World's largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons reveals they weren't all Scandinavian

Researchers say the results of a six-year project debunk the modern image of vikings as brutal predators who travelled by sea from Scandinavia

And accounting for the genetic samples taken from ancient communities with "mixed ancestries", the scientists concluded that the people were brought together by "complex trading, raiding and settling networks that crossed cultures and continents".

Over a period of six years, the study authors sequenced the genomes of 442 Viking age skeletons, dating from 2400 BCE to 1600 AD.

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

A mass grave of around 50 headless Vikings from a site in Dorset, UK.

We thought we knew everything about the Vikings. The Vikage Age refers to the period between AD 800 until the 1050s. Appearing in the journal Nature, the paper indicates that the Viking Empire was composed of numerous genetically distinct groups that emerged in different regions of what is now Scandinavia, some of which contained Southern European and Asian genes.

He said the new research "debunks" the traditional image of blond Vikings, as "many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx from the outside of Scandinavia".

The report, seen by The Irish Independent and which was published as part of the largest-ever DNA analysis of Viking remains, used genomes from three males and a female who were buried in Irish Viking burial grounds in Dublin and Galway. One of the most noteworthy is that contrary to what has often been assumed, Viking identity was not limited to people of Scandinavian ancestry-the team discovered that two skeletons from a Viking burial site in the Orkney Islands were of Scottish ancestry. "No matter where you came from", Willerslev said, describing one of the skeletons that had no Scandinavian genes whatsoever. For instance, the movement of Vikings from present day Denmark to England, from Sweden to the Baltic countries and from Norway to Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland.

Dr Ashot Margaryan, Assistant Professor at the Section for Evolutionary Genomics, Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen and first author of the paper, said: "We carried out the largest ever DNA analysis of Viking remains to explore how they fit into the genetic picture of Ancient Europeans before the Viking Age. The rest of the occupants of the boat were genetically similar suggesting that they all likely came from a small town or village somewhere in Sweden".

A female skeleton named Kata found at a Viking burial site in Varnhem Sweden
A female skeleton named Kata found at a Viking burial site in Varnhem Sweden

By contrast, contemporary peasants' DNA had remained unchanged since the Neolithic due to lack of exposure.

DNA sequencing of the remains - comprising bones from men, women, children, and babies - suggests that both before and during the Viking Age, a diverse array of foreign genetic influences flowed into Scandinavian bloodlines, from Asia, Southern Europe, and the British Isles. "This is a different side of the cultural relationship from Viking raiding and pillaging".

"They exported ideas, technologies, language, beliefs and practices and developed new socio-political structures".

The study authors also found evidence of supposed Vikings with no Scandinavian genetic ancestry.

A belt found with a skeleton which may be that of Olaf Guthfrithsson - an Irish Viking who was the King of Dublin and Northumbria from 934 to 941 - or a member of his entourage.

The data collected will also be useful in the study of natural selection in the past, according to lead author Fernando Racimo, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen. 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.

Elsewhere, during the period, Viking voyages didn't just spread conquest and trade, but also genetic seeds that can still be seen in people today, with 6 percent of people in the United Kingdom estimated to have Viking DNA, and in Sweden, as much as 10 percent.

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