Basque People: Mystery Unfolded Through the Years

  • December 26, 2017      Joy Marie Salgado

Vitoria-Gasteiz – Walk down the romantic streets, witness the stunning sunsets, and soak in the architectural wonders of Spain. Whether through the eyes of a tourist or a local, the country’s history unfolds in every street corner as well as in every detail of the old buildings and modern structures. However, there are still some mysteries that have yet to be exposed.

As the country evolved to be home to diverse ethnicities, there is one in particular that needs attention, which is none other than the Basque people.

Who are the Basques?

Northwest Spain and southwest France are two locations that continue to serve as home to the Basque people. These two countries share a certain connection with the communities of this unique ethnic group.

The modern Basques remain as an ethnic group living in the Basque Country, which is located in the western part of Pyrenees and up to the coast of the Bay of Biscay. In Spain, the Basques are one of the three largest ethnic groups, along with the Castilians and the Catalans. They are believed to have survived Arab, French, Roman, Visigoth, and earlier Spanish invasions ever since they inhabited their lands around 5,000 years ago. They resisted these forms of colonization until the Spaniards succeeded in getting the Catalans and Gascons.

With their history, the Basques are considered among the oldest ethnic groups in the continent. However, despite the long history they share with the world, a certain aspect of their language as well as their genetic makeup that has puzzled many anthropologists. Are they an unmixed community of local hunters? Is there more to their lifestyle that is yet to be uncovered?

Start of the Mystery

As anthropologists and other researchers work through finding out the origin of the Basques, they are also curious on how the language of the people constitute a non-Indo-European language known in Western Europe. This distinct form of communication is what people now call the Euskara or Basque in the home communities of the ethnic group, both in France and in Spain.

The structure of this spoken language is different from many languages within the region. In this case, there was some confusion among anthropologists on how they are going to classify the Basque language alongside its counterparts within the same European region. Nevertheless, throughout the years, anthropologists have tried to logically classify the distinct language of the Basques. They say that this dissimilarity may have been caused by their long isolation when they had little interference from other languages. However, this is but a single theory that needs proof.

Ancient DNA Discovery

Presently, the mystery of the Basque ethnicity was brought to light with the study of ancient DNA. In a recent study, anthropologists discovered evidence that the early Basque people were descended from farmers who later mixed with hunters and then became isolated for thousands of years.

This discovery was made in northern Spain where anthropologists found eight Stone Age skeletons in El Portalon cave. The anthropologists said that the same group that is closely related to the modern-day members in Spain are related to the people who migrated to central and northern Europe. Through this migration, they brought their distinct language and culture. Then, as they avoided being colonized by other communities, they were able to preserve their means of communication with little influence or variation. Their isolation has made them the mysterious ethnic community of Europe. But now, this discovery brings new light to how they actually lived and continue to live with their own practices and language.

Image from Chroniques au Val,