With their unique language, Euskera, not linked to any other Indo-European tongue, Basques have long traced their history back over 10,000 years to Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups.
But new research could finally shed some light on the origin of the Basque people, and it is not quite the version many are used to.
A group of scientists examined the DNA of the remains of eight stone-age farmers, found in a cave in the Atapuerca mountains in northern Spain, that date back to between 3,500 and 5,000BC.
Archeologists excavating remains at Atapuerca in nothern Spain. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
The researchers say that the early farmers are the closest ancestors to present-day Basques, according to their paper, published on Monday in the American academic journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The Basques descend from the first farmers we studied in Atapuerna,” Spanish biologist Doctor Cristina Valdiosera, who coauthored the study with Professor Mattias Jakobsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, told El País.
Jakobsson added that the research “contradicts previous views of the Basques being a remnant population that trace their ancestry to Mesolithic hunter-gatherer groups”.
The news might not be welcomed by Basque nationalists who have often used their ancient roots as a cornerstone of the argument for Basque independence.
Former Basque regional president, Juan José Ibarretxe, often said that the Basque people “are 7,000 years old” to defend the idea of an independent Basque Country, the region comprising northern central Spain and southwestern France.
But for others the DNA findings has not dampened the Basque spirit at all.
“We are still one of the most ancient peoples of Europe,” MP Jon Inarritu of the Basque pro-independence party Amaiur told The Local.
“They are saying now that our people are 5,000 years old? Just to compare Ancient Egypt began 5,000 years ago, so we are still an ancient people and our culture and language are still alive,” he added.
And while he admitted that of course the origins of the Basque people were important, “our future is much more important”.
“Nowadays Basque citizens are from many different origins but we have a common future together and the majority of Basques would like to decide their constitutional future democratically.”