It was during the summer of 1916 when Barandiarán made progress with his investigations definitively. Together with a neighbour from S. Gregorio, he climbed the rock of Jentilbaratza, where he discovered a medieval castle mentioned in Ataun by Jiménez de Rada. This castle was believed to be situated, according to Gorosabel, in the urban part of S. Gregorio.
The exploration of Jentilbaratza led to more important findings for the future investigations of José Miguel. The man who went with him to Jentilbaratza and saw him digging there, talked to him about the "Jentiles" and told him that he already knew where the last members of this race were buried and that if he wished so, he would take him to that place, located in Aralar. José Miguel was very interested and they decided to meet the next day and go to the place mentioned.
The day of the meeting, the assistant of the previous day did not appear and José Miguel went by himself to the Sierra. After a long walk, he sat on a big stone slab in a place called Argarbi. Under his feet, there was a mole hole where he discovered a fragment of a human jaw. He got up and looking round, saw a boy and asked him whether he knew anything about the "Jentiles". The boy told him the legend that explains the destruction of this race when the Kismi arrived. This legend tells of the introduction of Christianity in the Country and the disappearance of the Jentils under the stone slab called Jentillarri.
José Miguel found 9 tombstones near that place and sent a note about his finding to the magazine "Euskalerriaren alde" of San Sebastián. When he saw this publication, PM. De Soraluce, Director of the Ethnographic Museum of San Sebastián, wrote to the young Barandiarán and told him that those tombstones were prehistoric dolmens, unknown as such until that date. He added that precisely during that time, Prof. T. De Aranzadi, native of Bergara and Professor at the University of Barcelona, was excavating similar monuments in the Navarrese Aralar and that he should get in touch with him.
José Miguel wrote to Prof. Aranzadi, who answered him suggesting the excavation of those monuments and mentioning that he should get in touch with Prof. E. De Eguren, native of Vitoria and Professor of Geology at the University of Oviedo, who could join them in research.
That Christmas, José Miguel got in touch with Eguren and they planned to explore the zone at the beginning of the following summer (1917). That year, in summer, José Miguel and D.T. de Aranzadi met each other and carried out, together with Eguren, the first group of excavations and research in the dolmens of the Aralar in Guipúzcoa.
The prehistoric research team Aranzadi-Barandiarán-Eguren, which carried out so much exploration, excavations and research during the next 20 years, until they separated because of the 1936 War, was formed thus.
José Miguel used to say that that first research was a decisive stage in his life. He always recalled very vividly their first excursion to the tombs as filled with emotion; they were entering an unexplored world, from which they only knew some mysterious legends, about just as mysterious men.
At the beginning of the 1917-1918 term, José Miguel delivered the inaugural speech, using as his subject the Basque Prehistory. Father Breuil, head pontiff of the world Prehistory at that time and who had been in the caves of Aitzbitarte in Landabarso, heard about that speech thanks to Soraluce. Breuil wrote to Barandiarán telling him about these caves and breaking new ground in the international scientific forum. A few years later, in 1923 and
We could say that in 1916, the year in which the Aranzadi-Barandiarán-Eguren team takes shape, the research concerning the Basque Prehistory reaches a new stage. The work carried out before that date had been the work of amateurs. With this team, this research reached a scientific level.
The result of this improvement, was the systematic excavations carried out in caves and megalithic monuments throughout the whole Country:
Biscay: Santimami–e, Lumentxa, Venta Laperra, Bolinkoba, Atxurra, Silibranca
Guipúzcoa: Urtiaga, Ermittia, Jentilletxeta
Alava: Artificial caves of Trevi–o
Guipúzcoa: Aralar, Elosua-Plazentzia, AtaunBurunda, Altzania, Urbia, Belabieta, Kalamua
Navarre: Auritz, Aurizperri, Gomti, Aralar, Urbasa.
After the summer excavations, the task of studying the materials found began, in order to put together the publication of the results obtained. That obliged a visit to the European museums in order to compare their own findings with others from different places. Therefore, Barandiarán visited different museums in France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria... sometimes by himself and sometimes with Aranzadi.
At the same time that the prehistoric research was being carried out, José Miguel continued with the ethnographic research. The origin of his scientific studies had not been for nothing and neither had Aranzadi's line of research.
In this field, it was a great encouragement for Barandiarán to receive a letter from W. Schmidt, founder of the international magazine on Ethnology and Linguistic "Anthropos" and soul of the Vienna Cultural School. This letter was written as a result of a work published by José Miguel in 1919 about magic. W. Schmidt asked him to become correspondent for the magazine, using some questionnaires that he would send him from Vienna.
The result of this research, were three important steps taken by José Miguel in 1921:
- On one hand, he creates the "Sociedad de Eusko Folklore", with its head office in the Seminary of Vitoria. Through this association, he tries to create a "corpus" about the Basque traditional life, with scientific rigour and avoiding the romantic element contained in many previous descriptions of this life.
- He starts the magazine "Anuario de Eusko Folklore" which, except for a period of interruption caused by the war is still published today. The magazine published the works which were created.
- He also sets up the publication "Eusko Folklore. Materiales y Cuestionarios", which covers basically the legends, traditions, beliefs, customs, religious and magic practices etc... of the Basque Country.
But suddenly, in 1924, serious difficulties to this task appeared. The difficulties had two main causes. In the first place, the studies about the Basque Country were considered as separatist policy and on the other hand, the research carried out by Barandiarán was considered as part of the "profane" Sciences. Therefore, his ecclesiastic superiors forbade him to attend the meetings of the Board of the "Sociedad de Estudios Vascos", of whom he was a member. The Rector of the Seminary himself said that the Handbooks of Eusko Folklore were "a tomfoolery". When the Diocesan Museum was about to be inaugurated in the Seminary, the Rector did not want to include as part of the collection a series of prehistoric materials belonging to José Miguel, as they were "pure nonsense".
As a result of these events, the head office of the Sociedad de Eusko Folkore had to leave the Seminary in 1925. Its new site was the School of Arts and Crafts of Vitoria where, at the same time and that same year, the Centre for Prehistoric Research of the "Sociedad de Estudios Vascos" began to function, José Miguel being its president.
As opposed to the incomprehension of his ecclesiastic superiors and certain political sectors, the research led and carried out by José Miguel obtained a growing prestige in the European Centres of ethnographic research. As a result, Barandiarán was appointed regional Patron of the Museum for the Spanish People in Madrid in 1930 and in 1934, in London, he was appointed member of the Permanent Council for the International Congresses of Anthropology and Ethnology.
Another source of criticism came from the anticlerical media, like the newspaper "El Sol" from Madrid, which criticised the works of Barandiarán and considered them to be neither objective nor reliable, as they came from a man dressed in a soutane.
However, he had the approval of a person much less suspect on the matter, Pío Baroja, who wrote a letter to Barandiarán, asking him to accept his nephew Julio Caro Baroja among the group of excavators that was going to work in the caves of Carranza. Caro Baroja says about that stay in Carranza: "While I had to bear pains in the neck and lack of enthusiasm and other similar abominations at University, Barandiarán gave us very clear and accurate ideas on the historical and cultural method, on the very recent research carried out by Malinowski, on the idea of God among the primitives, on Durkheim or Wundt's thinkin... and so, in a paleolithic cave and from the lips of a Basque catholic priest, there came more knowledge than from Madrid lecture rooms".
Meanwhile the work of the Aranzadi-Barandiarán-Eguren team continued, but not without some anecdotes worth mentioning. One day, when they came back from an excavation in Bedarona (Biscay), they ran into a beggar who was leaving the village and this woman, when she saw them, said: "In Bedarona, there is little nobility", insinuating that in that village they were not going to obtain alms.
One of the names the three members of the team were known by was "the three sad cavemen" and José Miguel used to say in this respect that it was appropriate to call them cavemen as they spent most of their lives in caves but that is was absolute false that they were sad people.
During these years, life in the Seminary suffered serious change. In 1930, the new building was opened and the teaching staff renewed. These new teachers introduced an academic life more adequate to the new times.
The following year, the Republic was founded and after that the anticlericalism, latent until that moment, became evident. As a result of the burning of convents in different parts of Spain, the rumour spread that the Seminary was going to be attacked.
Both parties clearly showed their animosity towards the Seminary. The right wingers were against it too, as they considered it a source of nationalism. Barandiarán works attracted constant criticism, as did the Cardaveraz Academy for the study and spread of Euskera and run by Mr. Manuel Lecuona.