In south-east Iberia, the 22nd century BC sees the emergence of new residential, productive, and funerary practices known as “El Argar”, a highly hierarchical and integrated regional polity. Its culture does not show typical Bell Beaker pottery, specialised flint production, decorated stone, round dwellings with stone foundations, walled or ditched enclosures, collective burial rites, or any other local Iberian or Central European Chalcolithic feature (Risch et al. 2015). Amber, for example, loses its relevant social value as a marker of identity in the Argaric burial norm (Murillo-Barroso and Montero-Ruiz 2017).
Argaric communities stand out as a complete ignorance or fundamental rejection of the meaning and ideology of these objects, probably the consequence of a rejection of the incoming foreign population with Bell Beaker symbology, and thus also a different language and Weltanschauung (Risch et al. 2015). Despite this discontinuity with Iberian Chalcolithic traditions, Argaric cultures continue the tradition of linen textiles of Los Millares, connecting it to the previous Chalcolithic population of south-east Iberia (Marin Aguilera et al. 2019).
This culture brings a more regionalised system of influence; a complex settlement organisation and architecture, with hill forts ca. 1–6 ha as focus, occupied and expanded over the next 650 years; specific intramural rite in cists, rock cut tombs, large pottery vessels (pithoi), and pits, with funerary contexts corresponding at least to three social classes during its economic peak; large array of macro-lithic tools, but limited set of metal weapons, tools and ornaments; highly standardised and finely burnished pottery production. The Argaric settlements become complex urban or proto-urban centres (Risch et al. 2015).
Its material culture shows new bone, antler, and ivory working techniques and artefacts. Flint arrowheads and blade production disappear completely, while flint was used almost exclusively for the preparation of sickle blades. Palmela and leaf-shaped projectile points continue, suggesting the use of arrows armed with metal tips or bone points. A more developed arrow technology is also suggested by sandstone polishers with a central groove, used for shaping or sharpening of bone or metal tools, possibly also as arrow shaft straighteners. All this suggest an increased precision of arrow shooting, probably related to combat rather than hunting (Risch et al. 2015).
A whole new set of macro-lithic tools appear related to the new economy: elongated narrow type of grinding slab with slightly convex transversal profile, operated with wooden manos, enables the production of finer flour in less time; a cylindrical polisher made of slate or schist to separate honey from beeswax; tools related to metal production and maintenance, such as moulds of fine sandstone for axes, awls, and ingots, or metalworking hammers; etc. The appearance of these metalworking tools in male burials supports the social and economic value of this activity in the new social and economic context (Ache et al. 2017).
Single or double burials became the most common funerary ritual in El Argar, where communal burials—typical of the previous Iberian Chalcolithic cultures, before the arrival of East Bell Beakers—disappeared. Old customs were gradually replaced by the placement of tombs underneath the settled area rather than on its margins, the use of carefully built burials (contrasting with poor Final Copper Age burials), and including new offerings alongside the body, such as metal artefacts, halberds and riveted daggers, and well-manufactured pottery, depending on the social class. Silver and gold appear first as metal ornaments in the tombs of the elite, interpreted as an example of the differential access to metal ornaments in the Argaric society, with copper and bronze ornaments becoming more frequent after ca. 1800 BC (Murillo-Barroso and Montero-Ruiz 2017). This change in essential social customs further support the emergence of a new social order, dominated by a form of power within the first stages of a state organisation (Risch et al. 2015).
El Argar achieved a dominant position over resources and communication routes including neighbouring societies, as reflected in a preference for settlements on protected promontories, a socially selective burial ritual within the living space, and the movement of important raw materials like copper, silver, or ivory. Hilltop settlements are usually smaller than 0.5 ha, with a demographic density estimated as similar to El Argar settlements. These settlements share the use of plain pottery, as well as individual graves under some of the dwellings, with no apparent restrictions of sex or age (Risch et al. 2015).
It seems that the new system brought about a stabilisation of settlements and a subsequent increase in population and production. Argaric-like groups dominated over centres of communal storage and production, starting what seems a violent expansion ca. 2150–1900 BC into neighbouring regions—including La Mancha, the east coast, and western Andalucia—which do not display a comparable degree of social exploitation as the core regions. Smaller groups expanded further ca. 1700–1500 BC, northward to Valencia and eastward into the Guadalquivir River region, where they tried to impose their funerary practices and political relations (Figure 52), without attaining the intensity or stability of El Argar core territory (Lull, Micó, Herrada, et al. 2013).
The late Argaric subsistence production was dominated by extensive barley cultivation, which had a severe environmental impact in the most arid region of the Iberian Peninsula. Due to the dependence on such poor-quality crops, access to animal fat and honey became crucial, with evidence showing elites consuming this kind of high energy foods, e.g. through the separation of honey from beeswax through “pressed honey” method, using specialised tools made for this task (Ache et al. 2017).
The economic and social hegemony of El Argar ended ca. 1550 BC, apparently by internal forces, as suggested by the suppression of its ideological superstructure—end of traditional funerary practices—and its economic system, probably because of a subsistence crisis caused by the over-exploitation of the environment. In the southern peninsula, ca. 50% of upland settlements were abandoned. Post-Argaric societies tried to maintain a vertical system of production but on a local scale, returning to systems of self-sufficiency, with regionally diverse stockbreeding, agriculture, and metallurgy. Specialised workshops for cereals and textiles disappear, and pottery copies decorative motifs originally from Cogotas I style. There are some traces of regional centres of power with local, perhaps hereditary aristocracy, controlling interregional communication and centralising surpluses (Lull, Micó, Herrada, et al. 2013).
After the Late Bronze Age, most settlements were abandoned, and small settlements—some on hilltops—comprising huts with oval bases made of stone or mud-brick are found, with evidence supporting that they were specialised in stockbreeding. Eventually, near the 1st millennium BC, new hilltop centres appear, or existing settlements were reorganised, which evidence the emergence of specialised metallurgy. The south-western corner becomes a producer and consumer of Atlantic metals and metals from Sierra Morena, and possibly Sardinia (Lull, Micó, Herrada, et al. 2013).
Figure 52. Settlement patterns in Iberia between c. 2200 and 1550 BC. Symbols simulate the form and density of settlement based on information derived from survey and excavation rather than indicating real locations. Notice, around the Argaric influence territory, the higher density of hilltop settlements (black triangles) and fortified settlements (blank triangles). Map by S. Gill and Lull, Micó, Herrada, et al. (2013).
Diverse pre-Beaker traditions overlapped in the north-western Mediterranean region, such as the Treïlles (3300–2800 BC) and the Véraza groups (3500–2500 BC). Lowland pit sites and cave occupations were common, and semi-nomadic farming was the main subsistence economy. There is no evidence of local metallurgy. During the Bell Beaker phase, Old Neolithic monuments were still reused; selected dead were interred with standardised mortuary assemblages in pits adapted for the purpose or individual cists (either laid flat, semi-flexed, or in very contracted positions), as well as hypogea, or caves. The first gold and copper smelting appear in the region, mainly found in funerary contexts, with its technology disconnected from the Iberian tradition. The chaînes operatoires and products on both sides of the Pyrenees—including Catalonia, Provence, Languedoc, and north-eastern Italy—were thus strikingly similar, with comparable atypical chemical compositions and characteristic metallic types, such as biconvex gold beads, copper tanged daggers, and breastplates (Blanco-González et al. 2018).
To the south-west, in the Middle Ebro basin, Chalcolithic groups show tumuli, multiple burial bits, megaliths, and natural caves, some later reused during the Bell Beaker phase, with settlements showing huts delimited by postholes, and elongated dug-out hearths. In Valencia, preferences continue since the Neolithic, with ditched enclosures and upland prominent sites. Burial practices show continued inhumations in pits and in caves. The Epi-Bell Beaker or late Bell Beaker fineware marks the onset of the Bronze Age ca. 2250 BC in the region. It is represented by the Arbolí, consisting of bowls with incised and impressed motifs (swags, garlands, suns, etc.), stemming from the south of the Pyrenees and reaching the Cantabrian fringe, the upper Duero, and Alicante to the south. In the other direction, twin-bodied vessels expand from Valencia to the upper Ebro ca. 1900 BC (Blanco-González et al. 2018).
Metallurgy gains in importance, with the first bronze alloys concentrated in the Ebro / south Pyrenees area, and intense exchange networks are kept in the east Mediterranean, between groups belonging to Polada, Terramare, Únětice, and Rhône Basin Cultures, characterised by the production of polypod vases. Around 1600 BC, metallurgy had acquired social esteem akin to the Bell Beaker period, within a context of increasing social asymmetry evidenced by burials of metalworkers, although metallurgy is weakened in comparison with western and central European centres. There is an increase in agrarian production and sedentarisation, but mortuary customs continue to be—as in the Chalcolithic—highly varied, with cavities, orthostatic chambers and galleries, reused rock-cut caves or hypogea, and burials made in pits (Blanco-González et al. 2018).
This period ends with the start of the Late Bronze Age ca. 1600/1500 BC, coinciding with the appearance of the earliest Urnfield groups south of the Pyrenees, known as the Segre–Cinca I group (ca. 1650–1300 BC), showing contacts between Iberia and central Europe. It is associated with carinated button-handled vessels, akin to Italian Polada examples. Rectangular dwellings with stone foundations and the use of pottery vessels with fluted decoration (linked to the emergence of the funerary phenomenon of the Urnfields) buried in a pit along with grave goods in a pit, sometimes marked on the surface. Although this practice is found scattered in northern Portugal and the south-east, the greater density of graves in the north-east suggests that new populations may have crossed the Pyrenees bringing the Hallstatt culture, although certain previous forms of settlement and burial ritual remain (Lull, Micó, Herrada, et al. 2013). Reaching up to the Middle Ebro and Aragon, open-air nucleated sites become more frequent and stable. (Blanco-González et al. 2018).
Regions neighbouring north-east Iberia show different developments. In southern France, the funerary use of caves continues throughout the Bronze Age, with inhumations and cremations showing a more or less structure deposition, and collective family graves being also common, including small funeral monuments (mounds and/or enclosures). The Mailhacien culture shows huge cremation cemeteries. In east Iberia, however, the Bronce Mediterráneo or Iberian-Valencian Bronze Age from ca. 2200–1800 BC shows new upland permanent settlements, often fortified, probably due to the Argaric influence. Villages show rectangular dwellings with stony foundations; inhumations with burial furnishings (intramural and extramural), including dismembered human remains; agriculture with a focus on cereals and using irrigation; and an increase in settlements and human activity up to 1600 BC (Blanco-González et al. 2018). The influence of Post-Argaric settlements increases then to the north (see §VIII.3.1. El Argar).
The first phase of colonisation of the Balearic Islands started in Majorca ca. 2400–2300 BC, with populations probably from the north-western Mediterranean arc, judging by the affinities of its late Bell Beaker tradition with the Pyrenean style of north-eastern Iberia, Roussillon and Languedoc. Caves and rock shelters were used as settlements and occasionally as burial sites, and huts on open-air settlements were the most common construction. Settlements were occupied seasonally, and its subsistence economy was probably based on animal herding and slash–and–burn agriculture. Continuity with Iberian Bell Beakers is observed in pottery shapes (especially the typical Bell Beaker Begleitkeramik), bone manufacture, and funerary rites (Lull, Micó, Rihuete Herrada, et al. 2013).
During the next colonisation phase ca. 2100–1600 BC, the Epi-Bell Beaker–Dolmen archaeological group reaches Menorca and the Pine Islands. Settlements follow a similar pattern, with material culture showing pottery decorated with incised designs related to Bell Beaker style, hence ‘Epi-Bell Beaker’. The most striking change is perceived in funerary contexts, where new kinds of tombs are used: it starts with hypogea with a single circular or oval chamber, provided with a megalithic entrance, similar to Catalan late Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age examples. Dolmens—similar to megalithic tombs in Languedoc—follow in the 19th century BC, with monuments facing west and south-west. This orientation is prevalent in monuments in Languedoc and Provence, in contrast to neighbouring regions, where monuments face south or south-east. Grave goods are scarce and are composed mainly of objects of everyday use, and human remains show no apparent pattern (Lull, Micó, Rihuete Herrada, et al. 2013).
All this data point to long-lasting contacts of the Pyrenées–Languedoc societies—of north-east Catalonia and much of Mediterranean France—with populations that settled the Balearic Islands (Sureda 2018). It is believed that advances in technology, such as production of food and metallurgy, allowed for the permanent settlement of the islands. Social violence and demographic pressure in the mainland may have been the triggering factor for the development of a safer, distant community, which is supported by the scarcity of fortifications, preference for lowland locations, absence of specialised weapons, and predominance of collective burial rites, as well as absence of gold and silver ornaments (Lull, Micó, Rihuete Herrada, et al. 2013).
The Naviform group (ca. 1600–1100 BC) is characterised by the emergence of large buildings with an elongated floor plan and Cyclopean stone walls, used for craft production, showing a moderate division of labour between buildings. This architecture coincides with the abandonment of natural caves and the appearance of new types of funerary structures alongside the previous types, with communal tombs reflecting autonomous social units. In its late phase, more diversity in the naviform pattern is seen, as well as growing relevance of bronze working and agriculture within their subsistence economy (Lull, Micó, Rihuete Herrada, et al. 2013).
The Proto-Talayotic period (ca. 1100–850 BC) represents the end of the naviform society, with settlements organised in compact urban areas, organised around a large, tall stone building possibly ancestral to the talaiots. Collective funerary practices continued the use of natural caves and funerary structures like hypogea, but also saw the emergence of the navetas, large stone buildings with a circular or apse-shaped plan, tombs used for the burials of up to hundreds of bodies. Grave goods become more numerous and varied, a feature shared across the islands. This unity comes to an end with the Talaiotic period, where the construction of compact settlements or talaiots represent the affirmation of the community rather than the celebration of the past and the ancestors at a distance from the settlements (Lull, Micó, Rihuete Herrada, et al. 2013).
The Chalcolithic culture of Monte Carlo covers the whole island during the 3rd millennium BC, with an economy based on agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and trading with the central Mediterranean. The appearance and wide diffusion of the Bell Beaker pottery coincides with the Bonnanaro culture or Corona Moltana tradition (ca. 2200–1900 BC), and the appearance of thousands of Domus de Janas (‘House of the Fairies / Witches’). Burial rituals involve monumental tombs, also with reused anthropomorphic menhirs; appearance of metal; and small number of settlements, possibly small farms over wide areas (Lo Schiavo 2013). Small, self-sufficient and autonomous groups probably dispersed throughout the territory to form single village groupings, organised along lines of kinship (Perra 2009).
In the second phase of the EBA, the limited expansion of S. Iroxi tradition evidences cultural contacts with Iberia, and especially El Argar, as seen in sword shapes, although the copper used for manufacture is local. Pottery is scarce, and settlements are unknown, but there is an explosion of local metallurgical production. There is some cultural continuity with the Nuragic period, represented strongly by the large flanged axes, very similar to a type found in the Lazio area. The shape does not change in Sardinia, though, contrary to the evolution on the mainland, which probably indicates the independent development on the island. The Sa Turricula culture shows renewed contacts with the Italian peninsula at the end of the EBA and beginning of the MBA (Lo Schiavo 2013).
The characteristic ‘corridor nuraghi’ or ‘proto-nuraghi’ and tholos nuraghi, together with villages, and the characteristic collective burials—and eventually worship places—called ‘Giant’s tombs’, appear first, concentrated in the central and northern parts of the island, used as territorial markers. Metope patterns in pottery appearing slightly later. This society is interpreted as evolving from kinship-based during the previous period to communal-based, where there is a concentrated, common effort to erect great monuments in dominant positions, and there is an obvious spread of settlement nuclei (Lo Schiavo 2013).
Figure 53. Left: Nuragic density in Sardinia, from Wikipedia based on data from Kriek (2003). Right: Nuraghe, Sardinia 1600 BC. Design by Kenny Arne Lang Antonsen and Jimmy John Antonsen. From Wikipedia.
Eventually, the nuraghi evolve into a golden age within the MBA–FBA transition, with complex architecture showing multi-towered, polylobate, regular or irregular structures with stone enclosures and bastions. This needed a concentrated, communal local effort, where size, number and complexity of constructions were probably considered status symbols, showing an inherited awareness of earlier kinship tradition. Based on the expansion of monumental constructions, local communities seem to unify under a centralised power (Figure 53). The building technique and structure of tombs change into ‘isodomic’ constructions (in regular layers), also rising in complexity, although they remain large chambers for collective burials. Metallurgical production seems to also benefit from the new organisation. Storage silos are built inside the nuraghi, and advanced cultivation of cereals seem to have been the main subsistence economy. Characteristic ‘Nuragic grey’ pottery appears associated with Mycenaean pottery, and spreads through central-southern Sardinia. However, differences in pottery seem to reflect local productions, since the Nuragic Civilisation is homogenous throughout the island (Lo Schiavo 2013).
At the transition of the EBA – Early Iron Age (from ca. 11th century BC), the traditionally close connections with the Cypriot and the Agean world during the MBA shift again to the Iberian Peninsula. Territorial systems enlarge, and the ritual or religious dimension—reflected in the increasingly religious nature of the nuraghi—is used as means of expression and overcoming conflicts, reaffirming social unity, and legitimising the power of emerging groups (Perra 2009).
The funerary practice of individual inhumations in cist graves with grave goods, and shaft tombs with grave goods, begin to appear. This is probably connected with Phoenicians, Semitic peoples settling in the island and circulating copper in the form of oxhide ingots through Mediterranean routes. Contacts across the Tyrrhenian Sea with peninsular Italy intensify, strengthening their relationship, as evidenced in written sources with interconnected genealogies, mythologies, and common designations (Lo Schiavo 2013).
Bell Beaker samples from south-eastern France, from Haute-Savoie (ca. 2300 BC), of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a-L151, and Le Lauzet–Ubaye (ca. 2050 BC), of hg. R1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2, show Steppe ancestry (50%) apart from France Middle Neolithic ancestry, indicating the presence of East Bell Beaker migrants (Olalde et al. 2018).
In Iberia, there are clear north–south and west–east clines of Central European ancestry in Iberia, with the highest values attested in the centre and north-west (around 65% to 90%), with slightly less and more variable reach in early samples from the south-west (ca. 16% to 61%), while samples from the north-east (ca. 30% to 50%) and especially the south-east around El Argar (ca. 20 to 35%) show lower values. The dates for samples with Steppe ancestry, appearing earlier in the Meseta, are also compatible with different waves that reached each region at a different pace, probably allowing for the survival of local languages in the most distant and isolated southern regions.
Early Bell Beakers from Cerdanyola, north-east Iberia (ca. 2800–2300 BC) show no Steppe ancestry and typical Neolithic haplogroups, among them one I2a1b-M436, three R1b1b-V88 (shared with earlier north-east Iberians and Sardinians), and two G2-P287. This is compatible with a late expansion of East Bell Beakers of R1b1a1b1-L23 lineages, which did eventually replace all indigenous male lines of Iberia after ca. 2000 BC. Among Bronze Age samples from the north-east (ca. 2000–1400 BC), all showing Steppe ancestry (ca. 30–50%), the four reported Y-chromosome haplogroups are R1b1a1b1a1a-L151, at least two of them R1b1a1b1a1a2a1-Z195 (Olalde et al. 2019).
The archaeological connection of Bell Beakers from the north-west Mediterranean (north-east Iberians and groups from southern France) with north Italian Bell Beakers is also supported by the expansion of R1b1a1b1a1a2b-U152 (xR1b1a1b1a1a2b1-L2) lineages, present today in west and north-west Italy, and by the expansion of R1b1a1b1a1a2a-DF27 lineages in France and (with subsequent bottlenecks) south of the Pyrenées.
Subclades particularly associated with Iberia include the consecutive subclades R1b1a1b1a1a2a1a-Z272 (TMRCA ca. 2300 BC) and R1b1a1b1a1a2a1b-Z198 (TMRCA ca. 2700 BC), both peaking in modern eastern Iberian populations (Solé-Morata et al. 2017). Later expansions of these haplogroups to the south with the Reconquista and repeopling of east and south-east Iberia by the north-eastern Iberian kingdoms do not let us reconstruct their ancient distribution without a proper sampling of ancient populations.
Ligurian is a fragmentary Indo-European language spoken in southern France and north-eastern Italy during the Iron Age. Little is known of the language, with certain phonological traits placing it likely outside the Italic or Celtic branches (Prósper 2017), but nevertheless more closely related to them than to other North-West Indo-European dialects. The Apuani tribe, bordering Etruria during Roman times, show half of the reported Y-DNA of R1b1a1b1a1a2b3-Z56 lineages.
Ligurian is probably the most closely related language to the ancestral Indo-European dialects spread with East Bell Beakers through ancient Liguria and north-eastern Iberia, as well as (probably) the Balearic Islands and Corsica, before the expansion of Iberian languages from south-east Iberia. The Pre-Celtic Sorothaptic language, believed to be behind certain toponyms and inscriptions around the Pyrenees (Coromines 1976), was therefore probably closely related to Ligurian.
Early samples from south-eastern Iberia also show no incursion of Steppe ancestry and continuity with Chalcolithic lineages, one non-I-M170 and two I-M170, at least one of them I2a1a2-M423. Similar to the north-east, Bronze Age samples (ca. 2100–1000 BC) show Steppe ancestry, with those from El Argar in Cabezo Redondo and Pirulejo (ca. 2000–1500 BC) showing less Steppe ancestry (ca. 20–35%) than those on the periphery, most likely also connected to the culture (ca. 23–45%). There are at least eight R1b1a1b1a1a-L151 over nine reported haplogroups, among them one from Coveta del Frare (ca. 1840 BC) is positive for SNPs ZZ12+ and BY3332+ (Valdiosera et al. 2018; Olalde et al. 2019), confirms the expansion of this haplogroup also in the culture that most likely expanded Iberian languages to the north and west.
The expansion of East Bell Beakers in Iberia seems thus to have reached thus later south-eastern Iberia, with El Argar culture being preceded by a break in Chalcolithic cultural traditions, suggesting an upheaval of existing social structures or an influx of groups that cannot be distinguished from the local population at the present of genetic resolution, e.g. from south-eastern Europe (Szecsenyi-Nagy et al. 2017), possibly in part as a reaction to the spread of the Bell Beaker culture. The infiltration of Bell Beaker lineages, probably through exogamy among established chiefs of El Argar, must have led to the evident language shift in spite of the successful expansion of Yamna male lines over the indigenous ones, since ancient non-Indo-European speakers were genetically similar to Indo-European speakers (Olalde et al. 2019).
Nevertheless, one sample from Covacha del Ángel in southern Iberia (ca. 1700 BC), without clear archaeological context, shows a typical Neolithic haplogroup G2a2b2a1a1b-Z738 (formed ca. 8700 BC, TMRCA ca. 5200 BC), reported as xCTS4703 (González-Fortes et al. 2019), hence from an upper clade of a lineage widely distributed in modern European samples, which may be alternatively interpreted as a resurgence of a local population, or alternatively a haplogroup incorporated during the expansion of Central European Bell Beakers.
Proto-Iberian, probably surviving only in El Argar ca. 2000 BC, must have spread with this culture’s early expansion to the west into Andalusia, to the north-west into the Meseta, and to the north into the Valencian Region, possibly representing eventually the most densely populated areas of Iberia during the Bronze Age, with the lesser proportion of Steppe ancestry being another clear data further supporting the gradual southward expansion of North-West Indo-European-speaking Bell Beakers that must have left a clear opportunity for local groups to thrive (Olalde et al. 2019).
The arrival of Celts with the Urnfield culture and their occupation of the south Pyrenees and the Meseta (see below §viii.6. Celts), with language change reaching up to south-west Iberia, must have caused population movements in the east, with Iberian-speaking populations retreating to the coast and possibly expanding slightly later to the north along the coast, replacing or displacing Ligurian-like speakers to their proto-historical territory. The arrival of Phoenician and Greek settlers, with increased trade and probably renewed demographic pressure (Matisoo-Smith et al. 2018; Zalloua et al. 2018), may have caused their expansion to inner territories again.
Iron Age samples from Iberians in north-east Spain show a variable increase of CEU BBC ancestry (32–98%) related to the previous period, with an increase related to the contribution of ‘foreign’ sources (from central European groups) shared with Celtiberian samples, although such contribution found in Iberians (ca. 18%) is lower than the one found in Celtiberians (ca. 35%), compared to the contribution of Bronze Age Iberian sources (Olalde et al. 2019). This increased ancestry found in Pre-Iberian and Iberian samples after the Urnfield period likely reveals the expansion of Iberian-speaking groups and Iberian languages over previous Celtic-speaking areas in north-eastern Spain and south-eastern France.
Figure 54. Inscriptions in Iberia ca. 2nd–1st c. BC. Purple squares show Celtiberian inscriptions, blue circles show Iberian inscriptions. Image modified from Hesperia – Banco de datos de lenguas paleohispánicas.
The first Balearic settlers of the Early Bronze Age, represented by an individual from Mallorca (ca. 2400-2300 BC) had substantial Steppe ancestry (ca. 37%), with the closest source being Iberian Bell Beaker individuals of high Steppe ancestry, hence likely from a north-western Mediterranean source. Two later individuals from the Middle Bronze Age show lower Steppe-related ancestry in Menorca (ca. 23%) and Formentera (ca. 26%). The source of this increase in indigenous ancestry may be linked to both Iberia Chalcolithic and Sardinia Nuragic ancestry, although the mtDNA haplogroup U5b1 found in the Menorca MBA sample is observed in multiple Iberia Chalcolithic individuals, but not in Sardinia. This may suggest that both Talaiotic peoples from the Balearic Islands and the ancestors of Nuragic Sardinians received gene flow from an unsampled Iberian Chalcolithic-related group (Fernandes et al. 2019).
The expansion or resurgence of Iberian languages in the west Mediterranean islands may be thus related to the appearance of megalithic structures, as a sign of resurging pre-Beaker customs (possibly under the influence of eastern Iberia), such as talaiots in the Balearic Islands, the nuraghi in Sardinia, and the torri from southern Corsica (Ugas 2005). While Iberian languages are attested in the Balearic Islands in proto-historic times, the relation of Iberian (and Basque) with the described Paleosardo substrate of Sardinian languages (Blasco Ferrer 2010) remains a controversial linguistic topic, and their shared connection may be much older.
The modern population of Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands, shows a split from the mainland parallel to the divergence of Sardinia from mainland Italy, and a distance from modern Basques similar to that of modern Sardinians. This is not related to the Phoenician expansion, since their ancestry is not continuous with an ancient sample from Ca’s Molí (ca. 260 BC), which can be modelled as an admixture of NWAN (ca. 19%) with Morocco Neolithic ancestry (ca. 81%), suggesting a recent Punic origin. Their modern Ibizan ancestry can therefore be explained by the consanguineous unions in the Island since the Catalan repopulation of the 13th century, and its population decline in the Middle Ages (Biagini et al. 2019). It probably reflects thus an ancient situation in north-east Iberia coupled with genetic drift.
Ancient Sardinian individuals sit between early Neolithic Iberian and later Copper Age Iberian populations, roughly on an axis that differentiates WHG and EEF populations and embedded in a cluster that additionally includes Neolithic British individual. The most shared genetic drift of ancient Sardinians is found with Copper Age Iberia, while southern French Neolithic individuals are the most consistent with being a single source for Neolithic Sardinia (Marcus et al. 2019). In fact, ancient Sardinians harbour HG ancestry (ca. 17%) that is higher than early Neolithic mainland populations (including Iberia, ca. 8%), but lower than Copper Age Iberians (ca. 25%) and about the same as Southern French Middle-Neolithic individuals (ca. 21%).
It is not possible to reject major genetic continuity of the Neolithic population in Sardinia into the Bronze Age and Nuragic times, with a WHG proportion remaining stable (ca. 17%) throughout the three ancient time-periods. No haplogroups are reported before the Early Bronze Age, but from the late 4th millennium BC until the Nuragic period there are probably seven R1b1b-V88 samples, two G2a2a1a2a1a-L166, as well as six I2-M438 lineages shared with Neolithic and Chalcolithic populations from Iberia and the British Isles: five I2a1a2a-L161 and one I2a1a1-M26 (Marcus et al. 2019).
In samples attributed to the Nuragic period (ca. 2100–950 BC), there are seven R1b1b-V88, two I2a1a2a-L161, four G2a2a1a2a1a-L166, apart from four J2b2a1-L283, which may also be interpreted as remnants of the Neolithic expansion through the Mediterranean (Fernandes et al. 2019). The survival of I2a1a1-M423 lineages among modern Sardinians (ca. 39%) supports the continuity of this haplogroup during the Nuragic period, too (Chiang et al. 2018).
An Iron Age sample (ca. 300 BC) shows evidence of Iranian-related ancestry, which may be interpreted from the chronologically closest populations as Iberia Chalcolithic (ca. 12%) and Mycenaean ancestry (ca. 88%), with little if any ancestry from earlier Sardinians. This outlier and Late Antiquity samples from the south-east (AD 200–700), showing even higher Iranian farmer-related ancestry, are consistent with the genetic impact of Phoenician colonies in Sardinia. One of these samples (ca. AD 450) shows the first evidence of Steppe-related ancestry in Sardinia(Fernandes et al. 2019).
A connection of Paleosardo with a Basque-Iberian community may be supported thus by the survival of Neolithic farmer and pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherer ancestry in ancient Sardinians, also distinguished in modern Sardinians and shared particularly with modern Basques (Terradas et al. 2014), especially in samples from isolated populations of central and eastern regions (Chiang et al. 2018). Similarly, the presence of elevated WHG ancestry in modern southern Italian clusters (Raveane et al. 2018) supports an ancestral connection with Iron Age Basques, as remnant populations of Early European Farmers associated with Cardial pottery.
In light of the potential recent contacts between Sardinia and the north-west Mediterranean mainland, and with the Balearic Islands in particular, it is unclear if similarities of Paleosardo with Basque-Iberian languages are due to the Early Neolithic expansion or to a more recent connection, such as Middle or Late Neolithic population movements.
The presence of G2a2a1a2-L91 lineages (ca. 11.3% in Corsica, especially in the south) and G2a2a-PF3147 (xL91, xM286) subclades in present-day southern Corsica and Sardinia, apart from Tuscany (Di Cristofaro et al. 2018), may support the survival or resurgence of ancestral populations after the arrival of Bell Beakers, potentially accompanied by language replacement. More recent contacts of El Argar with Sardinia and Corsica, sharing related languages, may have allowed for the diffusion of common innovations among related cultures, even if the communities had separated much earlier. The analysis of modern mtDNA shows the typical variation of maternal haplogroups, although, interestingly, some modern subclades seem to coincide in their estimates with sampled Sardinian Bell Beaker mitogenomes (so e.g. HV0j, H3u2, K1a32, or U5b2b5), which points to the arrival of the culture as an inflection point in the genetic history of the island (Olivieri et al. 2017).
The arrival of J2a1b-M67(xM92)—a haplogroup associated with Anatolian Neolithic populations—in Sardinia, Corsica, Tuscany, and Provence (Di Cristofaro et al. 2018), may be related to Tyrsenian expansion, which has been related to the emergence of the Iolaei in the island (Ugas 2005), but also to more recent expansions of Greek or Roman settlers. Similarly, the appearance of J2a1-L26 lineages in eastern Iberia, and particularly J2a1d-M319 (found previously in Minoan samples), should probably be associated with Greek settlers, while the expansion of E1b1b1a1b1a-V13 (formed ca. 6100 BC, TMRCA ca. 2800 BC) in Sardinia and Iberia, as well as in Corsica, may be related to the Phoenician and Carthaginian occupations (Matisoo-Smith et al. 2018), possibly related to the increased sub-Saharan admixture observed in Sardinia (Chiang et al. 2018).