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I've heard it said that the Basque are conjectured to be the last remnant of Pre-Celtic Western Europe. When would have these people existed? What evidence do we have for their culture and habitation sites? When did they cede to the Celts?

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Good question. This has been explored a lot, and I think the answer is indigenous Cro-Magnon culture. The Basques and possibly the Etruscans are often listed as examples of this. (Often the Picts of Scotland too.) I'll wait for someone to quote Gimbutas' theory here, which is quite interesting. If not, may get around to doing it myself... –  Noldorin Oct 24 '11 at 0:58
@Noldorin, to which you can add the linguistic theories of Theo Vennemann (cf "Europa Vasconica") and the genetic evidence from mitochondrial DNA haplogroups ("V" Toroni 1996, 1998, 2001, "H" Alessandro Achilli 2004). However the Cro-Magnon culture (Haplogroup N) seems to be only a remote ancestor of haplogroups V,H... –  Alain Pannetier Oct 25 '11 at 20:44
@Alain: I knew you'd be here! By the way, the Pelasgians in Greece were also possibly pre-Indo-European. See also Old Europe and Pre-Indo-European for various hypotheses about who lived in Europe before we came and what they spoke — Wikipedia. –  Cerberus Oct 25 '11 at 22:09
@AlainPannetier Ah yes, good old Vennemann's theory. I think Gimbutas' theory is the most interesting/modern here however. –  Noldorin Oct 26 '11 at 0:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Pre-Celtic inhabitants of western Europe included Bronze Age settlers, such as the Lusitaninans, Basques, Etruscans, and Belgae. As a commenter made clear, the Belgae inhabited modern Belgium and gave the area its current name.


Prior to that, we are talking about pre-historic cultures such as those that settled river valleys like the Dordogne in France.

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The historic Celtic tribe was the Belgae. The Belgians are a modern (mostly) Germanic people now inhabiting the country known as Belgium, a part of the area once populated by the Belgae. –  Pieter Geerkens Oct 1 '13 at 0:43

By and large, we really don't know. The timing of archeological finds with the language distribution when the historical record opens makes a very compelling case for the Celto-Italics being the chief people who introduced farming to Western Europe. So any pre-Celtic inhabitants would have been Mesolithic (hunter-gatherers).

Neolithic (farming) societies support an order of magnitude larger population than hunter-gatherers, so from the Celts' perspective the Western European territory they were moving into would have barely been inhabited at all.

There were however some areas around the Mediterranean that managed to hit the Neolithic before the Indo-Europeans arrived. These are (probably not coincidentally) the areas that still had non- Indo-European societies when the historical record opens. The two main groups here are the Basques (who are still around) and the Tyrrhenians (who are not).

There are lots of theories about a possible prehistoric wider distribution for the Basque ancestors. Sadly most of these theories have been discredited. One that has not (but is still not really a majority opinion), is Vasconic, which is a name for a putative Basque ancestor covering all of Spain and the British Isles, and the western half of France.

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Note that there are a couple more historical Iberean languages that may (or may not) have been non-IndoEuropean. More study needs to be done of these, but still I'd consider the Spanish portion of that map to be on a fair bit firmer foundation than the rest.

Tyrrhenian is a proposed common ancestor for the historical (now extinct) languages of Etruscan, Raetic, and Lemnan. This one is pretty well accepted.

enter image description here

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