Nature’s study sequencing the genomes of 442 Viking remains from Viking-inhabited areas like northern Europe, Italy, and Greenland — human remains dated between 2400 B.C. to 1600 A.D. and which were buried with a variety of Viking artifacts — reveals far more genetic diversity than previously thought about the people who came from the land of the ice and snow. The Vikings, after all, were a scattered group whose sea-faring for trade, exploration, and conquest saw them settle far and wide during the Viking Age that lasted from roughly 700 A.D. to 1100 A.D.
Not only did many of the studied Vikings turn out to not be blond or blue-eyed, their genetic admixture shows they weren’t a distinct ethnic group but rather a mix of various other groups, “with ancestry from hunter-gatherers, farmers, and populations from the Eurasian steppe.”The study revealed which Scandinavian countries influenced outside regions the most. “The Danish Vikings went to England, while the Swedish Vikings went to the Baltic and the Norwegian Vikings went to Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland,” according to the University of Copenhagen’s Ashot Margaryan. Three particularly genetically diverse areas — one in modern Denmark, and one apiece on the Swedish islands of Gotland and Öland — were likely key trading centers.
The conclusions of this genetic analysis suggest the very idea of being a Viking was likely more a way of life or job. As Science Alert puts it:
“(The) results also reveal that during the Viking Age, being a Viking was as much a concept and a culture as it was question of genetic inheritance, with the team finding that two Viking skeletons buried in the Northern Isles of Scotland had what looks to be relatively pure Scottish and Irish heritage, with no Scandinavian influence, at least not genetically speaking, that is.”
“These identities aren’t genetic or ethnic, they’re social,” archaeologist Cat Jarman informed Science magazine. “To have backup for that from DNA is powerful.”
And as Science magazine also highlights, “several individuals in Norway were buried as Vikings, but their genes identified them as Saami, an Indigenous group genetically closer to East Asians and Siberians than to Europeans.”
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Fascinatingly, the DNA study also revealed that two of the remains found hundreds of miles apart — one in the U.K. and one in Denmark — turned out to be a pair of cousins.
For more Vikings coverage, discover what showrunner Michael Hirst recently revealed to us about what’s in store for Vikings’ final season and why the sequel series, Valhalla, will be on Netflix instead of the History Channel.