Category Archives: Middle Ages

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.

Aragonese rock art at risk because of mine

The negligence in the processing of the declaration as cultural good of the rock art of Villarluengo (Teruel province, Aragón, Iberia), which was delayed for five years, has allowed the mining company to win an appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court, allowing them to continue with their destructive business regardless of the cave art, which is now endangered.
Sources[es]: La Comarca, Pileta.

Interview with E. Aznar: Basque was spoken in La Rioja before the Romans arrived

La Rioja, Errioxa in Basque, is modernly a province and autonomous community of Spain and has been held by Castile since the 12th century, excepting minor parts still belonging to Araba. However it was earlier an important part of the Kingdom of Pamplona (later Navarre), which even moved its capital to Nájera (Basque Naiara), where many Pamplonese monarchs are buried. 
Previously it was maybe part of the Visigothic marche against Basques known as Duchy of Cantabria, which has left the toponym Sierra de Cantabria and the legend of the destroyed City of Cantabria, maybe Iruña-Veleia in nearby Araba and earlier part of the Roman province of Tarraconensis (earlier Hispania Citerior), a region sometimes known as Ager Vasconicum (the fields of the Basques or Vascones). From this period we know that three tribes inhabited it: Vascones at the East, Berones (believed Celtic) at the center and Autrigones at the West. In the Iron Age it was penetrated indeed by late Urnfield culture offshoots and evidence of violent struggles has been found, most notably maybe in the once prosperous town of La Hoya, whose upper layer is full of bodies slain on the spot, probably by Celtic invaders.
Follows direct translation (my work) from original interview in Basque language at Berria newspaper this Saturday (found via Ostraka Euskalduna):
According to some scholars, Basque language arrived to La Rioja in the 10th century, together with the Kingdom of Pamplona. However, there are also researchers who argue that Basque or proto-Basque was spoken there before Romans arrived. One of them is historian Eduardo Aznar (Barcelona 1977).

What have you gathered in the book “El euskara en La Rioja. Primeros testimonios” (Basque language in La Rioja. Earliest evidence)?

This book is the first part of a work explaining that Basque language had a presence in La Rioja. In these books, I research the oldest Basque indications, and later, the second part, which deals with Middle Ages and modern toponimy, will also be published.
Which are the first evidences that Basque language left in La Rioja?

In the first book, I work with some onomastic materials from funerary slabs that were uncovered in the 1980s. These slabs appeared at the district of Tierras Altas, in modern Soria province (Castile-León, Spain) but they fit in the geography of La Rioja. Of these slabs, so far 11 appear to be indigenous proto-Basque. We believe that they were indigenous people who lived under Roman rule: they look Basque by the nicknames. The most clear example is Sesenco[1], the slab with that nickname also carries an image of a bull at the base. In the book, besides funerary slabs, I work with ancient toponymy and data from the period, looking for Basque traces.
Nevertheless, some experts defend that Basque language only arrived to La Rioja with the repopulations organized by the kings of Pamplona.

In my opinion, evidence like these slabs do confirm that Basque language was in La Rioja before the kings of Pamplona and before the Romans arrived. After researching these slabs and the toponymy, to say that Basque language arrived only with repopulations is to play with preconceptions.

Some researchers say that at Roman arrival, Calahorra was the main city of the Vascones. 

Yes, of course. All classic authors say that Calahorra was a Vasco[2] city. Today a lot of experts try to claim that Kalagorri[3] was Celtiberian but there is no evidence to support that. Another thing would be whether the local language was only proto-Basque or more languages were also spoken. For instance, it has shown up that local coins with the legend Kalagorrikos. To Basque-origin Kalagorri, Celtiberian suffix -kos was added. We may think that, maybe, in spite the Vasco origins of Kalagorri it seems that there was a Celtic elite[4].

However, if you go to the Roman Museum of Calahorra the word Vasco(-nes) does not show up anywhere. Why?

In my opinion, it is something within the intent of the authors. Sadly, there are a lot preconceptions in this aspect, and all the evidence is against what some researchers claim about Vascones only holding at the Pyrenees. Seemingly, in all this matter scientists do not combine the ideas that actually exist.

In the past, were you defending the early Basque-ness of La Rioja?

There were other authors. But this research is the deepest and most developed so far. Following the books order, first resarch was done by Fray Mateo de Anguiano a Riojan erudite who published in 1704. Already by the end of the 17th century, Anguiano knew that there were many Basque toponyms in La Rioja. However, the one to get deepest in the matter was Basque academic Juan Bautista Merino Urrutia, who researched in the middle 20th century. He was the one to make know, for example, his native Ojacastro town’s fazaña or sentence. In those documents from between 1234 and 1239 it is shown how the Supreme Judge of Castile jailed the Mayor of Ojacastro for allowing to make declarations before tribunals in Basque language. Luckily for him, he was later freed, as his stand was allowed by the local old law.
Appendix: Fernando Fernández Palacios, Actualización en onomástica Vasco-Aquitana. Acta Paleohispánica 2009 (PDF).  

The introduction is in Spanish but it is essentially an incoplete collection of onomastic and theonymy from the Southern Basque Country and neighbouring areas in Spain, and, curiously enough, a German and a Sardinian site. It includes some of the Riojan slab names. Thanks to Heraus.

Translator’s notes:
[1] Sesenco: must be little bull < zezen (bull) + -(s)ko (diminutive in Aquitanian epigraphy, now –txo or -txu)
[2] Vascones, singular Vasco per Wikipedia (properly sourced). From which modern Spanish and others Vasco (Basque). Typically in Spanish vascon (derived modern Basque baskoi) is used but this does not seem to be correct in Latin, only making sense via Romances, where plural is often made by the addition of -es or -s. However Vascon might have been correct in Vulgar Latin I guess, but still I’m sticking to classical Latin grammar while using English.
[3] See my brief discussion with Heraus on related Aquitanian (Gascon) toponym Calagorris Convenarum at his blog Discover Gascony!
[4] Definitively the advance of Iron Age Urnfields (influenced by Hallstatt) to the Iberian Plateau was through the Upper Ebro: La Rioja mostly and to some extent also Araba and the lowlands of Navarre. This was a crucial step in the eventual Celtization of the Iberian Plateau and Western lands (Lusitania, Gallaecia).