TNB Night Owl – Viking DNA

Viking longship.
Viking longship. Image captured by the News Blender.

For many people, the mention of Vikings brings to mind a buxom blonde woman with braids, wearing a helmet adorned with bovine horns, singing a classic operatic aria. (Don’t ask me which opera, I’m not the erudite socialite you imagine.) Turns out the stereotypical blonde Viking is a myth. The average Viking had brown hair, not blonde.

During the Viking Age, which lasted about 300 years, circa A.D. 750–1050, there occurred a surprisingly widespread migration of populations. New DNA research shows that; Danish Vikings relocated to England in large numbers, Swedish Vikings expanded into Baltic regions, and Norwegian Vikings colonized Iceland, Greenland, and Ireland.

The results of a six year study, entitled, “Population genomics of the Viking world”, were published September 16, 2020, in the science journal Nature. The international team took DNA samples from the bones and teeth of 442 individuals found buried at various Viking sites in Europe and Greenland. These DNA samples were sequenced and compared to previously-published DNA sequences of 3,855 modern humans and 1,118 ancient humans who were not Vikings. The DNA comparison revealed that many Vikings possessed “high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry”.

While it’s well known that the Vikings explored, plundered, and settled outside their traditional territories, the new DNA evidence also shows that people from Asia and southern Europe migrated to Scandinavia, where their ancestral bloodlines mixed with local clans, particularly in highly travelled southern coastal areas. Interestingly, within Scandinavia, gene flow was restricted, suggesting isolated Vikings did not much travel or relocate between remote villages. Further findings from the DNA evidence suggests it was normal for close family relations to travel overseas together, whether for trading, raiding, or settling down somewhere else.

We modern humans tend to believe that people of ancient times travelled very little and intermixed even less. While that may be true of many, it clearly is not true of all. Some individuals and some cultures of bygone times possessed an adventurous spirit with a thirst to explore, see new places, and meet new people.

Question of the Night: What’s in your DNA?

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About Richard Doud 154 Articles
No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.