Modern Spanish Inquisition

Some years ago a locally important discovery hit the news: the oldest texts (other than patronymics) in Basque language had been found at the Roman Age site of Iruña-Veleia, Araba, at the historical border between the tribes of Caristii and Autrigones. There was more: a calvarium (one of the earliest of its kind) and even Egyptian hieroglyphs but what seemed more important of all was the finding of disposed ostrakas (pottery fragments used to write short texts) with texts in Basque language, a confirmation, it seemed, that the Basque language had been spoken among the ill-known tribes of the Western Basque Country in Roman times.

This issue had always been controversial, as the evidence was virtually nil, and the Spanish nationalist school prefered to consider them Celts, while the Basque nationalist school thought of them as likely Basques. Similar debates existed and still exist around the identity of the ancient Cantabri who fought against Caesar twice, once allied with “their relatives” the confirmed Basque-speakers Aquitani.

The discovery was soon contested by philologists who argued that such constructions were “too modern” for Basque language. Of course, nothing is known of how was Basque spoken before at least the 11th century, when the first rare texts appear, because all the evidence is patronymic and toponymic but linguists always have some theories and these findings didn’t seem to fit in them well enough.

Furthermore the chief archaeologist, Eliseo Gil, seems to have done many unusual things, never publishing a proper paper, admittedly falsifying one ostraka as a joke and maybe some other odd stuff. I am not really sure of the details because the issue is very complex, full of crossed accusations and confusing information. Gil was sued for scam and acquitted, though he may have some other trials pending and his reputation has probably been irreversibly damaged.

But, as I say, the matter is far from clear and multiple articles have appeared in the press and Internet defending either position. My impression is that the archaeologists were rather informal and suddenly they found themselves thrown into an inquisitorial process of multiple dimensions (academic, judicial and mediatic) that was just too much. But I may be wrong.

Whatever the case a new neutral voice from the field of linguistics (key in the academic discussion, as the main “evidence” against the findings is a linguistic criticism) has now arisen in favor of the veracity of the findings: Héctor Iglesias, from the University of Bordeaux, argued at Tribuna de Álava (in Spanish, found via En el ángulo oscuro), that there are some clear indications that the findings cannot be mere falsifications:

The inscription DENOS can only be for him a Celtic name, known just to a handful of specialists.
The inscription MISCAR or MISCART can only be the name of the Phoenician version of the god Mercury/Hermes, better known to laymen as Melkart, but known with this ortography again only to very few experts. (By the way, this inscription was considered by the panel of “experts” to mean “DESCARTES” adding that of course, that is way they are fake…)
The inscription RIAMO DALIA DEIDRE can only refer to the also Celtic name Deirdre, still in use in Irish and considered plausible by expert Celticists to have existed in antiquity.

He argues that these, only a few examples from his thick study on the matter (still unpublished because of huge political pressure), are evidence that there is no such falsification: it would be almost impossible that falsifcator would know all that.

If so, we would be confronted with a true academic scandal of huge proportions and multiple political ramifications, not anymore because certain archaeologist has (allegedly) created the Basque “Piltdown man” out of nothing, destroying his own career in the attempt, but because the Academy and other powerful institutions including surely politicians and judges, may have caused huge damage to scientific research (and of course to the implicated scientists) for political and other murky reasons. This would not be new at all when it comes to research associated to ethnic minorities that the states want to neutralize but I have never heard before any such brutal scandal in Basque studies, what makes necessary that the issue is openly debated as it must be: in scientific terms and publically.

Note: lots of documentation on the Iruña-Veleia controversy can be found here (in Spanish).

Update: the paper of Héctor Iglesias is in fact published in French and Heraus has been so kind of providing a link: H. Iglesias LES INSCRIPTIONS DE VELEIA-IRUÑA (PDF).

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