The archaeological site of Atapuerca, Burgos province, Spain (Basque territory in the Middle Ages at least) is most famous for its Neanderthal and H. antecessor remains but there is much more to it.
The Cueva del Mirador in particular has provided some data on Late Upper Paleolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age, including about ten burials. But one of them, reported only now, is very unusual because the young woman (c. 15 y.o.) was buried in fetal position, which is something unheard of in Iberia (or elsewhere in Europe out of the Balcano-Danubian Neolithic area) before the arrival of the Bell Beaker subculture (phenomenon). The normal burial position elsewhere was in extended form, often accompanied with ochre, a practice that has its roots in the Paleolithic.
The woman was buried apart from the other tombs, suggesting some sort of special status.
The source of this news item, the blog of the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology - Social Ecology (IPHES - Catalan with automatic translator to other languages) hints that the remains are dated c. 4500 years ago, several centuries before the arrival of Bell Beaker or even its inception in Central Europe. Also there's no mention of anything else that reminds of Bell Beaker. The recovered burial goods mentioned are pottery (no type specified), mollusk shells (Dentalium sp.) and remnants of what might be a belt or collar.
The presence of mollusks strongly suggest some sort of connection with the Bay of Biscay coastal areas and they might have had an ornamental or medicinal use (Dentalium was considered an excellent source of alkali in pre-modern medicine).
I am thinking that it is very possible that the young lady belonged to some group of travelers (refugees, traders, pilgrims, diplomats...?) from the Danubian cultural area area, which at this date reached as far south as the Garonne at some moments (reconquered by the bowmen's Artenac culture soon after). This would explain the separate burial and the distinctive characteristics of it. The geographical situation of Atapuerca, the main pass between the Duero and Ebro basins and a key connection between Atlantic Iberia and mainland Europe does suggest it.
See also: Pileta de Prehistoria entry[es] and visual description of El Mirador Cave (PDF)[es].
Very interesting findings.
It would be interesting if the woman's DNA could be analyzed now.
Ours will be very wild conjectures but my bet is there are little chances that girl came from so far...just a matter of chances. Probably she was foreign enough if she was from another region of the Peninsula.
Now, I have read around Burgos Basque was spoken in the Middle Ages, but Spanish (or some form of it) seemed to have been the norm at least by 1100.
"al Este de Burgos, abundan topónimos como Ochanduri, Herramelluri... Todavía en tiempo de Fernando III, hacia 1235, los habitantes del valle riojano de Ojacastro estaban autorizados para responder en vascuence (sic) a las demandas judiciales. En la provincia de Soria, Iruecha, Zayas y otros nombres de lugar son asimismo de origen vasco. Ahora bien, no es seguro que la expansión vasca por Rioja, Burgos y Soria fuese primitiva; pudo ser resultado de la repoblación durante los siglos IX al XI".
From Historia de la Lengua Española, Rafael Lapesa.
Meh, Nantes is right over there. Even closer by ship (for the means of the age at least). Armorica is at least as close to Atapuerca as Lisbon, and more than Andalusia.
Let's see: by c. 2600 BCE, there were already meaningful civilizations in southern Iberia (near Lisbon and Almería), Chalcolithic long distance trade is apparent since c. 3000 BCE, reaching to Scandinavia and North Africa, Megalithic cultural/religious spread is even older and also required of long distance naval effective mobility.
Though there was also mobility by land and the West-North Iberian route was probably the most important of all over that time, as attested by the Megalithic distribution and general Chalcolithic objects scatter. There was no doubt a route of some sort from Southern Portugal to France (specially Languedoc but also the Atlantic area) via La Rioja and the Basque Country (in addition to naval routes, surely easier in good weather). This route is much like the Medieval St. Jame's Way plus the Roman Silver Road. Of course at that time the main destiny was not yet Galicia but Portugal.
Also there's no realistic chance that she was from anywhere else in Iberia, because nowhere in Iberia that I know of fetal burials were practiced so early (or even ever). This practice is a continental European and West Asian feature and Bell Beaker (since c. 2200 BCE) spread it but only among its subculture affiliates and was later replaced by other burial types anyhow.
"Ahora bien, no es seguro que la expansión vasca por Rioja, Burgos y Soria fuese primitiva; pudo ser resultado de la repoblación durante los siglos IX al XI".
Sure. We cannot know for sure but I'm of the opinion that it was. I have many reasons, including toponimy and even a so-called "Celtiberic" inscription which looks rather Basque to me. But the main reason is archaeology, that shows continuity and a spread to the south in the Epipaleolithic, combined with a spread from the Mediterranean along the Ebro valley.
Here is the key question: was ancient Basque (or proto-Basque) derived from what the huntergatherers spoke or was it introduced by the Neolithic inputs from the Mediterranean? Whatever the case it's likely it was a Vascoid area until at least Cogotas I and possibly until Celtic arrival.
It is also possible that some back-spread happened in Roman and Medieval times, when Celtic power was weakened but anyhow all this area was Autrigon and Cantabrian territory and those peoples are most unlikely to have ever spoken Celtic. So Basque.
"was ancient Basque (or proto-Basque) derived from what the huntergatherers spoke or was it introduced by the Neolithic inputs from the Mediterranean?"
My guess, and it's only that, is that Basque entered with the Neolithic. I agree it was almost certainly widespread in Iberia by the time any Celtic language was introduced. And this Celtic language almost certainly spread to just a few regions in Iberia.
"And this Celtic language almost certainly spread to just a few regions in Iberia".
About half the peninsula (parts of the Ebro basin, 2/3 of the Central Plateau and all the West coasts or almost) but surely not some regions that are sometimes claimed as such, rather happily.
"I agree it was almost certainly widespread in Iberia by the time any Celtic language was introduced".
I don't mean that either. I suspect that proto-Basque as such was spoken much more commonly in what is now France (until Celtic arrival). But it did have a penetration in parts of Iberia and the area we are discussing here is historical Basque territory, not anything remote.
Iberian language was probably a distinct language or languages (though surely related somehow) and the key question is what was spoken in Western Iberia before the Celtic takeover in the 7th century BCE?
I know that there is some toponymy that sounds very much Basque. For example the recurrent place name Leçeia (leizea is "the cave" in Basque). You just go around and find a lot of placenames that are just not Indoeuropean because they sound Basque (and in West Iberia you can't blame the Reconquista for that).
But once we get to toponimy, things start biting a lot, north to Britain (Adur river for instance) and east to the Balcans (Ibar river). But what of this is "Basque", what is "Iberian", what is just generically "Vascoid" or what is a mere sound coincidence?
And also is it pre-Neolithic or is it really Neolithic?
I'm amiss. So I just say that Atapuerca (whose first half of the name: ate- means door, gate or mountain pass in Basque, the second being clearly Castilian for pig) was historically and surely in Prehistory too, part of the Basque hinterland, actually it's SW border.
Thanks for those comments.
Kepler: if you have interest, I just stumbled upon an article reviewing the political situation of the "Autrigonia" and Araba/Álava in the Dark Ages.
The Autrigonia or NE Castile was it seems a border area linked particularly to Araba (which in that time was much richer and populated than Biscay, as well as fortified) and seems to have been a frontier area (a "Far West") with political control, and even sometimes population, changing every other decade.
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