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How Basque are the British?

The ancestors of the British Isles were not Celts, but Basques.

Some 15,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age, hunter-gatherers left their ice age refuge in the Basque Country, migrating northwards along the Atlantic coastal route to settle the land which would later become the British Isles.

A Basque Man - Photo www.scottlarsen.com


Professor Stephen Oppenheimer, a medical geneticist from Oxford University who was recently in San Sebastián to give a conference at the invitation of the Basque language association Euskararen Jatorria, claims that three quarters of the total population of the British Isles are descended from these first settlers.
The percentage goes up to 90 in the case of Ireland.

The main ice refuges of thousands of years ago, he says, were the Basque region, Italy, the Balkans, Moldavia and Ukraine and, when the ice began to melt, the hunter-gatherers of the time began to migrate towards the north: from Ukraine towards Russia, from the Balkans up the Danube, and from the Basque lands up along the Atlantic coast towards France and the British Isles.
The land was, at this point, still joined on to the mainland and had not yet broken up into islands.

Oppenheimer’s book, ‘The Origins of the British’, published in 2006, argues that analysis of genetic evidence shows that neither the Celts nor the later Anglo-Saxon invaders had much genetic impact on the British Isles.

He says in an article published in Prospect magazine in 2006 as an introduction to his book, ‘The Origins of the British: a Genetic Detective Story’, that, ‘most of us are familiar with the idea that the English are descended from Anglo-Saxons, who invaded eastern England after the Romans left, while most of the people in the rest of the British Isles derive from indigenous Celtic ancestors with a sprinkling of Viking blood around the fringes’.

Oppenheimer goes on to say that genetic analysis indicates that, ‘the Anglo-Saxons and Celts, to the extent that they can be defined genetically, were both small immigrant minorities. Neither group had much more impact on the British Isles gene pool than the Vikings, the Normans or, indeed, immigrants of the past 50 years.’

The first settlers, he says, ‘were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language but possibly a tongue related to the unique Basque language’.

Oppenheimer says in his book, ’75-95% of British Isles matches derive from Iberia … Ireland, Coastal Wales and central and west coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of the British Isles have similarly high rates … no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples’.

The professor said in a recent interview with the Basque newspaper ‘Deia’ that he believes the Celts arrived in the British Isles some 4,000 years ago from the Iberian Peninsula and France but that, in his opinion, the importance of the Celts has been greatly exaggerated. Oppenheimer said that while the Celtic languages were widely spoken across Europe during the days of the Roman Empire, this was more a cultural expansion rather than a racial expansion. Genetically speaking, he said, the ancestors of the British Isles were not Celts, but Basques.