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English-language version of Luistxo Fernandez's blog

Did Basques of the Ice Age travel to settle America?

Luistxo Fernandez 2012/01/21 16:45

Ice Age Columbus is a documentary fictionalizing certain theory: that the first settlers of the Americas didn't cross to the continent thru the Beringia connection (land bridge between Siberia and Alaska) but rather directly from Western Europe, following the edge of the ice shelf that covered the North Atlantic (without discounting the Beringian-Asian settlement, this just came afterwards). Some scientists defending this theory appear in the documentary, but it's mostly a recreation with actors (in the BBC they broadcasted it as Stone Age Columbus).

For me, as a Basque, is somehow thrilling (and chauvinistic, perhaps) to think about the idea... The Franco-Cantabrian refuge of the ice age in Western Europe was centered in this country of ours. The humans of the Solutrean carving culture depicted in the movie, painters of caves like Ekain, were living in this very countryside that is our home. And in the documentary, the adventurous tribe depicted gets out to the Atlantic from more or less the Basque Country (the northern tip of it, bordering the Landes region of France).

However, this idea has not many supporters, and the documentary does not check the counter-theories. It presents two things as if they were proven facts:

1. that Solutrean tools identical to the European ones appeared in Virginia (USA) 17,000 years ago (5 millennia before the arrival of other people from Siberia).

2. that traits of ancient European DNA are part of the Amerindian genetic inheritance (mixed with the Asian stock)

Yet, if you consult the Wikipedia, those two points are far from being accepted by the scientific community. Balancing what I have seen and read, it looks improbable to me, this idea of the Inuit-like Basques crossing the Atlantic 17,000 years ago. But it would have been fun and awesome if it were true, wouldn't it?

Basque language at Fry's Planet Word

Luistxo Fernandez 2012/01/17 09:05

I've recently watched Stephen Fry's Planet Word, a documentary series of the BBC, which I downloaded from BitTorrent. The wonders of that distintive human trait, language, basis of our culture, civilisation...

It is a very watchable series, well produced and narrated with Fry's usual charm and enthusiasm (he is the writer of the series as well). I found some parts really fascinating as the bit about the girl with Tourette's syndrome who cannot stop from saying expletives, or the musings about poetry and pop-rock lyrics with the author of the script of 4 weddings and a funeral.

However, some scientific aspects of the issue are treated somehow lightly, I guess. And the choice of travels made by Fry to interview and meet people speaking different languages seemed to me to be not too well rehearsed. For instance, I feel honored that Fry talked about Basque, and visited us, my city, Donostia, to be precise. 10 minutes of episode 2 are dedicated to our isolate language, and how it survives despite its minority status. However, the choice of interview to illustrate that point was awful: they spent the day (it seems) in Donostia with a famous Basque cook, Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter, and just spoke with little sense about the relationship between Basque gastronomy, our love for food, and the Basque language and our love for it. That makes no sense at all, and besides, Arzak is a man with very little fluency in Basque, and the mix of Basque, Spanish and French that he produces while speaking with Fry is horrible.

Elena Arzak, Stephen Fry (wiith propaganda of Donostia 2016) and Juan Mari Arzak

The producers could have sent someone more apt to do some research and find more appropiate people in Donostia. For instance, linguist Itziar Laka or the people working at the BCBL center; insightful investigation about language acquistion, bilingualism and the brain's linguistic secrets, which they could have used in other episodes. As for speakers, lots of people, anonymous or distinguished in some filed or other, could have provided a much better chat to Mr. Fry. If the matter was to connect it with food, they could have got better advice and met Hilario Arbelaitz at the Zuberoa restaurant, for instance.

I also felt that some other visits to speakers of some languages were somehow similarly wasted, as with the Turkana in Kenya. Irish also appears, though I'm not sure if it was depicted accurately or erroneously.

Anyway, BBC and Stephen Fry, the effort is appreciated, thanks for putting us Basques in this brilliant television product.


Luistxo works in CodeSyntax, tweets as @Luistxo and tries to manage the automated newssite Niagarank. This Cemetery is part of a distributed multilingual blog (?!). These are the Basque and Spanish versions:

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My cultural consumption in English: 2012/13 | Television | Movies | Books

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