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Basque against the Romans

Genetic origins, singularity, and heterogeneity of Basques:

Basques have historically lived along the Western Pyrenees, in the Franco-Cantabrian region, straddling the current Spanish and French territories. Over the last decades, they have been the focus of intense research due to their singular cultural and biological traits that, with high controversy, placed them as a heterogeneous, isolated, and unique population. Their non-Indo-European language, Euskara, is thought to be a major factor shaping the genetic landscape of the Basques. Yet there is still a lively debate about their history and assumed singularity due to the limitations of previous studies. Here, we analyze genome-wide data of Basque and surrounding groups that do not speak Euskara at a micro-geographical level. A total of ∼629,000 genome-wide variants were analyzed in 1,970 modern and ancient samples, including 190 new individuals from 18 sampling locations in the Basque area. For the first time, local- and wide-scale analyses from genome-wide data have been performed covering the whole Franco-Cantabrian region, combining allele frequency and haplotype-based methods. Our results show a clear differentiation of Basques from the surrounding populations, with the non-Euskara-speaking Franco-Cantabrians located in an intermediate position. Moreover, a sharp genetic heterogeneity within Basques is observed with significant correlation with geography. Finally, the detected Basque differentiation cannot be attributed to an external origin compared to other Iberian and surrounding populations. Instead, we show that such differentiation results from genetic continuity since the Iron Age, characterized by periods of isolation and lack of recent gene flow that might have been reinforced by the language barrier.

The main takeaway seems to be that Basque distinctiveness dates to the Roman period.

6 thoughts on “Basque against the Romans

  1. Do you have any clues as to eventual genetic Yamna influence on the Basques? Are they really “pretty much the same as other Western Europeans” or rather related to present day Sardinians?
    »Now a genetic analysis published in Current Biology sheds light on their origins after all. They aren’t aliens, nor did they come from somewhere else entirely. They are a local people, stemming from early European farmers moving to Iberia who mixed with local hunter-gatherers, according to a study from 2015.

    That study concluded that the Basques (and their language) may have some link with the advent of agriculture in Europe (which was thousands of years later than in the Middle East, by the way).

    Also, the Basques did experience protracted isolation, but from the Iron Age, not the Neolithic. It was from the Iron Age that, it seems, they did not mix with the people around them or, it seems, talk to them. …

    The bottom line is that the Basque people are, after all, pretty much the same as other Western Europeans. But their protracted isolation strengthened some slight differences, because of “scarce gene flow” starting in the Iron Age.

    “We find no influences from North Africa which are appreciated in most populations of the Iberian Peninsula, and neither do we find traces of other migrations such as the Romans,” Comas stated.«

  2. Somehow it seems likely that the Basque pre-date the Roman period but it is interesting that evidence gets them back that far. I wonder if their language is a last remnant of EHG languages? Just guessing. I would be grateful for any correction.

  3. The absence of North African admixture pretty much nixes the notion that Basque is a remote offshoot of Afro-Asiatic, as early scholars guessed.

    Disappointing that the time depth of the genetic analysis isn’t resolved to pre-Iron Age. The “big question” is really whether the ethnogenesis was Neolithic, Copper/Early Bronze Age, or Bronze Age (hunter-gatherer is ruled out genetically, and historical records pretty much preclude Iron Age origins). This paper doesn’t seem to help resolve that question. It simply says that there was no significant Iron Age Roman or Medieval Moorish admixture in the Basque, unlike most other Iberian populations. My money would be on Copper/Early Bronze Age.

    @Young Much more likely pre-Iron Age, post-EHG. There isn’t enough HG genetics. Probably pre-Indo-European in Iberia. Could be Neolithic. Could be a wave between Neolithic and Indo-European.

  4. @ohwilleke

    There might be some issues of missing ancient variation, certainly the case with southern France at least, but Basques tend to overlap/resemble the Iberian IA set the best so far. It might be why this paper picks the Iron Age and certainly must have been why the Olalde et al. Iberian paper (“The genomic history of the Iberian Peninsula over the past 8000 years”) that published them also thought the Basques were Iberian Iron Age like (actually in their basic model of modern Iberians, Basque and non-Basque, the two papers have the same kind of conclusion). Would be better if they had shown it, but they might very well have rejected it.

    Though specifically on the question of “ethnogenesis”, obviously receiving further admixture during the later BA-IA, if that’s the case after all, doesn’t necessarily place it there and could post-date it, depending on what we mean by that word.


    In case you’re reading, re your previous comment:

  5. @Matt

    Thanks for the extra stuff, caught up a bit. Just to focus on one further part, so as not to take up more space with unrelated, that you mentioned too @ Euro, Anthony’s comment about Berezhnovka is pretty interesting though unfortunately the Piedmont samples aren’t also included on that PCA to directly see where they plot. I’m guessing they probably know something we don’t though.

    Whatever the case, would be interesting to get samples directly from the north Caspian and east of the Caspian as well (though probably much more reasonably, in the video Anthony simply considers a situation where a group from the Caucasus moves north into the Volga delta area rather than reintroduce these kinds of scenarios) considering the kinds of potential connections that have been claimed in archaeology, including with some of the domesticates that you bring up. FWIW, something I think you’ve commented on before, the HG-related/northern part in Turan seems to like something “CHG”-rich/Progress-like a lot from currently available samples in G25. Might again not be directly relevant to the PC steppe anyway, but in need of some further clarification for that area itself.

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