Sunday, May 30, 2010

Santander : Cantabria (Spain)

Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period. The first signs of human occupation date from Lower Paleolithic, although this period is not so well represented in the region. The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dated from about 16,000 to 9,000 BC.

Cantabria is divided into two cultural areas. In the East is the heart of Castile where Castilian is spoken. In the East are lands which belonged to the former Astur-Leonese Kingdom. We'll first deal with Eastern Cantabria.

Linguistic divisions in modern Cantabria

  • Sample :
Full scale

  • Brief anthropological analysis :

- Type 1 : Intermediate complexion (from blonde to dark hair, black/grey eyes, rather pale skin on average, ...), leptomorphic, long face (particularly on males), straight or convex nose rather parallel to the face, rather close-set eyes, pointy chin, large jaw
~ (Dinaricized) Atlanto-Mediterranean

Unsurprisingly enough, the area is largely dominated by a well-defined ethnic type akin to the Basque type. It should be no surprise indeed since Castilian is now largely admitted to be a Romance language on a Basque substrate. Placenames in Eastern Cantabria might show Basque influence as well.

- Type 2 : Dark complexion (dark hair, black eyes, ...), more or less brachymorphic, reduced and "puffy" features, in some cases high-headed, rather little nose (on males at least), strong jaw, close-set eyes
~ Alpino-Mediterranean

A very classical North Iberian type, already identified in areas such as Burgos or the Basque Country. Some lighter individuals exhibiting classical Alpinid features (distances eyes, concave nose, brachymorphism, ...) might be more atypical.

  • Final morphotypes :


  1. "Cantabria is divided into two cultural areas. In the East is the heart of Castile where Castilian is spoken. In the East are lands which belonged to the former Astur-Leonese Kingdom".

    I don't know where you got this idea. In the critical decade of 1030, when the early Medieval status quo (essentially: Cordoba Emirate/Caliphate, Leon, Pamplona and the Frankish Kingdom) was shaken by the collapse of the Caliphate and the death of Sancho III the Great of Pamplona, Castile included Western Cantabria but Eastern Cantabria from around Santander and NE Burgos province from Atapuerca pass, just outside Burgos city, belonged to Pamplona (would-be Navarre).

    This map (my creation years ago based on other faithful historical maps and data) reflects this situation. Earlier the exact borders are not really known, in particular in regard to Castile, which was formed as the Eastern March of Leon (though formally a County made up of smaller counties, much like Catalonia) towards Basque and Muslim territories.

    While geographically distinct, Cantabria had no distinct political entity until the 1830s, when the administrative reforms created the modern Spanish provinces (though until recently it was just called Santander). It did not have any political autonomy until the 1980s.

    Cantabru (also called Montañés) is dying Romance anyhow because it has no institutional protection whatsoever and hence is being replaced by Castilian Spanish.

    It is maybe worth mentioning that Western Cantabria, along with parts of Asturias, Palencia and Burgos, was the true original territory of the Cantabri, eventually defeated by the Romans and forced to move their mountain settlements to the valleys as part of their "pacification" policies. Western Cantabria instead was mostly part of the territory of the Autrigones, along with neighbouring areas in Biscay, Burgos and Araba.

    Anthropometrically, I am pretty sure that the first type you mention is neatly Vascoid, while the second is neatly non-Vascoid and reminds more of Galicians and Ibero-Mediterraneans, with some (the "atypical" last group) looking rather Nordic sensu lato instead (but somewhat common in the Asturias-Cantabria area). There are individual exceptions though, specially among the women listed in the second group.

    My BI is 10-12, not a really high figure for such a neighboring area probably. In general Cantabrians are, I believe, somewhat easy to pick apart from Basques visually, whatever the reason (maybe their very old unique substrate), but are surely closer to Basques than to most other Iberian peoples.

  2. Btw, notice the scattered Basque toponimy in your maps: Urdiales, Santoña, Santander, Udalla, Arredondo (< arredi-ondo?), Selaya (zelaia). Also Arija and Amaya (the old capital of the Cantabri) in mountain Burgos province (there are others but can't recall right now).

    I believe we had a discussion once on this and I know a lot of people argues for lack of Basque toponimy west of the Nerbioi (Nervión) river. But IMO that claim is unsustainable and Spanish-chauvinistic. However I can't tell if these toponyms date from Prehistory, Antiquity or the Middle Ages.

  3. IMO, the distinctive phonetic features of Romance dialects in W.Cantabria (such as Latin f being maintained) really divide Cantabria into two ethno-cultural areas, one more akin to the Asturian sphere, another more akin to proper Castillian areas. The Cantabrian language is a bit of a forgery.

    Cántabro (lingüística)

    We indeed had a discussion about Cantabrian placenames. IMO, Arredondo is a Latin name based on Latin retundu=rounded 'redondo' + prosthetic ar- (indeed a Basque feature that can be found in Gascon as well).


I've chosen to let people comment freely on my posts. Nevertheless, you'll lose your time taunting me and calling me a fascist (which I'm really not) : I pray you to read my introduction which will reassure that my intentions genuinely aim at achieving amateurish knowledge. I understand that you may not share my passion for the history of the peopling of the World, just don't let me know as clear conscience gained by bashing a humble documentary work is useless.