(Chapter XI, section 17)

The Basques

The last contiguous outpost of the Mediterranean world on the north and west is the country of the Basques, which, since it straddles the Pyrenees, forms a zone of transition into the brachycephalized world of central Europe. The Basques are people who, although they lack political identity, are, none the less, a nation. They number about 800,000, of whom four-fifths live in Spain, and the remainder in France. Their country is clearly delimited by a linguistic boundary, and their ethnic solidarity is perpetuated not only by their language lout also by a community of archaic cultural practices, by special political privileges under the Spanish monarchy, by a distinctive headgear,133 and by the recognition of a characteristic physical type.

The Basque language, being, an agglutinative non- Indo-European form of speech, has attracted the attention of theorists in great, and of linguistic experts in small, numbers. In its grammatical structure Basque falls into the same class as many American Indian languages, as Georgian, as Circassian, and as the Burushaski language of Hunza. Lexically no valid comparisons have as yet been made between Basque and any other language. Since Indo-European languages were unquestionably late to arrive in southwestern Europe, and since Hamitic languages were apparently not indigenous to northwestern Africa, it is not unreasonable that some pre-Indo-European, pre-Hamitic language should survive somewhere on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar. Basque is probably the modern descendant of (a) a language or languages brought by foodproducing Mediterraneans into Spain during the Early Neolithic period; or (b) a language or languages brought from western Asia by seafaring peoples in pre-Phoenician times; or (c) a blend of languages from both sources. Other explanations seem, in the light of present knowledge, fantastic.134 Basque is certainly Iberian, if by Iberian is meant all the pre-Aryan languages of the Iberian peninsula.

There is historical evidence to indicate that in Roman times the Basques lived farther south and cast in Spain than at present, and that they were later pushed northward by Gothic pressure. Between 580 and 587 A.D., some of them crossed the Pyrenees into France, and since that time they have been advancing steadily northward at a slow rate. It is claimed by French authorities that the Basques in France have preserved their native culture better than have those in Spain, and that by the same token the French Basques are the purer racially.

The Basques are people of moderate stature, with means of 164 cm. in Spain and 166 cm. in France. They are lightly built, ideally with broad shoulders and narrow hips, and a conical thorax. These generalizations as to body build are the result of general observation rather than of anthropometry. Nevertheless it is likely that they are, to a large extent, founded on fact. The ideal Basque type, which is not merely an artistic standard, but a reality, is chiefly identifiable by means of a combination of facial features. The forehead is straight or but slightly sloping, the browridges weak or absent, the nasion depression slight or absent, the nose thin, often aquiline, with a thin tip, sometimes depressed; the forehead is broad, the mid?face quite narrow, the mandible extremely slender and narrow through the bigonial region, and the chin is narrow and pointed. The Spanish Basques are mesocephalic, with a mean cephalic index of 78, while the French Basques are sub?brachycephalic, with a mean of about 82.

The French Basques are by no means all brunet; Collignon finds 22 per cent of blue eyes, 44 per cent of "medium," and 34 per cent of dark. Black hair is found in 7 per cent of the group, brown in 77 per cent, and light brown to blond in 16 per cent. Among the Spanish Basques the incidence of blondism is somewhat lower, but the Basques are still light when compared to most other inhabitants of Spain. The nasal profile is convex in some 49 per cent of French Basques, as compared to 43 per cent of Spanish ones.

The exact metrical position of the Basques may best be determined by the study of their crania. k35 Morant, in a study of 76 male crania from Guipuzcoa, finds that the Basques are not unusual in the dimensions and morphology of the cranial vault. A length of 186 mm., and a breadth of 143 mm., are moderate in size, while the cranial index of 77 is mesocephalic. The basion-bregma height of 131 mm. is definitely low. The Basque crania closely resemble those of the British Iron Age people and of the seventeenth century Londoners. They conform metrically, in other words, to a Keltic Iron Age type, which was a mixture of Nordic with Dinaric elements.

Facially this resemblance to British skulls is even closer; but the Basques attain or approach several European extremes. The mean bi?malar face breadth, taken between the lowest points of the malar-maxillary sutures, is 89.6 mm., a craniological minimum, and the nearest approach to it is the dimension of 90.9 mm. for the Whitechapel English crania. The mean breadth of the nasal aperture, 22.9 mm. is also an extreme, most closely approximated by a Lowland Scottish series. The bizygomatic diameter of 129 mm. is not extreme, for it is higher than that of both Sardinian and Portuguese crania. The basion-alveon diameter, 91.9 mm., is the lowest mean known, and in combination with other dimensions indicates an extremely orthognathous condition.

On the whole, these craniological data indicate three facts: (1) the Basques are basically Mediterranean (in the wider sense) racially, with some brachycephalic accretion. (2) This accretion is for the most part Dinaric and only to a minor extent directly Alpine. Morphologically the Basque crania show many resemblances to those of Serbo-Croats and of some South Germans. Collignon's comparison between French Basques and the southwestern French makes this distinction clear. (3) The Basques, through inbreeding, ethnic solidarity, and the possession of a recognized national ideal type, have developed a character istic physiognomy, the essential features of which are nasal prominence and a narrowness of the median sagittal facial segment, and of the mandible.

Collignon believed, and Montandon follows him, that the French Basques are freer from modern mixture than are the Spanish Basques. This may perhaps be true, since neither the round-headed tendency of the French Basques nor their relatively high incidence of blondism can be wholly explained as local acquisitions. The Basques, as a whole, represent an ancient and subsequently specialized mixture of Mediterraneans and Atlanto-Mediterraneans with partially blond Dinarics, and it is just as possible that different Basque sub-groups differed originally in amount of Dinaric blood as that the modern Spanish Basques have been altered through Spanish mixture.

Both the Atlanto-Mediterranean and Dinaric elements mentioned were present as early as the Copper Age in North Central Spain, where they were partially identified with the early Bell Beaker culture. The Keltic Iron Age racial type of Britain, which the living Spanish Basques so closely? resemble, was produced originally in southern Germany from a combination of Nordics with Bell Beaker or other Dinarics, and imported into England where Mediterranean and Atlanto-Mediterranean elements, as well as some Bronze Age Dinaric factors, were already present. The mixture of similar ingredients in different places produces similar results. Seen in the light of modern physical anthropology, the Basques are still interesting, and perhaps romantic, but no longer mysterious.


133 Distinctive until adopted by tourists in the 1920's.

134 My predecessor, Professor Ripley, devoted an entire chapter of his Races of Europe to the Basques; Chapter 8, pp. 180?204. His sources were the same as those available today, with one important exception: Morant, G. M., Biometrika, vol. 21, 1929, pp. 67?84. The reader is referred to Ripley's work for an otherwise complete bibliography on this subject, as well as for an interesting exposition and discussion. See also Montandon, G., L'Ethnie Francaise, pp. 125?137_ The most important anthropometric sources are, apart from Morant:

Aranzadi, T. de, El Pueblo Euskalduna
Collignon, R., Les Basques, MSAP, ser. 3, vol. 1, 1894.
Oloriz y Aguilera, F., BSAP, ser. 4, vol. 5, 1894, pp. 520?525.

135 Morant, 1929. It is high time that someone should make a modern anthropometric survey of living Basques in both France and Spain. Many of Collignon's measurements on the living do not follow modern technical standards.