The Late Glacial Maximum (LGM), ∼20 thousand years ago (kya), is thought to have forced the people inhabiting vast areas of northern and central Europe to retreat to southern regions characterized by milder climatic conditions. Archaeological records indicate that Franco-Cantabria might have been the major source for the re-peopling of Europe at the beginning of the Holocene (11.5 kya). However, genetic evidence is still scarce and has been the focus of an intense debate.
Based on a survey of more than 345,000 partial control region sequences and the analysis of 53 mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genomes, we identified an mtDNA lineage, HV4a1a, which most likely arose in the Franco-Cantabrian area about 5.4 kya and remained confined to northern Iberia.
The HV4a1a lineage and several of its younger branches reveal for the first time genetic continuity in this region and long-term episodes of isolation. This, in turn, could at least in part explain the unique linguistic and cultural features of the Basque region.