Black Hair Was Common Among Vikings, Genetic Study Confirms | Genetic


They might have had a reputation for fearsome trade, braids, and raiding, but the Vikings were far from a single group of linen-haired Scandinavian sailors.

A genetic study of human remains from the Viking Age not only confirmed that Vikings from different parts of Scandinavia sailed to different parts of the world, but also found that black hair was more common in Vikings than in Danish today.

Additionally, while some were born Vikings, others adopted the culture – or perhaps endured it.

“The Vikings were not limited to blond Scandinavians,” said Professor Eske Willerslev, co-author of the research at the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen.

Writing in the journal Nature, Willerslev and colleagues report how they sequenced the genomes of 442 humans who lived across Europe between around 2,400 BC and 1,600 AD, with the majority of the Viking Age – a period that stretched from around 750 AD to 1050 AD.

The study also drew on existing data from more than 1,000 ancient individuals from the non-Viking age and 3,855 people living today.

Among their results, the team found that from the Iron Age, genes from southern Europe entered Denmark and then spread north, while – to a lesser extent – genes from southern Europe. Asia entered Sweden.

“The Vikings are, genetically, not purely Scandinavian,” Willerslev said.

However, the team found that the Scandinavians of the Viking Age were not a uniform population, but grouped into three main groups – a finding that suggests Vikings from different parts of Scandinavia did not mix much. .

The team found these groups roughly on the map of current Scandinavian countries, although the Vikings in southwestern Sweden are genetically similar to their peers in Denmark. Genetic diversity was highest in coastal regions.

Further analysis confirmed the long-held view that most of England’s Vikings came from Denmark, as evidenced by place names and historical documents, while the Baltic region was dominated by Swedish Vikings. and that the Vikings from Norway ventured to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and the island. of Man.

However, the team says remains from Russia have revealed some Vikings from Denmark also traveled east.

The study also found that the raids were likely a local affair: the team found four brothers and another relative who died in Salme, Estonia, around 750 AD, in what could have been a raid, with other group members likely to be from the same part of Sweden.

Additionally, the team discovered that two individuals from Orkney, who were buried with Viking swords, had no Scandinavian genetic ancestry.

“[Being a Viking] is not a pure ethnic phenomenon, it is a way of life that you can adopt whether you are non-Scandinavian or Scandinavian, ”said Willerslev, adding that genetic influences from abroad before and during the era viking might help explain why genetic variants of dark hair were relatively common among the Vikings.

Dr Steve Ashby, an expert in Viking Age archeology at the University of York, said the study confirmed what had been suspected about movement and trade in the Viking Age, but also brought new details.

“The evidence for gene flow with southern Europe and Asia is striking and aligns well with recent research that argues for large-scale connectivity during this period,” he said.

“[The study] Also provides new information on the levels of contact and isolation within Scandinavia itself, and offers interesting insight into the makeup of raid groups. ”

But Judith Jesch, professor of Viking studies at the University of Nottingham, said the study is unlikely to rewrite the history books.

“We have long abandoned the most colorful folk myths about Vikings, and recent research has focused on the Viking Age as a period of mobility, when people from Scandinavia migrated in various directions, and often back. , meeting and interacting with other peoples. , languages ​​and cultures in a process that I and others have called diaspora, ”she said.

Despite this, Jesch said the study provided food for thought. “Archaeologists have long suggested that many cultural ideas reached Scandinavia through the Danish gate, so it will be interesting to discuss further what this gene flow is. [from Denmark to Norway and Sweden] means in terms of dissemination of culture. Did it happen as a result of movement of people or some other process? She said.


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