Sep 10, 2015 I Micah Hanks

Science Seeks Answers to Riddles of the Mysterious Basques

Myths and legends associated with the Basques of Spain and France have long persisted throughout the ages. One of the most culturally distinct groups in Europe, the Basques managed to remain independent until well into the 19th century, even speaking a language with no easily discernible connections to other languages spoken in Europe. Hence, their obvious distinction from other cultures has only fueled speculation about their unique heritage.

Scientists now believe they may have unraveled clues about this mysterious lineage, however, following the study of a small group of human skeletons recovered from Northern Spain, which bear characteristics that are similar to the modern day Basque people:

An analysis of the genomes of the eight Stone Age human skeletons from El Portalon in Atapuerca, northern Spain conducted by Mattias Jakobsson from Uppsala University in Sweden shows that the early Iberian farmers are the closest ancestors to present-day Basques.

Further comparisons with other ancient European farmers show that agriculture was brought to Iberia by same migrant groups that introduced it to central and northern Europe, Prensa Latina news agency reported.

Apart from their cultural distinctiveness, there are other things pertaining to the myths and traditions among the Basques that have remained of interest. It is amidst the Basque people that an odd prevalence of one human blood type, known as Rh-negative, also becomes prevalent. For purpose of clarification, the use of Rh here denotes “Rhesus,” since the blood type denotes a common factor between humans and that of the Rhesus monkey. The most common manifestation among the Rhesus blood factor in humans is known as Rh-positive blood.

Rhesus monkey 570x428
Rhesus monkey

The Rh-negative factor differs greatly enough from the Rh-positive varieties that a number of conditions can occur when a mix between the two occurs. For instance, the condition known as Hemolytic disease can result, in which an expecting mother that is Rh-negative can suffer an allergic reaction to the presence of the fetus if it is Rh-positive. Antibodies are built up within her body, which can have the effect one would expect of any foreign body or virus entering one’s immune system; hence, the infant may also suffer a variety of complications, or even death from heart failure in the womb, as these antibodies produced by the mother pass along to the infant through the placenta.

It remains among one of the most curious genetic mysteries of the modern era that a mutation such as the Rh-negative factor might occur in such a way that it would cause a developing fetus to be treated as though it were literally alien to its mother in this way? Yet this is precisely what medical science has found to occur. Apart from being so prevalent among the Basques, the origins of the curious Rh-negative factor itself remains quite the mystery.

As more of the enduring history of the Basque people is revealed over time, perhaps answers about the peculiar genetic anomaly will also be uncovered with the help of modern science. And yet, apart from their cultural and genetic distinctiveness, there are other things pertaining to the myths and traditions among the Basques that have remained of interest.

For instance, one version of the “snake god”, an archetype which has often been present throughout numerous world mythologies, also comes of interest to us here. The Basque culture features such a character, known as Sugaar, which had often been depicted as a snake or dragon. Sugaar had been a sort of companion of the greater pre-Christian Basque goddess, Mari, one of the principle deities in the Basque tradition. Mari was described as being an entity capable of travel through the sky, who would often traverse an area between the Balerdi and Elortalde mountains.


When this periodic journey would occur, Mari was said to have the appearance of a great fireball; it is easy to imagine the ancient people of the region observing bolides and other astronomical wonders, which might have served as the basis for such legends; similar folk beliefs of deities which appeared as balls of flame passing through the sky are recorded in Native American legends, as well as those stemming from cultures in other parts of the world. 

As science continues to search for answers about the Basques and their mysterious origins, the rich cultural history of these unique people may hold the key to unraveling other mysteries of ancient Europe. But as is so often the case with seeking to understand the curiosities of the ancient world, perhaps a number of those kept by the people of the Euskal Herria -- the traditional name given to the Basque country by its people -- will remain curious to the rest of us.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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