Six percent of UK population ‘have Viking DNA’, new study finds
A new study has debunked popular myths about Vikings as it’s revealed not all of them were blonde Scandinavians who pillaged their way across Europe.
‘State of the art’ DNA sequencing from 442 Viking skeletons found many had ‘high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry’, with genes from elsewhere in Europe and even Asia.
The epic six-year study, published today in science journal Nature, found 6% of the UK population could have Viking DNA, compared to 10% in Sweden.
University of Copenhagen Professor Eske Willerslev, who co-led the project, said no-one could have predicted such findings.
‘The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was. The history books will need to be updated,’ he said.
‘We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books – but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world.
‘This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was – no one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age.’
Researchers sequenced the whole genomes of Viking Age men, women, children and babies, using their teeth and bones found in Viking cemeteries.
They found that while some communities were born Vikings, others adopted the culture or had it thrust upon them.
They discovered that remains at a famous Viking burial site in Orkney, Scotland, were actually local people who could have taken on Viking identities and were buried as such.
Scientists believe this shows the Vikings were not always the brutal predators we perceive them as and that some were willing to mix with other cultures who accepted their way of life.
‘[Being a Viking] is not a pure ethnic phenomenon, it is a lifestyle that you can adopt whether you are non-Scandinavian or Scandinavian,’ said Prof Willerslev.
The study confirmed the long-standing view that most Vikings in England came from Denmark, while Swedish Vikings roamed the Baltic region and Vikings from Norway ventured to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and the Isle of Man.
However, the team say remains from Russia revealed some Vikings from Denmark also travelled east.
Professor Fernando Racimo, a lead author of the paper, said the dataset is important for the study of the complex traits and natural selection.
He said: ‘This is the first time we can take a detailed look at the evolution of variants under natural selection in the last 2,000 years of European history.
‘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.
‘We can also begin to infer the physical appearance of ancient vikings and compare them to Scandinavians today.’