The great study of DNA changes the image of the Vikings: Not blonde and tall after all

OsebergskipetOSLO.Osebergskipet.Photo: Heiko Junge / SCANPIX
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The stereotypical notions of the Scandinavian Vikings as a uniform group must be adjusted according to the DNA analysis of 442 skeletons. Of these, 46 have been found in Norway.

The DNA study “Population Genomics of the Viking World” was published in Nature on Wednesday and confirms that much of what has been done for over a hundred years is quite safe. As the Viking age meant a lot of travel, for Norwegians it starts off mainly in Iceland, Ireland, Greenland and Scotland, and connects with other peoples, so the Scandinavian genes spread.

The Scandinavians also mixed more with each other at this time, and immigrants came here from eastern and southern Europe.

But there are also some surprises in the study,” says Norwegian head of research, Jan Bill, who is a professor of archaeology at the Museum of Cultural History.

Not much in common

-Before the Viking era, there were, somewhat surprisingly, three quite different populations compared to each other: one in Norway, one eastern Scandinavian in Sweden, and one southern Scandinavian in Denmark and Scania. This shows that geography has had a big impact on who you have children with. People who lived nearby remained with each other. We thought that the three groups were more integrated because of navigation, even before the Viking era, but obviously not,” Bill told the NTB.

When the researchers looked at the DNA that tells us about appearance, such as hair color and height, they found that there is no such thing as a typical Viking: They were not necessarily tall and blond. However, there were quite a few with darker pigments and darker hair.

“The great practical significance of such a discovery may not be, but it may change the view we have of this,” says Bill.

Immigrants

With the Viking age, estimated at 750-1050, travel and gene mixing began in earnest, especially in Europe. The Vikings settled in other countries, and scientists have confirmed that they probably brought their wives to Scandinavia.

-Another very interesting finding was that we also analyzed individuals who had nothing of Scandinavian biology but were buried as Vikings, in the middle of the world. It must mean that they or their parents had embraced their identity and culture, which is very exciting,” says Bill.

The two Vikings who are not of Scandinavian origin will be of Celtic heritage.

The 46 Norwegian skeletons from which the DNA is extracted are found in eastern Norway and as far as the Trøndelag and date from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, but mainly from the Viking Age,” says Bill.

Receiving praise

Several colleagues who have not participated in the research compliment their work on the clouds in interviews with National Geographic.

“It’s a fantastic study. It brings new knowledge, but it reinforces almost everything we already know about the Viking era, says archaeologist and University of Los Angeles California’s professor Jesse Byock, who heads the Mosfell Archaeological Project in Iceland.

Assistant Professor and archaeologist Davide Zori of Baylor University believes that the study will help eliminate the stereotypical perception of the bearded and blond Viking.

The researchers have also studied today’s Europeans and say that today’s Norwegians and Danes are genetically more like their ancestors than the Swedes, while there are also traces of Scandinavian Vikings in the rest of Europe.

© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today

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