Science

Most Vikings WEREN’T blond after all: New Danish research debunks popular myth

Most Vikings WEREN’T blond after all: New Danish research debunks popular myth”

Collard is a member of an worldwide team of researchers that has just published the results of the world's largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons, in this week's edition of Nature. In response, stories about mighty, blonde and uniquely Scandinavian Vikings who sailed out and conquered the world became increasingly popular.

According to Kasper Andersen, a historian at Moesgaard Museum who is an expert in the Viking ethnicity and identity, this fits well with written sources that cite numerous examples of people from other parts of Europe taking part in the Viking raids, including Anglo-Saxons and Franks.

And if the idea of an ancient family of Viking explorers setting up a new station, or outpost, in the expanding Nordic empire isn't enough to stir one's imagination, then get this: the new genetic study revealed that relatives of this Viking family had been buried "hundreds of kilometers" distant, and the authors think this "illustrates the mobility of individuals during the Viking Age".

Early Viking Age raiding parties were an activity for locals and included close family members.

A research team led by Prof Eske Willerslev of St John's College at the University of Cambridge has published its findings to Nature on the genetic sequencing of 442 mostly Viking-era men, women, children and babies. "There was never a single unified "Viking world" and now we see that there is no single Viking genetic identity either".

"During the Viking Age, not only were the Vikings going out and spreading their genes outside Scandinavia, but also there was a significant influx from overseas", says first author Ashot Margaryan from Denmark's University of Copenhagen.

The word Viking comes from the Scandinavian term "Vikingr", which means pirate.

These were recovered from Viking cemeteries in Greenland, Ukraine, the UK, Scandinavia, Poland and Russian Federation covering the Bronze Age (about 2400 BCE) to the Early Modern period (around 1600 CE) and analysed along with data from 3855 present day and 1118 ancient individuals. 800, a few years after the earliest recorded raid, until the 1050s, a few years before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Many of these expeditions involved raiding monasteries, but Vikings also traded goods such as fur, tusks and seal fat.

"We didn't know genetically what [Vikings] actually looked like until now", Willerslev said. We found genetic differences between different Viking populations within Scandinavia which shows Viking groups in the region were far more isolated than previously believed.

But now, cutting-edge DNA analysis on archaeological remains has shed new light on the identity of Irish Vikings - and revealed that many actually had brown hair.

The team of worldwide academics sequenced the whole genomes of 442 mostly Viking Age men, women, children and babies from their teeth and petrous bones found in Viking cemeteries.

"While the "big picture" discoveries are great, I was blown away by the fact that the analyses revealed the presence of four brothers in the Estonian boat burial, and a possible nephew and uncle on either side of the North Sea".

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There wasn't a word for Scandinavia during the Viking Age - that came later.

"The Danish Vikings went to England, while the Swedish Vikings went to the Baltic and the Norwegian Vikings went to Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland", says first author Ashot Margaryan from the University of Copenhagen.

Artistic reconstruction of "Southern European" Vikings.

DNA from the Viking remains were shotgun sequenced from sites in Greenland, Ukraine, The United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Poland and Russian Federation.

From the end of the Iron Age and into the Viking Age, there was a large influx of DNA from Southern Europe and Asia. "Many Vikings have high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry, both within and outside Scandinavia, which suggest ongoing gene flow across Europe", explained study author Martin Sikora in a statement.

A female skeleton, "Kata", found at a Viking burial site in Sweden.

"Being a Viking was a culture that different people embraced".

Top image: Genes of the Vikings traced across Europe.

The study authors also found evidence of supposed Vikings with no Scandinavian genetic ancestry. "Two Orkney skeletons who were buried with Viking swords in Viking-style graves are genetically similar to present-day Irish and Scottish people". The Viking genomes allow us to disentangle how selection unfolded before, during and after the Viking movements across Europe, affecting genes associated with important traits like immunity, pigmentation and metabolism.

"Many of the myths about the Vikings were invented in the 19th century, when nationalism arose, and we began to see ourselves as Danes".

As of today, six per cent of people in the United Kingdom are predicted to have Viking DNA in their genes as compared to 10 per cent in Sweden.



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