History

DNA Sequencing Reveals Vikings Are Not Scandinavian, Contrary to What History Books Say

So Viking warriors are not blonde and blue-eyed after all.

  • The world’s largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons revealed that the Vikings were not Scandinavians at all.
  • This debunks the modern image of blonde and blue-eyed seafarers on books and television.
  • The study also revealed a few other details about the fearsome seafarers who raided and pillaged all over Europe and America.
  • The researchers believe the findings from this study may mean a revision of historical records about Vikings.

The world’s largest-ever DNA sequencing of over 400 Viking skeletons from excavations all over Europe and Greenland just revealed that the fearsome blonde and blue-eyed Vikings in history books were not Scandinavians at all.

Researchers from St John’s College, University of Cambridge conducted the study. They were led by Professor Eske Willerslev, director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen. 

For this study, archaeologists sequenced the DNA of 422 Viking Age men, women, children, and babies. They found out that the Viking warriors had “high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry”.  

10th or 11th century A.D. Ridgeway Hill mass grave on the crest of Ridgeway Hill near Weymouth.

According to Willerslev, the modern imagery of blonde and blue-eyed Viking warriors of Scandinavian heritage were suggested by history books and television, but “genetically we have shown [with this study] for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world.” 

Instead, the study proves that these fearsome seafarers had genes influenced by those from Asia and Southern Europe before it flowed to Scandinavia and other Northern European countries before the Viking Age.

Viking Age archaeological site in Varnhem, Skara (Sweden). Map of church foundation (left) and excavated graves (red marks) in Christian cemetery in Varnhem; foundations of a stone church in Varnhem (middle).

The study also suggested that the Viking groups were more independent of each other. Genetic differences among the different Viking populations in Scandinavia suggested that trading communities from the coastal areas had more genetic diversity compared with those from inland Scandinavia.

The remains of a 182-cm-tall male individual (no. 17) buried in a lime stone coffin close to the church foundations near an early Christian cemetery in Varnhem (Sweden).

They also compared the ancient Scandinavian genes to modern-day genes and found the Viking raid-and-trade routes. This revealed that Vikings from Denmark moved to England. Those from Sweden went east. The Vikings from Norway had travel routes headed to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland, and the Isle of Man. 

A Viking burial site: an oak ship at Balladoole, south east of the Isle of Man.

Some excavation sites also offered unique cultural tidbits. In Estonia, there was a two-boat burial site which may be the earliest evidence of a Viking voyage. It housed the remains of 41 men with similar genes who died violently. All had “high-status” weapons which suggest that raiding may have been a family or local activity. 

Salme II ship burial site excavated in Estonia. Schematic of skeletons (top left) and aerial images of skeletons (top right, and bottom).

Another excavation site revealed that not every person buried as a Viking was genetically a Viking. In Orkney, Scotland, the researchers found two male skeletons in a Viking burial site with genes similar to modern-day Irish and Scottish people. The men had swords and other Viking items, but they were not Vikings.

If you wish to read more about this, the findings of this research is on the September issue of the journal Nature.

Meanwhile, you can watch this video and see if what you knew about the fearsome seafarers who raided and pillaged their way across Europe and America were correct.

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