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With all the talk about Basques I decided to do my own analysis with Admixture. Dienekes gave me a copy of his IBS file, which has all the 1000 Genomes Spanish samples, including Basques. I merged it with the HGDP sample, which has French Basques (just “Basques” in the plots below) and French non-Basques. I pruned most of the populations, but kept the Mozabites, which are a Berber group from Algeria. The number of markers was ~350,000, and I ran it up to K = 8, or 8 component populations. I stopped there because the components were starting to break up in a very choppy manner.

In general I do think that the idea that non-Basque Spaniards have Moorish genetic input seems supported. It isn’t definitive though. And you have to be careful, there are lower parameter values where Sardinians seem to have an affinity with Mozabites to a great extent, even more than Spaniards. But that disappears as you move up the number of K’s. But who is to say which K is the correct K? The consistent Sub-Saharan African among non-Basque Spaniards (also evident in the Behar et al. data set) component probably convinces me that there was a Moorish impact, since these are likely to have come with the Islamic conquest, and not Phoenicians.

All the files from the Admixture run (and csv files with tabular results) are here.

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• Category: Science • Tags: Admixture, Basques, Personal Genomics 
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The Basque people of northern Spain loom large in any attempt to understand the ethnogenesis of European populations. That is because the speak the only indubitably indigenous non-Indo-European language in Western Europe. By this, I mean that other potential non-Indo-European languages such as the Tartessian or Pictish are either doubtful or uncertain in classification and understanding (Etruscan, or later Arabic in Spain, are not indigenous). As such they may lay claim to be representatives of a deeper pre-Indo-European substratum in the European population. Up until a few years ago the conventional view was that the Basques were the scions of the Paleolithic peoples of Western Europe, who eventually took up farming. Whether by chance or necessity, they alone retained the language of the original Europeans.

That view is now being challenged. It may be that the Basques were the descendants of the first emigres from the Near East, sweeping along the Mediterranean and Atlantic fringe, searching for arable land. This is no new orthodoxy, but if you grant this, then it opens up the likelihood that the European palimpsest is very complicated indeed. Of the public genome blogging projects Dienekes Pontikos has the most extensive database and greatest geographic coverage in the Dodecad Ancestry Project. He has repeatedly found that the Basques, along with the Finns, seem to lack a genetic element present in low amounts in other European populations, more or less, with a modal value in the trans-Caucasian region. The Spanish and the French as a whole exhibit admixture with this element, only their Basque minorities seem to lack it. The inference one can make from this is clear: these indigenous non-Indo-European peoples lack this component because it was introduced by Indo-Europeans! Now Dienekes has looked at the IBS (Spanish) sample from the 1000 Genomes, and the Basque distinctiveness jumps out again:

The labels are Dienekes’, so don’t take them literally. Additionally, remember that each component is a stylized representation in many cases, not a real ancestral component (e.g., one component might really be a hybrid). Rather, the slices give us a sense of population relationships. I claim from these results that the Basques are distinctive, but not distinct. The clearly overlap with other Spanish populations, more or less, but they stand out in having a far lower proportion of the “Caucasus” element. However you label this component, you generally see a similar deficiency in the Finns. Again, the Finns and the Swedes overlap, but the Swedes are distinctive in having this element at low proportions. Please note that quite often this component also differentiates Indo-European speaking South Asians from non-Indo-European ones! I think a “virtual genomes” method would be very interesting in exploring the commonalities across these populations.

Secondarily, also note that the Basque seem to lack the Northwest African/Southwest Asian component common in the other groups. This element exists even among other northern Spanish groups. The Basque exemption from tests of limpeza de sangue does seem justified; the only inference I can reasonably make is that the Moorish occupation left a substantial genetic impact on the peninsula. Far more than I would have thought. The standard ‘culturalist’ model is that the Spanish Muslims were predominantly converts, and their conversion back to Christianity between 1100 and 1600 (as Islam receded in Iberia) was a reversion. But these results lean me toward the proposition that many people with substantial Arab and Berber ancestry became Spanish Christians in the years of the reconquest. Such a substantial demographic impact due to what was a military conquest of a relatively small number (at least initially) increases my own suspicion that the Basques themselves are not the descendants of Paleolithic Iberians in totality.

• Category: Science • Tags: Basques, Human Genetics, Human Genomics 
Razib Khan
About Razib Khan

"I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. If you want to know more, see the links at"