in the Late Bronze Age. However we lack data for all the early and middle Bronze Age and the data of the late Chalcolithic already points to the components of this modern pool being present, albeit in a very fragmented form. If anything there was still excess of L(xR), i.e. N(xR). 
This late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age knot of Central European demographic history is still to be solved. But something we can already say for sure: the Neolithic wave was of dramatic consequences in this region but itself was wiped out by later, still ill understood, secondary waves.
This area is not so well documented, however the data we do have still provide a very interesting sequence of the demographic history of SW or West Iberia. Visually again:

One of the problems here is, quite evidently, that sequencing only the HVS-I region is not at all enough to identify some very important haplogroups, particularly H. We can reasonably think however that most or even all of the R* sequences are actually H.
We see some but not-so-radical changes with the arrival of Neolithic: some apparent decrease of U (halved) and L(xR), a +33% growth of H and first detection of HV0 (probably V). However these changes seem to have been partly countered by Chalcolithic, plausibly by means of blending between first farmers and more purely aboriginal populations. Overall I am very much tempted to think that the arrival of Neolithic to (South and Central) Portugal only caused mild demic changes. 
This fact, together with the extremely high frequencies of haplogroup H and the key role played by SW Iberia in the formation of Dolmenic Megalithism, as well as their pivotal role in Bell Beaker, including the existence of a major civilization (Zambujal, VNSP), the first one ever in Atlantic Europe, makes this area highly suspect as a possible origin for the spread of mtDNA H in Western Europe to the frequencies that we find today (c. 40-50%).
However we have only very limited archaeogenetic data from other Atlantic Megalithic regions and in general from Megalithic burials and it is at least possible that Armorica (Brittany, West France) or Denmark and the nearby Low Germany regions played important roles in this spread, which we see so dramatically exemplified in the German Bell Beaker sample. 
When the finger points to the Moon, the fool looks at the finger. Portugal could be the Moon but it may just be the finger, so I will remain cautious at this stage of research. Whatever the case it does seem to me that Megalithism is a likely source of that excess H (Bell Beaker being just the finger here, almost for sure).
I must add that there seem to be some important demic changes since Chalcolithic in Portugal. Tentatively I will attribute them to the intrusive SW Iberian “horizons” (proto-Tartessian?) and/or the Luso-Celtic invasions of the Iron Age. 
Basque Country
My main aim in all this compilation was, as in a sense in all my diving into prehistoric research for so many years now, to find an answer to the mystery of the origin of Basques and Basque language. 
In the last few years we have been blessed with some important and revealing archaeogenetic research in this area, and therefore I could build also an informative graph for the Basque Country:

Very synthetically, I think that we can see here, much as in Portugal, some not too radical changes with the Neolithic arrival, and then relative stability until present day. This is coherent with the Basque Country not having suffered effective Indoeuropean invasions, unlike Portugal.
However I strongly feel the need to look at the fine detail in the Basque Neolithic transition, because it has some interesting question marks:

Seen as that, it would seem like the Neolithic-induced demic change was more important in Navarre and less in the Western Basque Country. However the two Ebro basin sequences (both Fuente Hoz and Los Cascajos) are very high in U* and low in U5, which is so far the only U subclade sequenced in the Paleolithic of the Basque-Cantabrian area. At this point I do not really know how to interpret this fact nor even what kind of U sublineage is that one.
What I do know is that, on one side, the Biscay-Gipuzkoan area seems to have been initially unaffected by Neolithic demic waves and that the Paternabidea sequence is very very similar to modern day Basque average (and even more in its own sub-region).
It is very possible that the Basque periphery, notably the Ebro banks, suffered more intense demic changes than the core Basque areas of the piedmont. However, when compared with other European regions (very especially Central Europe) the Basque genetic pool seems quite stable since Neolithic times. 
Is Basque language Neolithic?
Even if genetics and language need not to be tightly related, of course, the question of the origin of Basque language and the proposed Vasconic language family, believed to have been spoken in much of Europe at some point in Prehistory, are indeed related to the genetic origin of the Basque people. 
There are four main models for the origin of Basque and Vasconic:
  1. Magdalenian (Paleolithic) origin in the Franco-Cantabrian region some 17-15,000 years ago (incl. possible sub-waves like Tardenoisian/geometric Epipaleolithic).
  2. Neolithic origin.
  3. Megalithic origin.
  4. More or less recent (Iron Age?) arrival, defended by mostly by the fanatics of Indoeuropean continuity. 
We can safely discard #4 only based on archaeology but the genetic aspect seems to add even more weight to this dismissal, after all it is Indoeuropean speaking peoples the ones which show obvious signs of demic change, sometimes very dramatic, not Basques.
Personally, and with due caution, I would also cast doubt on #1, partly because the Vasconic substrate area seems to include strongly many parts of Italy like Sardinia, in principle unaffected by the Magdalenian expansion, and I would also include at least to some extent parts of the Balcans (for example the Ibar river in Kosovo). 
So I am rather inclined for model #2, i.e. that Vasconic was the language family spoken by European Neolithic peoples with roots in Thessaly (pre-Sesklo→Mediterranean Neolithic, proto-Sesklo→Balcano-Danubian Neolithic). I cannot of course exclude a possible re-expansion of some of those languages within the Atlantic Megalithic phenomenon, which I would deem responsible of the expansion of much of mtDNA H up to modern frequencies, however I doubt this one is the source because it is difficult to explain the presence of Vasconic in many pockets in which Megalithism was at best very secondary or did not exist at all (for example most of the Ancient Iberian area, Sardinia, the Balcans, etc.)
So my tentative proposal is that there was a root Vasconic spoken some 9000 years ago in Thessaly (Northern Greece), which split (as per archaeology) in two branches:
  • Southern or Western Vasconic (Impressed-Cardium Pottery and related cultures, including the Megalithic urheimat in Portugal). 
  • Northern or Eastern Vasconic (Red-White Painted Ware in the Balcans and later Linear Pottery in Central Europe).
Basque, ancient Sardinian, Iberian and the hypothetical lingua franca associated to Megalithism would belong to Southern Vasconic. Danubian Neolithic peoples would have spoken Northern Vasconic instead but, as we can see, they were eventually all but wiped out by secondary arrivals from West and East. Even the very Balcanic core areas of Thessaly, Macedonia and Serbia also suffered an invasion early on by peoples with Beige-Black pottery (Vinca-Dimini) surely related to Tell Halaf. So the main survivor to the Metal Ages was Southern (Western) Vasconic, which was then wiped out (excepted Basque) by the Indoeuropean invasions of Celtic and Italic peoples. 
We can still see fossils however. One of my favorite examples is the Latin particle bi- (as in bilateral, bilingual, etc.), which seems derived from Vasconic bi (two, at least in modern Basque) and unrelated to PIE *dwos. Also the English words kill and ill, which seem related to Basque verb hil(-du) (pronounced /hill/ or /ill/ and meaning to die or to kill, depending on how you conjugate it). Again both English terms do not have any apparent PIE origins, although they may derive from proto-Germanic. These are just examples, of course, there seems to be much more to be researched.
Appendix: detail of the data and bibliography: LINK.

Refined Basque-centric mitochondrial lineages

A new study has located some mitochondrial lineages that seem to be specific of Basques and nearby populations.
Sergio Cardoso et al., The Expanded mtDNA Phylogeny of the Franco-Cantabrian Region Upholds the Pre-Neolithic Genetic Substrate of Basques. PLoS ONE 2013. Open accessLINK [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067835]


The European genetic landscape has been shaped by several human migrations occurred since Paleolithic times. The accumulation of archaeological records and the concordance of different lines of genetic evidence during the last two decades have triggered an interesting debate concerning the role of ancient settlers from the Franco-Cantabrian region in the postglacial resettlement of Europe. Among the Franco-Cantabrian populations, Basques are regarded as one of the oldest and more intriguing human groups of Europe. Recent data on complete mitochondrial DNA genomes focused on macrohaplogroup R0 revealed that Basques harbor some autochthonous lineages, suggesting a genetic continuity since pre-Neolithic times. However, excluding haplogroup H, the most representative lineage of macrohaplogroup R0, the majority of maternal lineages of this area remains virtually unexplored, so that further refinement of the mtDNA phylogeny based on analyses at the highest level of resolution is crucial for a better understanding of the European prehistory. We thus explored the maternal ancestry of 548 autochthonous individuals from various Franco-Cantabrian populations and sequenced 76 mitogenomes of the most representative lineages. Interestingly, we identified three mtDNA haplogroups, U5b1f, J1c5c1 and V22, that proved to be representative of Franco-Cantabria, notably of the Basque population. The seclusion and diversity of these female genetic lineages support a local origin in the Franco-Cantabrian area during the Mesolithic of southwestern Europe, ~10,000 years before present (YBP), with signals of expansions at ~3,500 YBP. These findings provide robust evidence of a partial genetic continuity between contemporary autochthonous populations from the Franco-Cantabrian region, specifically the Basques, and Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups. Furthermore, our results raise the current proportion (≈15%) of the Franco-Cantabrian maternal gene pool with a putative pre-Neolithic origin to ≈35%, further supporting the notion of a predominant Paleolithic genetic substrate in extant European populations.

I’d say that the finding of these three lineages is in itself the interesting part. The molecular-clock-o-logical speculations are something that as, you know, I tend to ignore. However these seem to be almost invariably just fractions of the realistic dates when properly calibrating, so if the authors get a 10 Ka date, then we can be reasonably sure that it is a minimum date and that the likely actual date can well be twice that figure (although in the case of mtDNA this may depend on each particular branch, as these are very unequal). 
Another important note is that the authors rather studied the sub-Pyrenean isthmic region rather than the original Franco-Cantabrian region, which corresponds mostly to what is now Southern France. I am always rather skeptic about attributing to Basques exclusively the legacy of this wider Paleolithic region and I want to insist that Southern France’s peoples (Gascons, Occitans, Perigordians and all others south of the Nantes-Lyon line) be studied in depth and detail along Basques, Cantabrians and Asturians. At the very least this study has an important Gascon sample (Bearn, Bigorre and Chalosse), although it is from the areas closest to the Basque Country.
In a previous study by the same team (2011), they detected apparent Basque (or is it Gascon?) centrality of lineages J1c and U5b. In this study they refine those findings by locating some sublineages that are more clearly Basque-specific: J1c5c1 and U5b1f. They also spotted another Basque-centric haplogroup within V: V22. 

Figure 1. Maximum parsimony trees of haplogroups U5b, J1c and V including the three autochthonous lineages U5b1f, J1c5c1 and V22.
trees are extracted from the maximum parsimony phylogenetic tree of 76
complete mtDNA sequences of the Franco-Cantabrian region shown in detail
in Fig. S1.
Mutations are displayed along the branches. All mutations are
transitions unless a suffix specifies a transversion (A, C, G, T).
Recurrent mutations within the complete phylogeny of the
Franco-Cantabrian area are underlined. The prefix ‘‘@’’ indicates a back
mutation. Mutational hotspot variants such as 16182, 16183, or 16519,
or a variation around position 310 or 523–524, as well as length
heteroplasmies were not considered for the phylogenetic reconstruction.
All the samples are colored according to their geographic origin, as
shown in the legend. For phylogeny construction, five previously
published mitogenomes belonging to subhaplogroups U5b1f (JX286537 and
DQ156208), J1c5c1 (JQ702776 and JQ704051) and V22 (HQ384212) were
included (GenBank accession numbers in the tree). German ethnicity was
declared for sample JX286537 in GenBank; however, maternal ancestry in
southwestern Europe cannot be ruled out owing to the absence of lineage
U51bf in populations outside the Franco Cantabrian area (see Tables S2 and S3). French B.C. refers to samples from the French Basque Country.

As for the apportions, table S3 provides them for U5b1f and J1c5c1, however I could not find anywhere the frequencies of V22 nor other lineages (although there is a list of lineages on a reduced sample in table S1). Sorted by frequency:
  1. Lapurdi: 24.1%
  2. NE Navarre: 23.6 %
  3. Zuberoa: 17.7%
  4. NW Navarre: 17.0%
  5. North Navarre: 15.2%
  6. Chalosse (Dax district): 15.0%
  7. Bearn: 12.5%
  8. Gipuzkoa: 11.8%
  9. SW Gipuzkoa: 9.5%
  10. Bigorre: 9,5 %
  11. Low Navarre: 8,2%
  12. Central-West Navarre: 7.8%
  13. Burgos (Castile): 4.2%
  14. La Rioja: 3.8%
  15. Biscay: 3.6%
  16. Zaragoza (Aragon): 2.5%
  17. Catalonia: 0.7%
  18. Araba: 0.05%
Not detected in: West Biscay (Enkarterriak), Pas Valley, Cantabria, (North?) Aragon, Madrid, Perigord-Limousin.
So this U5b1f lineage seems concentrated around the Western Pyrenees with a highest density axis between, say, Baiona (Bayonne) and Zangoza (Sangüesa). It is a most important lineage in that core Eastern Basque and Southern Gascon area with frequencies above 5% and reaching almost to 25% in some cases.
While we can appreciate the clinal decline in Iberia, lack of data for Gascony and most of the Paleolithic Franco-Cantabrian region (i.e. Southern France) leaves us without similar data for the northern cline, knowing only that in Perigord-Limousin is 0%. This last detail may explain why the haplogroup is contained within the wider Basque area, as Perigord (and not the Basque Country) was the true center of the Franco-Cantabrian region, a district I have dubbed sometimes “the metropolis of Paleolithic Europe”. Rather than looking for signals of expansion from the Basque Country only, researchers should look for such signals of expansion from Perigord particularly (as well as the whole Franco-Cantabrian region, from Provence to Asturias and from the Loire to the Pyrenees). 

Haplogroup U among Basques and Pasiegos (from fig. S1)

  1. Zuberoa: 4.8%
  2. NW Navarre: 3.8%
  3. Chalosse (Dax): 3.3%
  4. Central-West Navarre: 3.1%
  5. Low Navarre: 2.7%
  6. North Navarre: 2.4%
  7. Gipuzkoa: 2.2%
  8. NE Navarre: 1.8%
  9. Bearn: 1.8%
  10. Lapurdi: 1.7%
  11. Zaragoza: 1.2%
  12. Araba: 1.0%
  13. Biscay: 0.08%
Not detected in: SW Gipuzkoa, West Biscay (Enkarterriak), Bigorre, La Rioja, Burgos, Catalonia, Pas Valley, Cantabria, (North?) Aragon, Madrid, Perigord-Limousin.
Again the lineage, even if much less common, is concentrated around the Western Pyrenees, with a highest density axis from say, Leitza to Maule, spilling to Chalosse and Bearn by the NE but again reaching zero frequencies at Perigord-Limousin (and not knowing how it behaves in between). In Iberia, outside of the Basque Country, is only found in the city of Zaragoza. 
As happens with U5b1f, J1c5c1 quickly declines towards the West in the Southern Basque Country, what may be ground, especially if other lineages also follow this pattern, to consider two original Basque populations: one around the Western Pyrenees and another one around Biscay. This idea, while not commonly formulated, would not be new at all, for example F. Krutwig already suggested in the mid 20th century that Central-Eastern Basques had a Dinaric-like morphology (pseudo-Dinaric, because “true Dinarics” are supposed to be brachicephalic while Basques are usually mesocephalic, like most Europeans), while Biscayans would be rather dominated by the rare Dalic anthropometric type instead. Debatable, of course, but that’s what we are here for, aren’t we?

Haplogroup JT among Basques and Pasiegos (from fig. S1)
The study does not directly provide the frequency data for this lineage (they excuse themselves on technical HVS reasons, a very typical problem when working with HV lineages), so I had to work with supplemental table S1, where the HVS-I haplotypes and attributed haplogroups are listed (over a reduced sample of just 76 individuals). My synthesis is:
  1. Low Navarre: 1/4 (25.0%)
  2. Gipuzkoa: 2/10 (20.0%)
  3. Biscay: 1/9 (11.1%)
  4. West Navarre: 3/33 (9.1%)
  5. Pas Valley: 1/19 (5.3%)
Not detected in Araba’s single-person sample: 0/1.
I wouldn’t dare to reach any strong conclusions with such small and irregular sample but it does look like the Northern Basque Country and Gipuzkoa have the highest frequencies, what suggests that maybe the lineage extends to the North into Gascony, etc. Unlike the previously discussed lineages in this case the decline towards the West is not as sharp.

Haplogroup R0 among Basques and Pasiegos (from fig. S1)

See also:

Strontium data shows that Aldaieta remains are mostly local Basques – but some immigrants too

Certain historians have in the past claimed that Southern Basques arrived from the North in the Middle Ages (Spanish school) or vice versa, that Northern Basques arrived from the South in exactly the same period (French school). The evidence for either hypothesis was nearly zero but that does not seem to deter certain kind of minds more concerned about defending their own biased version of history than about knowing and discussing the facts.

Your truth not, Truth.
And come with me in search of it,
yours keep it for yourself.

Antonio Machado
Luis Ángel Ortega et al., Strontium isotopes of human remains from the San Martín de Dulantzi graveyard (Alegría-Dulantzi, Álava) and population mobility in the Early Middle Ages. Quaternary International 2013. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2013.02.008]


Strontium isotope analysis of human remains from San Martín de Dulantzi (Alegría-Dulantzi, Álava, Spain) graveyard has been used to establish mobility patterns during the Early Middle Ages. Some archaeological human remains had Germanic grave goods. Through radiogenic strontium isotope analysis, local origin individuals and immigrants were differentiated. Archaeological human bone samples exhibit 87Sr/86Sr = 0.70779–0.70802 values similar to domestic fauna isotope composition, indicating local origin of individuals or long residence time in the region. Comparing these data with tooth enamel values, two groups of immigrants from distinctive geological environment were established. The Dulantzi population constituted mainly a local society with influxes of immigrants. The foreign individuals are distributed through the studied period of time, suggesting that migration movements were limited in number. Isotopic signatures indicating mainly local individuals, linked to grave goods with archaeological attribution to Germanic origin, question the previous ethnic paradigm.

Fig. 7. Isotope variation of the studied samples. Grey area corresponds to the variation range in local waters (Fernández de Ortega, 2007). Dashed line indicates the average isotope ratio of soil at the site. Doted line corresponds to the average for the bones. Green and blue areas indicate immigrants from different geological environments.
At the time of writing this entry, Luis Ortega had uploaded a pre-print version of the paper at
The site was argued to imply immigration because of the grave goods (pottery, weapons, belt buckles), which are similar to those found elsewhere in the Basque Country in that period and which are much more similar to Frankish or Aquitanian similar items than to Iberian ones (then under Visigothic rule). The period of the cemetery includes the 6th and, much more densely, 7th centuries CE.

Duchy of Vasconia, 8th century (CC by myself)
The Duchy of Vasconia was founded by the Merovingian Franks in 602 as a march against Basque tribes, then effectively independent. In 628 Charibert, brother and heir of Dagobert, was appointed as Duke after the successful Basque rebellion of 626, and in 635 a massive Frankish army took control of most of the country but defeated in Zuberoa (Soule). Another rebellion in 643 erased all Frankish control and established an independent state, since 660 in personal union with Aquitaine (in medieval times the romanized area between the Garonne and the Loire with capital in Toulouse).
Meanwhile the Visigoths of Toledo had established another march by the name of Duchy of Cantabria in the southern frontier, briefly conquering what is now Southern Navarre in 621 and founding the city of Oligitum (Olite). The fact that the Bishop of Pamplona was absent from Visigothic Councils at Toledo between 589 to 684 evidences that the Goths never conquered anything relevant further North than this town.
With this historical context it seems somewhat logical that Southern Basques had greater relations with the Franks and, particularly, the wider region of Aquitaine (both Novempopulania, now Gascony and the Northern Basque Country, and medieval Aquitaine between the Garonne and the Loire), however nothing seems to suggest widespread immigration.
Neither do the results of this study, which however show half a dozen individuals apparently from outside (two groups).
It is interesting to recall that a previous study on ancient mtDNA on the same cemetery (Alzualde 2006, PPV – but available at, found three individuals with the lineage U2 and two with M1c, both apparently exotic in the Basque Country. U2 is relatively common (5%) in the area of PerigordLimousin (Dubut 2004), while M1c is deemed North-West African. However the vast majority of lineages belongs to haplogroups normal among Basques since early Neolithic times, and in apportions consistent with local continuity.
However the similitude between Basque and Aquitanian genetic pools does not allow for easy discernment, reason why this isotopic study is particularly important to confirm the local origins of most of the Aldaieta medieval population.
Thanks to Ama Ata[es], which made me aware of this study.

Askondo cave art is 25,000 years old

The rock art of Askondo cave (Mañaria, Biscay, Basque Country) has been dated to c. 25,000 years ago. The materials used for the artworks (red paint and engraving) cannot be dated directly but a bone fragment encrusted in the wall provided an age of c. 23,800 years BP (C14AMS) belonging therefore to the Gravettian period. 
The cave of Askondo (← aitz-ondo = near the rock) was believed to be a destroyed site but recent archaeological research has shown the opposite: that there is a lot to be researched in that cave, which has a surprising sedimentary depth of at least 6 m and that has already become, thanks to its artwork, in the third more important Paleolithic site of Biscay, after Santimamiñe and Arenaza caves.
Source: Bizkaia.Net.

Praileaitz cave to have even less protection

The new law of coasts passed by the conservative Spanish government and allowing construction only 20 meters from the coast (it used to be 100m), a scandal on its own right, will have direct effects on the already extremely fragile protection of the cave of Praileaitz, located within an active quarry and holding evidence of human existence from the Magdalenian period but also, we know now, from Neanderthal times some 100-120 Ka ago.
Years ago, the (then unelected) Western Basque Government limited the protection area to just 65m, considered by all experts wildly insufficient (Jean Clottes asked for 500m, for example), however a tribunal ruled later that 50m was enough. This new law allows for constructions and economic activities (such as the quarry) to take place just 20m away from the cave galleries, what may be very damaging.
There are possible mechanisms to counter this legislation but require of a political will that so far has been lacking or rather negative, hostile. 
The utmost fragility of the cave is very apparent in this air view highlighting the archaeological sites near the controversial quarry:

Source: Caminando por Iberia
Some ornamental findings and archaeological works at Praileaitz (Bertan)

Sources[es]: Gara, Caminado por Iberia, Bertan, Amigos de Praileaitz.

Update (May 11): a report (in Spanish language) on the Mousterian and new Magdalenian findings from Praileaitz can be read at Noticias de Gipuzkoa (via Pileta).

8th Congress on the Antiquity of the Basque Language

From Jatorriberri (bilingual: Basque-English):

8th. Congress on the Antiquity of the Basque Language. “Mythology: A Science for Analyzing the Past”.

The presentations will be held in Lazkao, Gipuzkoa the Saturday 25th. of May of 2013
  • Juan Inazio Hartsuaga: Fossil Words.
  • Roslyn M. Frank: Looking for attributes and cognitive tracks in the figure of fourteen, within and out from Euskal Herria.
  • Felix Zubiaga: Dramatic performance of a Sumerian-Basque tale.
  • Xabier Renteria: Basques of older times: Mythological vision of the world and pre-Indo-European Basque language.
  • Visit to the: Joxemiel Barandiaran’s Museum
  • Jorge Oteitza gogoratuz. Notions of pre-Indo-European Basque philology
  • Antonio Laguardia: Iberian writings and the hieroglyphs from the 8th to the 29th Century B.C.
  • Presentation of new books. The DNA of Euskera, Studies of Iberian toponyms, The origin of Basques, The antiquity of words – Etymological Basque dictionary
  • Iruña-Veleia: What is new?

Registration: Congress outline and registering information can be found in the
following address:
There are other bilingual articles in the Jatorriberri newsletter.
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Basque language, Basque origins


Trebiño: major flint stone quarry of the Upper Paleolithic

Trebiño (also Treviño in Spanish), just south of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Western Basque Country, includes de the sierra of Araiko, which was, we get to know now, in the Upper Paleolithic one of the main sources of flint stone of SW Europe, “exporting” to most of the Franco-Cantabrian Region, the core of Late UP Europe. 
The quarry left rather massive remains, hard to discern today, as they have been reclaimed by Nature again, such as 300m long ditches and rubble piles seven meters tall. Mining tools have also been found. The high quality Trebiñese flint stone was used by most Upper Paleolithic peoples in the region, underlining the notion of extense socio-economic networks already in those times, and the site continued in exploitation through the Neolithic and Chalcolithic eras. 
The archaeological site is in danger because of the planned erection of a wind energy generation park right atop of it. Update: the wind park planned on it was actually suspended on October 2012, it seems.
Source: Diario de Burgos[es] (via Pileta[es]).

Ancient DNA comparison supports continuity in the Basque Country

Before we get too ecstatic, I must clarify that the ancient DNA is Neolithic from Santimamiñe (previously discussed here) and that the information released so far (local conference with press coverage) is not just way too little but also very imprecise. 

Dr. Marian Martínez de Pancorbo presented these findings yesterday in Gernika, capital of Urdaibai district where Santimamiñe cave is located, as culmination of a genetic study of modern locals from rural municipalities immediate to the famous cave (Kortezubi, Nabarniz, Ereño and Gautegiz-Arteaga). What she said is all but clear: the residents of past and present keep relation among them but…

… the lineages are not exactly the same because they are gradually lost in the course of generations. It is something normal, that also happens with surnames, which change along time. 

She announced that her team will publish soon the results in two prestigious publications from the USA. Naturally I can’t wait to get my hands on them (with the additional personal thrill of part of my family, albeit the patrilineage, coming from that area, just a few kilometers from said cave) but will have to wait.
Martínez de Pancorbo is also working in the other extreme of the Basque Country, seeking to find if the massacred inhabitants of Metal Ages La Hoya town, surely the areal capital for some time, are directly related to those of nearby Biasteri (Laguardia).

Sources[es]: El Correo, Pileta

From previous related entries:
pre-Neolithic mtDNA in Northern Iberia (several sources)
Some ancient mtDNA of Basque Country and Cantabria
(each letter indicates one sequence,
Linazeta and La Braña were not known to the authors)
Actually it had already been found a bit earlier in the Basque Country (but I did not know till later) and would be later sequenced in Karelia; it’s probably also found in other (Epi-)Paleolithic localities from Morocco to Russia via Britain (but some people have been in denial on this issue).

Iruña-Veleia congress: papers and synthesis

The linguistic-cultural association Euskararen Jatorria (The Origin of the Basque Language) has published the reports presented for the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia that took place in late November in Vitoria-Gasteiz. 
All papers have trilingual (Basque, English, Spanish) introductory sections and then each one is in the language chosen by the author. They can all be found HERE.
Among them there is a “conclusions” synthesis (PDF) whose headlines I synthesize here:
  • The dig [by Gil, Filloy et al.] was performed correctly
  • Chain of evidence has been broken – as the judge has not controlled it
  • Iconography and most graffiti are coherent
  • Controlled local digs were not performed to contrast with the findings
  • The archaeometrical datings now being performed in Madrid should have been the first thing to do
  • Graffiti on bone are easy to date [but was not done either]
  • It is only logical that Iberian signs are found among the rest
  • So far 19 reports have declared the graffiti genuine
  • The Advisory Commission did not do anything of what they should have done
Paraphrasing the late linguist Gorka Knörr, the paper concludes that 
If Iruña-Veleia would be a house, datings would be the foundations, controlled digs the first floor, auditions the first floor, history the second, philology the third… Therefore when the Advisory Commission “began building the house by the ceiling” and that is why we are now just as the beginning, because the datings required by Eliseo Gil were never performed.
As you may already know, Iruña-Veleia is a Vasco-Roman city of Antiquity not far from Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 2006 a large number of inscribed graffiti on pottery shards (ostrakas) was found, most of them in ancient Basque and Vulgar Latin. 
The finding had the potential of rewriting linguistic and historical understanding of Basque language and also Romances, what apparently scared to death some popes of linguistics led by Gorrochategui and Lakarra, who, by means of smearing, abuse of power and cronyism, managed to get the archaeologists in charge (Gil, Filloy and their company Lurmen) out and put instead the only archaeologist who was ready to play their game Luis Núñez, whose management of the site has consisted essentially into digging wildly with a caterpillar until popular clamor stopped his misgivings (since then he seems to do nothing at, what is surely good considering what he did when he dared to).
Gil and Filloy have been charged with “falsification” and in this trial is where the hopes of truth being revealed stand now. After many years, a sample of the ostrakas have been sent to researchers in Madrid to perform archeometry tests.

See also: category Iruña-Veleia for further details.


Edward Harris on the Iruña-Veleia affaire

Edward C. Harris, Director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum and world-famous among archaeologists for being the inceptor of the Harris matrix, which soon became standard procedure in all serious digs, wrote yesterday at The Royal Gazette on his recent visit to the Basque Country and the Iruña-Veleia affair. 
On this one he says the following:
In late November 2012, I was invited to the
Basque Country to speak at a conference on archaeological works at the
Roman town of Iruña-Veleia, a short distance from the city of
Vitoria-Gasteiz, being one of the leading experts in matters of
stratigraphy in archaeology, the science that controls the excavation
and recording of archaeological sites, and the subsequent analyses of
portable heritage from such places. While it would have been easy to
bask in the honour in which the “Harris Matrix” is held in such matters,
at least with the Basques, the purpose of the conference was to review
some of the subjects that have made Iruña-Veleia one of the most
controversial sites in the world.
The issue
revolves around classes of artifacts found at the site by an
archaeological team led by Idoia Filloy and Eliseo Gill, objects of
pottery, brick and bone that were reused as writing tablets and
inscribed with words and pictures in later Roman times. The information
contained on the artifacts appears to have conflicted with presently
held views of the origins of the Basque language and other subjects, so
much so that some experts declared them to be fakes, forged perhaps by
the archaeologists who found them. Apparently without proof, academic or
otherwise, the archaeologists have been hung out to dry in the media,
which unfortunately is often the fate of the falsely accused, as one
Lord McAlpine found recently when he was defamed by the BBC, no less,
and ‘twittered’, almost to death.
As to
motivation, one cannot ‘follow the money’, as there is, and will likely
always be, a dearth of it in archaeology. A preliminary audit would
suggest that the archaeologists conducted the excavations to modern
standards, particularly in recording, but as artifacts can be moved
without losing their integrity, it is difficult to comment on the
placement of objects after a “dig” has finished. 
the complexity of the supposedly forged graffitti, all that one can say
at this stage is that if the artifacts are forgeries, that the
perpetrators of such a hoax are geniuses of the first order, but who, as
archaeologists, would want to claim fame on the basis of such
forgeries, when the real thing is usually of a far more abiding
H/t to Iruña blog.
See also for background: category: Iruña-Veleia in this blog and its ancestor.