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Origins

Homo sapiens first arrived in this corner of Europe some 35,000 years ago. For around 8,000 years, they shared the space with another species of human, Homo neanderthalensis —Neanderthal man— before it finally became extinct. During the Ice Age, the population of the groups occupying the western part of Europe declined due to the rigours of the climate. Those that were left tended to gather around the ice-free areas bordering the Bay of Biscay. Just over 5,000 years ago, Indo-European tribes first began to settle in Europe; researchers agree that the Basque language predates their arrival.

34. As the ice retreated around 11,500 years ago, the human groups who had survived the cold in the Franco-Cantabrian area began to migrate, repopulating the ice-free territories on Europe's Atlantic Coast as far as Scandinavia and today's Britain and Ireland. Linguists such as Theo Venneman and Elisabeh Hamel and geneticists such as Peter Forster and Stephen Oppenheimer are engaged in studying this period. 35. Several studies of Europe's founding genetic lines reveal that the Basques have the highest percentage of maternal lineages of Palaeolithic origin in Europe. In addition, the Neolithic component has been estimated as being among the lowest in the continent. There is also a noticeable absence of Asian and African maternal lineages among the Basques. In summary, Basques have a majority component of Palaeolithic maternal lineages, considerably higher to that of other European populations. 36. Cro-Magnon were the subspecies of Homo sapiens that first settled this part of Europe. 37. Cro-Magnon are believed to have had greater language capacity, because of their more sophisticated phonic apparatus and because their brains were better suited for symbolic thought and expression in shapes and pictorial representations. Throughout this area some extraordinary manifestations of wall paintings and art mobilier have been found at sites such as Altamira, Isturitz, Aitzpitarte, Altxerri, Ekain, Lascaux, Santimamiñe and Praileaitz I. 38. Genetic research by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza (University of Stanford, USA, 1991) suggests that following the development of agriculture 9,000 years ago in the "Fertile Crescent" in the Middle East, the population began to spread out in all directions. As the map shows, in Europe these migrations reached the borders of the mountainous Basque region around 5,000 years ago, where a group that had settled in the area 35,000 ago appears to have resisted any interbreeding with the newcomers. 39. Stone axe from Idotzin, Navarre, about 5,000 years old. 40. Sorginetxe Dolmen. Opakua, Alava. Throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age, various cultures lived side by side in the Basque Country. They included the indigenous people, the Basque tribes described by Roman chroniclers and others who arrived as a result of trade and migration and who would continue to arrive over the centuries. 41. Bronze axe, 3,000 years old. Arre, Navarre. 42. Pyrenean cromlech or mairubaratza, from Okabe, Lower Navarre. In the background, Orhi. 43. Many of the essential figures in Basque mythology are supposed to live in the Aralar mountain range (Sierra de Aralar) in Gipuzkoa and Navarre, one of the areas with most megalithic monuments. These mythical characters include Mari, Herensuge, Basajaun, Tartalo, the "gentiles" and iratxoak. Like Neolithic goddesses, Mari is the central figure and is considered by researchers to be the personification of Mother Earth (or Ama Lur). 44. Plan of the Mulisko Gaina cromlech (Hernani-Urnieta, Gipuzkoa). 45. The Basque language resisted the Europe-wide spread of the Indo- European peoples between the third and second millennia B.C. throughout present-day Europe. Traces of Basque can be found in the place names of Germany, England, Scotland, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy and Sardinia. These waves of Germans, Slavs, Greeks and Italians later reached Europe's Atlantic Coast, where they mixed with indigenous populations. 46. Pieces from Axtroki, Bolibar de Eskoriatza, (Gipuzkoa), identified as being from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age Hallstatt culture (eighth - seventh century BC). 47. Celtic-type glass bracelet from the Iron Age village of Basagain (Anoeta, Gipuzkoa). Herodotus (fifth century BC) first mentions the keltoï (Celts), and situates them 2,500 years ago at the headwaters of the Danube, "beneath the Pyrenees" (sic). In the first century BC, Julius Caesar reported that the Celts inhabited the south of Gaul. References to the Celtic deities Deba and Arno can also be found among Basque place names. However, further work is required by archaeologists, linguists and geneticists to determine the exact legacy of Celtic mythology and its relationship with the Basques. 48. Silver denarii from the Iberian era, made at the mint in Baskunes or Barskunes, close to Pamplona (second-first century BC).
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