Prepared for Patricia Hamilton by Dr. Alexis Bunten


This Heritage Cultural Tour is part of a strong family narrative I’m providing for my grandchildren, Grace and Zack McCoy.

Patricia, you have met Vi and learned that her people came from a place where the mountains met the sea, abundant in food, until warring factions generations before Vi’s birth compelled her people to cross over the mountains to find a new home.

Your ancestral journey begins in Magical Cantabria, Spain, and a lush region of Northern Spain where jagged mountains meet the sea. The genetic mutation that distinguished the women carrying the ‘V’ genetic signature took place here about 17,000 years ago. This is where your line of female ancestors began. You’ll begin by viewing the actual objects your prehistoric family would have used in their daily lives. Then you will be able to imagine these artifacts in context as you walk the sands of the beaches your ancestors walked, set foot on the mountainous steps and valleys where they hunted, and lay your head down in the caves where they slept. You cannot leave Cantabria without experiencing the vibrant Basque lifestyle of Northern Spain. Because a significant proportion of the population shares the Vi haplogroup with you, these descendants of Vi’s great grandmothers are your relatives too!

You will then follow in the footsteps of Vi’s great grandmothers and make your way to Dordogne, France, known as “the capital of prehistoric Europe.” This region, with its “milder” climate and numerous rock caves was home to Vi and her/your people during the ice age 12,000-17,000 years ago. After exploring the caves where Vi might have lived, you will try your hand at “hunting and gathering.” No trip to this part of France is complete without wine tasting and touring its famous castles. You will end your journey tasting the bounty of this incredible corner of the world by enjoying the wines and cheeses (and maybe chocolate too) that this valley has to offer.

The Magical Coast of Cantabria

You’ll begin your adventure in the region’s capital, Santander, where you will spend the morning exploring the museum of prehistory and archaeology of Cantabria.

Keepers Culture 12-18-15 Pic 1

Cantabria Spain

Your ancestor, Vi, was part of a prehistoric cultural group known as the ‘Magdalen’ people, hunter-gatherers living in Europe some 17,000-12,000 years ago. The oldest material remains of Magdalenian people were found in this region of Spain, and the most spectacular archaeological finds tied to the Magdalenian people, your ancestors, are on display here. As you view artistic carvings on bone and horn, everyday utensils, and well-known ceremonial staff found in caves scattered across the region, take a moment to meditate on them. These were the very items your ancestors needed to hunt, eat, and pray.


Langre Beach, CantabriaThe soft, golden sands of Langre Beach, in Cantabria, Spain was probably well known to some of Europe’s earliest human inhabitants

Spend the rest of your day exploring the beach, which some travel experts consider the best beaches in all of Spain. While you enjoy the sand and surf, think about your prehistoric ancestors, who would have wintered at these or nearby beaches. Make sure you take time to look for shells, which were very special to your prehistoric relatives for making tools, trade, and ritual. We recommend you order a simple seafood meal to end the day. That’s what your ancestors would have eaten here too!

Ancient Iberian Caves

Your journey brings you inland from the coast, past rolling pastures, and beech forests to a river valley flanked by steep limestone cliffs and dotted with caves. As you arrive in the tiny hamlet, Ramales de Victoria, population 2500, you might come closest to the present day settlement to where your first female ancestors in the V line lived.

Here, you can take a tour to visit Cueva Covalanas, a massive cave, where your ancestors might have lived together, and produced some of the first art made by modern humans.

Keepers Culture 12-18-15 Pic 2Mysterious prehistoric art flanks the walls of Cueva Covalanas

Most “life” was packed into Southern Europe at the time of Vi and her/your Iberian ancestors. The Magdalenian culture group moved did not stay in one place. These hunter-gatherers were nomadic, and archaeological evidence points to a large trade route of peoples across Northern Spain, into France and Central Europe. When they decided to leave this place, your ancestors might have passed through this very cave as they migrated to Southern France. In the summer, nomadic bands would have come here on their way to hunt red deer herds in the high-altitude grassy plains.

If you are feeling more adventurous, then you must make a pilgrimage to El Miron Cave, an active archeological site where an 18,500 year old burial of a woman was found. Archaeologists refer to her as the “lady in red” as her remains were found ritually stained sparkling red with a mix of red ochre and hematite crystal, the same pigment often used in cave paintings. Her final resting place was under a large rock engraved with straight lines that formed a ‘V’ design that archaeologists speculate represents the female pubic triangle. The lady in red was between 35-40 when she was buried, and would have been considered quite “mature” for her day. Forensic evidence reveals that she was a tall, healthy woman. She could be your ancestor.

Magdalenian womanReconstruction of a Magdalenian woman dressed in furs to survive the harsh ice age climate

The lady in red’s people (who are your people too) hunted ibex, fished for salmon, and ate plant foods, including seeds and mushrooms. We recommend you spend the rest of your day enjoying the nature and wildlife of the rural Spanish countryside. We think the lady in red, if she were one of your grandmothers, would like you to spend the night at a local inn, and enjoy a very hearty steak dinner.

The Heart (and Soul) of Spanish Basque Country

You will spend the day soaking up the culture in the charming city of San Sebastian. The ‘V’ Haplogroup is very rare, found only among 4% of Native Europeans, and likely originated in this part of Spain. Today, approximately 15% of the population of Cantabria shares the ‘V’ haplogroup with you. Unlike your ancestors, these are the descendants of the people that might have never left the region, and your distant relatives connected to you through an ancient, Paleolithic past.

Here, you’ll learn about the unique Basque culture through a culinary tour of the gastronomic capital of Northern Spain. “Foodies” call this place the holy grail of culinary destinations. Your day begins shopping in the bustling street markets, overflowing with farm-picked vegetables, aromatic cheeses, freshly caught fish, and meats. You might also stop in some of the city’s gourmet and spice shops. Don’t leave without picking up some Basque salt, paprika, and saffron.

You’ll join in a Txokos, dining society, where Basque cuisine has been passed down for generations amongst friends. Txokos is more than just eating. This sacred tradition brings people together to thoughtfully gather, prepare and consume local, seasonal ingredients. As you end the day, reflect upon the cave paintings you experienced whose magic enhanced the hunt, and evidence the tradition for respecting the bounties of the land and the sea that has continued here for thousands upon thousands of years.

tapasEnjoy local tapas in the place where tapas was perfected




The Valley of Menvalley of men

You will spend the second half of your journey experiencing the spectacular Dordogne region of France. It’s easy to understand why some describe this region as “quintessential” France. Today, the valley is a storybook collection of picture perfect towns situated along the Dordogne River. Rolling hills dotted with vineyards surround some of France’s finest renaissance castles and chateaux (and gardens) throughout the region.

The Vezere Valley is known as the “valley of men” where some of the earliest humans to live in Europe sought shelter in its many cave systems. When Vi lived, Western Europe was a wasteland covered with snow and ice, but the Dordogne valley permitted a thin ribbon of greenery along the riverbanks. This microclimate provided your ancestors with the wood they needed to heat their homes, as well as year round access to vegetable and roots that could be gathered. You’ll begin to get a more intimate sense of the land that Vi would have known so well on board a short cruise down the Dordogne River.

Vi and her/your people preferred the safety of the many rock shelters within the massive cave system that was their home during the ice age. Here, you will witness the most famous cave art in the world, more than likely made by your Magdalenian ancestors. The range of art depicting animals, and hunting suggests that they may have had an animistic spiritual tradition. You will visit one of the few spectacular cave art sites still open to the public, Font de Gaume, in the Vezere Valley. The depictions of mammoths that this cave is known for may have been painted to call forth magic to help in the hunt. Mammoth meat, skin, bones and antlers could supply all the food and the clothing they needed, as well as the raw materials for tools and weapons.

cro-magnon peopleDepiction of Cro-Magnon people (men and/or women) painting mammoths in Font de Gaume cave, by Charles R. Knight

Hunting and Gathering

According to archaeological evidence, your ancestors did not survive on meat alone. This region was somewhat of a “caveman paradise.” Different kinds of greens, herbs, and mushrooms rounded out the Magdalenian diet. You are going to do your own hunting and gathering with a pig and guide, in search of the black truffles this region is known for. Enjoy a real “French” gourmet meal prepared by a local chef in the evening.

truffle huntingTruffle Hunting in the Dordogne Region of France

Quintessential Dordogne

No trip to this part of France is complete without spending a day touring the countryside and visiting one of the many local chateaus. You’ll finish your adventure tracing your ancestors’ footsteps on a regional tour. As you speak with local farmers and vintners, you will learn about their special relationship to this place, and along the way, gain a deeply personal appreciation of the land that was home to your ancestors.

You will also visit Château de Beynac, one of the best-preserved castles in the region. In addition to giving you a hands on feel for life in medieval France, this castle has served as the backdrop of many films, including the charming 2000 romantic “foodie” favorite, Chocolat, starring Johnny Dep and Juliette Binoche.


dordogne chateauxPicture perfect, Dordogne Chateaux de Baynac

17,000 years ago–through the ages–to present day

Patricia, this tour is one of several that we will personalize for you. When your family tree genealogy, which has been traced back through several generations, is combined with genetic information we will provide, which we have traced forward from these ancient roots, you will have a linear accounting of details of family life about your most distant relatives through the centuries to yourself: from northern Spain through France, to northern Europe, across to North America, from east to west coasts, to you, here today in Pacific Grove, California.


alexisfamilyAlexis Bunten and Siamak Naficy are Ph.D. anthropologists who have partnered to offer interpretive services to help people to understand their lives, and their legacy, in relation to the past. Dr. Bunten is an expert in cultural travel, who creates customized tours designed to enrich peoples’ understanding of their deeply personal connections to place.

The information presented here is for edutainment purposes and copyright of Alexis Bunten and Siamak Naficy. No part of the text or information presented in this blog may be reproduced without the written permission of the authors.