How the Neanderthals became the Basques

By David Noel

From a combination of old and new evidence, it appears that at last we have a satisfactory answer to the age-old question of ‘What Happened to the Neanderthals?’. If the current reasoning is correct, their descendants are still with us, and we call them the Basques.

This theory therefore simultaneously answers a second age-old question, ‘What is the Origin of the Basques’?

Robert J Sawyer has recently published his book “Hominids” [2], a fictional account of an interaction between Sapiens humans and Neanderthals, but drawing on the latest scientific research about Neanderthals.

This research included studies of DNA extracted from bones of Neanderthal remains. The account mentions five months of painstaking work to extract a 379-nucleotide fragment from the control region of the Neanderthal’s mitochondrial DNA, followed by use of a polymerase chain reaction to reproduce millions of copies of the recovered DNA.

This was carefully sequenced and then a check made of the corresponding mitochondrial DNA from 1,600 modern humans: Native Canadians, Polynesians. Australians, Africans, Asians, and Europeans. Every one of those 1,600 people had at least 371 nucleotides out of those 379 the same; the maximum deviation was just 8 nucleotides.

But the Neanderthal DNA had an average of only 352 nucleotides in common with the modern specimens; it deviated by 27 nucleotides. It was concluded that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals must have diverged from each other between 550,000 and 690,000 years ago for their DNA to be so different.

In contrast, all modern humans probably shared a common ancestor 150,000 or 200,000 years in the past. It was concluded that Neanderthals were probably a fully separate species from modern humans, not just a subspecies: Homo neanderthalensis, not Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.

Looking now at the evidence for the theory that the Basques are descended principally from Neanderthals, everything suddenly falls into place, and the supposition becomes almost self-evident.

Location: The ‘home country’ of the Neanderthals is well known to have been western Europe. One source says that they “dominated this area for at least a quarter of a million years”. Many of the best Neanderthal specimens have originated from the Iberian Peninsular. The Basque Country, lying on the western side of the Pyrenees and on the border between Spain and France, fits in neatly with this location.

The Basques are well-known to have distinctive body characteristics. Kurlansky says “Ample evidence exists that the Basques are a physically distinct group. There is a Basque type with a long straight nose, thick eyebrows, strong chin, and long earlobes” [1].

Basque skulls tend to be built on a different pattern. In the early 1880s, a researcher reported “Someone gave me a Basque body and I dissected it, and I assert that the head was not built like that of other men” [1].

These qualitative differences are indicative, but quantitative evidence, with presence or absence of features, or items being present in different numbers, has greater weight in deciding whether specimens belong to the same or different species. Powerful quantitative evidence comes from a consideration of blood factors.

Human blood is classified according to various parameters, the most important of which are ABO and Rhesus characteristics. In ABO, blood may contain the ‘A’ factor (giving A-group blood), the ‘B’ factor (B-group), both ‘A’ and ‘B’ (AB blood), or neither (O blood). The A and B factors act like antibodies, and if blood containing one or both of them is transferred to a person whose blood does not already contain them, adverse reactions occur. Group O blood contains neither antibody and can typically be transferred without reaction to any recipient.

Some 55% of Basques have Group O blood, one of the highest percentages in the world [3].

Even stronger evidence comes from the Rhesus factor, discovered only in 1940. The blood of most humans (and, apparently, all other primates [6]) contains this factor, and is called Rhesus-positive or Rh+ blood. Blood lacking this factor is called Rhesus-negative.

The Basques are well-known to have the highest percentage (around 33%) of Rhesus-negative blood of any human population [2], and so are regarded as the original source of this factor. In the United States, some 15% of the ‘European’ population are Rh-negative, while the percentage in the ‘Asian’ and ‘Black’ population is much less than this.


Possession of Rh-negative blood can be a major disadvantage for a human population. A Rh-negative woman who conceives a Rh-positive child with a Rh-positive man will typically bear her first child without special problems. However, because of intermingling of fluids between mother and foetus, the first pregnancy builds up antibodies to Rh+ blood in the woman which typically attack the blood of her subsequent Rh+ children, causing them to miscarry, be stillborn, or die shortly after birth (infant haemolytic disease [6]). This phenomenon is unknown elsewhere in nature, although it can occur with artificial crosses between species, as in mule production [6].

The scenario so far then is this. Around 600,000 years ago, in southern Europe, a species of man separated off from the ancestral line, and we call this species Homo neanderthalensis, the ‘N-people’. The blood of this species contained none of the factors A, B, or Rh.

Much later, possibly around 200,000 years ago in Africa, the main human line had picked up the A, B, and Rh factors (possibly from other primates, the Rhesus factor is named after the Rhesus monkey or macaque), and by then could be classed as Homo sapiens, the ‘S-people’.

In competition between related species or races, antibodies in their blood are a powerful genetic advantage for those who possess them when competing against those who don’t. History has many examples of European settlers who quite unintentionally won out against native populations because the latter had no antibodies against diseases such as measles which the Europeans brought with them.

In the present scenario, a woman of the N-people (Basque, Rh-) who partnered with a man of the S-people (non-Basque, Rh+) would be likely to bear no more than a single child of the partnership. ‘Mixed marriages’ in humans are not usually genetically disadvantageous, but in this case they would be. The effect would be a continuing reduction in the N-people population as ‘mixed’ couples produced only a single child, half the nominal population-maintenance rate.


There are other physical characteristics of humans which are typically associated with Rh-negative blood, but which in the present scenario would be regarded as belonging to the N-people. These include early maturity, large head and eyes, high IQ [6], or an extra vertebra (a ‘tail bone’ — called a ‘cauda’), lower than normal body temperature, lower than normal blood pressure, and higher mental analytical abilities [5].

Another highly distinguishing feature of the Basques is their language, which is related to no other on earth. According to [3], its ancestor was spoken in western Europe before (possibly long before) the ancestors of all other modern western European languages. This source states that the most strenuous efforts at finding other relatives for Basque have been complete failures.

People have unsuccessfully tried to connect Basque with Berber, Egyptian and other African languages, with Iberian, Pictish, Etruscan, Minoan, Sumerian, the Finno-Ugric languages, the Caucasian languages, the Semitic languages, with almost all the languages of Africa and Asia, living and dead, and even with languages of the Pacific and of North America. Basque absolutely cannot be shown to be related to any other language at all [3].

The structure of the Basque language is also very distinctive, it is said to contain only nouns, verbs, and suffixes. The language strongly defines the Basque people [8]. In the Basque Language, called Euskera, there is no word for Basque. The only word defining a member of the group is Euskaldun, or Euskera speaker. The land is called Euskal Herria — the land of Euskera speakers.

In the present scenario, Basque is the descendant of a spoken language originated by the N-people, independently of (and possibly at a much earlier time than) the languages of the S-people.


In an interesting study, Philip Lieberman [7] has looked at the mouth cavities and other presumed speech production features of Neanderthal fossils. According to his evaluation, Neanderthal people would have had difficulty in pronouncing the vowel ‘ee’. This vowel is missing from normal Basque pronunciation [9].

If the present scenario is valid, then the Basques, mostly stemming from the N-people, would of course be somewhat distinct genetically. In [3] the question is asked, “Are the Basques genetically different from other Europeans?”, with the answer, “Apparently, yes. Recently the geneticist Luiga Luca Cavalli-Sforza has completed a gene map of the peoples of Europe, and he finds the Basques to be strikingly different from their neighbours. The genetic boundary between Basques and non-Basques is very sharp on the Spanish side. On the French side, the boundary is more diffuse: it shades off gradually toward the Garonne in the north. These findings are entirely in agreement with what we know of the history of the Basque language”.

The social relationships of the Basques with the rest of the world have been quite unusual for a distinctive human group. While always protecting their unique and separate identity, they have also always striven to interact, cooperate with, and sometimes lead the rest of the world.

Kurlansky points out the remarkable contributions the Basques have made to world history [1]. They were the explorers who connected Europe to the other continents in the Age of Exploration, in trade they were among the first capitalists, experimenting with tariff-free international trade and monopoly breaking, and in the industrial revolution they became leading shipbuilders, steelmakers, and manufacturers.

At the same time, the Basques have always been regarded as ‘different’, and so inevitably subjected to discriminatory treatment and (sometimes savage) persecution, as in the Franco years [3]. In my book ‘Matrix Thinking’ [4] I have examined the underlying forces driving interactions between human groups, using the term SIOS, and the way groups recognize and act on differences between those inside and outside their own group.


Genetic differences are one of the most powerful recognition signals in this process, and so it cannot be unexpected that the Basques have suffered in this way. Nowadays such events are regarded in a very negative light, as pointlessly discriminatory. In the Basque case there is some rare justification for this — a non-Basque man pairing with a Basque women might have expected to have only one child of the marriage, before recent medical procedures got round the Rhesus negative problem.

Language differences are also very powerful SIOS recognition signals, and it is interesting to look at the Basque case. The Basque language, while retaining its own distinct structure, has heavily borrowed words from other languages. Other languages have borrowed very few words from Basque, regarded as an ‘inferior’ language, and those that have come over often have had an uncomplimentary sense. As an example, Spanish has borrowed ‘izquierdo’ (meaning left, as in left-handed) from Basque, and words meaning ‘left’ often have a negative connotation (in English, ‘gauche’ and ‘sinister’ are from the French and Latin for ‘left’).

It has been suggested [5] that the Basques were the original inhabitants of Europe, and the architects of Stonehenge and similar megalithic structures. These constructions apparently used a unique system of measurement based on the number 7 (instead of 10, 12, or 60), representing a separate origin of a mathematical system.

To round out the present scenario, it is suggested that the present world population is a complex hybrid mixture of at least two human species, one classed as Homo neanderthalensis, the other (or others — if the A and B blood factors originated from separate species) as Homo sapiens. The genes from these species are now so intermixed (as in cultivated roses) as to make the species name indeterminate.

Further genetic analysis, concentrating on the Basques, may reveal more on this. Research should cover both nuclear DNA, controlling sexually-inherited traits such as blood groups, and mitochondrial DNA, passed on unchanged from mother to child. For reasons given above, the N-people mitochondrial DNA may have now been bred out completely from modern world populations.

Perhaps the Human Genome project needs extension to cover the possible mix of origins. It would also be of interest to check whether any known Neanderthal skeletons had an extra vertebra.

There is an extensive website covering recorded Neanderthal fossils [10], and the information there generally supports the suggestion that the species have merged, with later N-people more similar to the S-people than older specimens.



[1] Mark Kurlansky, The Basque History of the World, Penguin Books, New York, 2001.

[2] Robert J. Sawyer, Hominids, Tor Books, 2002.

[3] FAQs About Basque and the Basques,

[4] David Noel, Matrix Thinking, BFC Press, 1997. Chapter 104, Syston Boundaries and SIOS. Also at:

[5] The Rh-negative Factor and ‘Reptilian Traits’,

[6] Blood of the Gods,

[7] Philip Lieberman, Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution, W W Norton, 1998

[8] What is Basque?,

[9] Basque Pronunciation,

[10] Homo neanderthalensis,

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Comments (7)

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  1. Randall Burns says:

    There are some interesting points in this article-but the analysis of Rh incompatibility is flawed.

    There is no disadvantage to having the Rh- gene in population if all members of that population have it. The same thing with the Rh+ gene. The thing is there is a huge incentive for a population to be entirely either Rh- or Rh+.

    The Rh+ gene is at a “disadvantage” when introduced into a Rh- population even under conditions of primitive medicine, if we assume that women can choose another husband at the first sign of Rh incompatibility(which would happen after the birth of the first child) the presence of an Rh+ gene is a strong disadvantage for a man. If we assume that women have no right of divorce-or effective ability to choose a different husband _then_ the Rh- gene becomes a reproductive disadvantage for a woman-particularly if we assume a polygamous society where a man can easily find another wife and reproduce up to a resource limit.

    The Rh- gene is common not only among the Basque, but also among the western Irish, Western Scots and Western Norwegians.(the Welsh are related to Western Scots and show common Y chromosome similar to that found among the Basqe). It should be noticed that the Western Scots were historically tolerant of divorce. For example, Andrew Jackson was of Scots-Irish descent-and could respectably marry a divorced woman and become president at a time when that was regarded as quite a scandal. Also Scots-Irish Hillbillies have a stereotype in the US of marrying their cousins. Prior to medications that deal well with rh incompatibility and the accompanying testing technology that might actually be a very sound strategy for a woman likely to be Rh-. Basically the risk of exposing other genetic problems by marrying a cousin might be less than the risk of marrying a Rh+ man, and a cousin of an Rh- woman would be less likely to be an Rh+ man.

    Modern religions coming out of the middle east can be largely seen as mechanisms to make sure a population is entirely Rh+.

    • Randall,

      Your reasoning is extremely adroit.

      In my opinion the Celts are also strongly related to the
      Neanderthals, hence their “Red Gene.”

      From what we know the Neanderthals and the Celts showed
      no sexual discrimination–men and women were equal.

      The “humans” who have emerged since the Neanderthals
      have males who are afraid of females.

      Dr. Pinna

  2. Sharon McIntosh says:


    Oh my goodness this has been extremely informative. My
    Daughter is a Spiritual Writer, this started when she was 14. At first it was freaky and, to say the least frightening to both of us. The Language(words that she would write while her eyes were close) are not of this realm and I have research them for 25 years.
    I am RH- with a Cauda(a tail…Have been Researching my Ancestry for over 25 years to no avail. Had my DNA processed through with zero results. It might be beneficial to all if you would allow me to forward a few words of the writings to you.


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  4. Carolyn says:

    While much ado is made about the Basque uniqueness, I have yet to see a single scientific report that outlines:

    (1) The Neanderthals lacked the RHD Gene, or had a mutated version of it, thus clearly demonstrating that, like the Basques, they were Rh-negative. Without this integral scientific data, the origin of Rh-negative blood remains purely speculative. (And this annoys me, because I want to know one way or another!)

    (2) The actual average percentage of Neanderthal DNA within the Basque population, as compared to the rest of the European geographic areas; If these folks are, indeed, the descendants of the Neanderthals, extra vertebrae and all, it would seem logical that they should demonstrate a consistently higher percentage of Neanderthal DNA in their individual and collective codes.

    (3) If anyone has dug up and compared ancient Aquitaine DNA to both Neanderthal and the Basque DNA.

    If ANYONE has this information, please let the world know!

  5. Hi everybody! :-)
    I devote myself to the research of differences, descendants and possible visible genetic remains of the so called “Neanderthals” (I’m pretty sure the gave themselves names same as we do, probably living together in clans) ever since I reached my youth.
    First of all: YES – ALL humans living on this planet right now ARE a mixture of STILL UNKNOWNN NUMBERS of various highly developed/not highly developed humans and humanoids ever since the human evolution began.
    I don’t think we should regard ourselves as “96 percent homo sapiens + 4 percent Neanderthal”, rather regard ourselves – meaning all humans existing right here and now – as a FINAL RESULT of TOTAL INTERBREEDING of COUNTLESS NUMBERS of HUMANS and HUMANOIDS who ever existed on this Planet!
    Working as a detectice in Austria (also travelling a lot around in the world) I observe human faces everyday. Asians, Africans, Caucasians, North men, Celtic people, Middle europeans, Indians, … and so on..
    I remember a quote, saying: “You can observe neanderthals at any public gathering” – That is TRUE! But not only Neanderthals still roam this planet:
    For example: Quite some years ago, the “Homo floresiensis” was discovered on a small remote Island called “Flores” in Java, Indonesia. Even the natives tell stories of the “egu-egu”, small hairy people who once lived and hunted on this island – a to this day UNKNOWN human species, probably descending from Homo erectus individuals who once settled there.
    Or what about the discovery of a tooth and fingerbone in a Siberian cave near DENISOVA – genetical analysis showed, that these remains belonged neither to Neanderthals, NOR to modern homo sapiens, but showing similarities to Neanderthals and todays Aboriginees in Australia – what do we have HERE??? Just another piece in this seemingly impossible-to-complete puzzle.
    What about the famous case of “Julia Pastrana” – 19th century. A hairy woman (officially suffering from “hypertrichosis” which allows hair to grow furlike) – is SHE supposed to be a victim of a genetical defect or just a fine example that genetical information rests within DNA forever, and BREAKS OUT every once and a while?
    I suppose second choice.
    Or what about the famous “AZZO BASSOU” – the Neanderthal man from Marokko, being discovered in 1931, living alone in the wilds, feeding on raw meat and fruits, you find photos in google!
    How is THAT to explain other than genetical remains still bringing out early humanoids?
    Or the famous video on youtube: “Human hybrid found in China”? A mishappening??? I don’t think so. Same as reddish hair can break out many generations later, so can “old DNA” break out always, whenever it wants – its breaking out habits still have to be discovered.
    Well, what is to say as a conclusion:
    We all are a complete mixture of whoever lived on this planet, be it sapiens, neanderthals, erectus, pekinensis and many more.
    We still have to dig a lot to find a few more pieces to complete at least a few parts of one of the most interesting puzzles on this planet: US! :-)
    “The most interesting about science is the undiscovered.” – Einstein

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