Ancient DNA cracks old mystery of the Basques

pottok-and-euskera.jpgPottok horses and Basque message on Artzamendy, a peak in the Pyrenees. LA Observed.

Corners of California and the West, and the historical lore of Los Angeles, are rife with people who trace their ancestry to the Basque region of France and Spain. Every time I visit over there, I meet someone new with some family connection to California. The thing is, the Basque language and culture is so ancient and different from everything around them that Europe's anthropologists have long wondered: who the heck are these people and where did they come from? Now a new study out of Sweden based on DNA thinks the Basques date back to the hunter-gatherers of Ice Age Europe and because of their isolation in the Pyrenees sat out the genetic and cultural mixing with invaders from the Steppe, Africa and the Middle East that shaped today's European DNA.

From the BBC:

The distinct language and genetic make-up of the Basque people in northern Spain and southern France has puzzled anthropologists for decades….

The Basques have unique customs and a language - Euskera - that is unrelated to any other spoken in Europe, or indeed the world.

Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they also show distinct genetic patterns to their neighbours in France and Spain.

It seemed logical that they were representatives of an older layer of population settlement, but just how far back their roots went has been a topic of debate.

Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden analysed the genomes of eight Stone Age human skeletons from El Portalón 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…

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