The Viking Age Norse were skilled navigators, fierce warriors, and adventurous merchants. But the Vikings didn’t just exchange goods.
A new study, conducted by researchers at Stockholm University, finds that the open societies of the Viking Age left a significant mark on the gene pool of Scandinavia, which was more diverse than previously thought.
One group in particular shook up the gene pool, only to mysteriously disappear again.
The Vikings preferred to have children with people from Western Europe
Researchers from Sweden and Iceland studied the genetic material of nearly 300 people who lived in Scandinavia over the past 2,000 years. The DNA results were then compared to the genes of 16,000 Scandinavians living today and more than 9,000 people whose ancestors came from other parts of Europe.
This analysis of genetic material confirmed researchers’ suspicions that the genomes of Viking Age Scandinavians had been mixed with genes from outsiders, such as the Britons, Irish and people from eastern Baltic and southern Europe, between the years 750 and 1050.
But one startling discovery now is that it was women who migrated to Scandinavia from Eastern Europe, and that genes from the East quickly disappeared from Nordic DNA after the Viking Age, while influences from the West are still present in genes traceable to Scandinavia.
This led the researchers to conclude that the Vikings were more likely to have children and raise families with immigrants from the West – namely the Irish British Isles – and less with immigrants from the East.
The other big surprise is the magnitude of the migration, especially compared to the pre-Viking period and beyond. The primary reference material from the pre-Viking period was DNA from skeletons from the massacre at Sandby Borg on the Swedish island of Öland, around AD 450.
Supplemented with DNA from some other fossils, it became clear that the gene pool in Scandinavia in the Iron Age – several centuries before the start of the Viking Age – was still very uniform. The study also shows that the DNA of people of that time is remarkably similar to that of modern Swedes.
The researchers also found a similar genome in skeletons from the Swedish warship Kronan, which capsized and exploded off the coast of Öland in 1676. Despite being 1,200 years old, the DNA of the skeletons closely resembles that of the dead at Sandby Borg, as well as the DNA of the dead at Sandby Borg. for Swedes today.
The reason for the halt in migration remains uncertain
Historians and archaeologists agree that the diverse gene pool of the Viking Age is the result of better sea transportation options, more trade, and more international interaction in general.
In the Viking Age, the world suddenly became a lot bigger. If you go to the trading cities, you can meet people who are completely different from you,” archaeologist Soren Michael Sendbeck tells Historia.
However, researchers are still not really sure why there are so few traces of immigrants from the time so many centuries after the end of the Viking Age.
According to the researchers, the explanation may be that the newcomers were merchants who returned after a short stay or monks who led a celibate life and therefore did not pass on their genes. They may also have been kidnapped slaves who were not allowed to have children.
Soren Sandbeck also points to another possibility. Because of the burial rituals from the Middle Ages, there are many more skeletons, thus a greater diversity of DNA material has been preserved.
Sendbeck points out that we don’t know if the graves of the past that we find are representative.
The archaeologist adds that the study not only teaches us more about the Iron Age and the Viking Age. DNA analysis offers new opportunities to make a difference to our knowledge of the past and of humanity. Thanks to better tools, we can increasingly determine someone’s origins and history based on DNA.
In this way we can get close to ordinary people, even those who lived in the distant past. “A visit to the museum becomes interesting if we can meet the son of a farmer from Jutland with an English ancestor or the daughter of a maid from Bornholm with roots in Finland,” Sindbæk says enthusiastically.