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Genetics show the mark that the Viking Age made on Scandinavians

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  • Genetics show the mark that the Viking Age made on Scandinavians

    DNA sequencing of Scandinavians from hundreds of years ago reveal that there was a good deal of movement in the region and much of it was into Scandinavia.

    Source: Ancient DNA Paints a New Picture of the Viking Age


    A study of nearly 300 ancient Scandinavian genomes reveals sources of Vikings’ genetic ancestry

    Bones and teeth of ancient Scandinavians excavated from burials, a sunken warship and the sites of a violent massacre have helped an international group of scientists craft an unprecedented picture of the region’s storied Viking culture.

    The researchers looked at ancient DNA spanning 2,000 years of Scandinavian history from such remains to piece together a comprehensive look at the movement of peoples into the region during the Viking Age, more than a millennium ago. These genomes are among new means to understand and explore the Vikings’s history and legacy.

    The findings, published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Cell, revealed that a surge of people coming into Scandinavia from the British-Irish isles and the eastern Baltic region introduced new genetic information into the Viking population between about the years 750 and 1099—around the height of the Norsemen’s dynamic era of conquest.

    “The so-called Viking Age has always been understood as a time of movement, but the ways in which this has been understood have changed,” said Neil Price, an Uppsala University professor of archaeology who wasn’t involved in the research. “We used to speak of a ‘Viking expansion,’ in which the ancient Scandinavians somehow pushed out into the wider world in search of portable wealth, trading contacts, and lands to settle.”

    Yet genetic studies such as this one, Dr. Price said, help demonstrate that “this was a world of movement in all directions—into Scandinavia as well as out of it.”

    One of the best explanations for the new findings was that the Vikings raided regions around Scandinavia in part to acquire slaves, according to Mark Collard, an evolutionary anthropologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia who wasn’t involved in the study.

    “It is clear from archaeological artifacts and historical documents that they also took captives,” he said, adding that the new study suggests the number of slaves brought back to Scandinavia by the Vikings was enough to influence genetic composition of the region.

    The study revealed, too, that primarily females were moved into Scandinavia from the east during this time—which “suggests that the Vikings may have preferentially targeted women and girls as slaves,” Dr. Collard said.

    Some of the people coming into Scandinavia may have also been Christian missionaries or monks who voluntarily immigrated, as well as diplomats and traders, according to Anders Götherström, a co-author of the new study and professor of molecular archaeology at Stockholm University.

    But these newcomers to Scandinavia didn’t flourish, the genetic analysis showed. Dr. Götherström’s team looked at nearly 300 ancient genomes from individuals who died between the beginning of the first century to the mid-19th century and were discovered in archaeological sites and graves across Sweden and Norway. They then compared those genomes to genetic data from more than 16,600 individuals currently living in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

    The researchers found that, following the Viking Age, there was a notable decline in Baltic and British-Irish ancestries among Scandinavians. While there remains some genetic influence from these regions today, it is “not as much as we would expect,” Dr. Götherström said.

    “The only credible way I can explain that is a lot of these people that came into Scandinavia during the Viking period didn’t build families and weren’t as efficient in getting children as the people who were already living there,” he added.

    While ancient DNA is crucial to generating a clearer picture of a region’s history, teeth and bones containing such genetic information are limited. Finding such remains that date to the early Viking era is tricky, as cremation was the common burial tradition in Scandinavia at that time, according to Dr. Götherström.

    “So every burial where we’re getting DNA is deviating from what was common,” he said, adding that he believes his team’s analysis is still “getting the bigger picture correct” because of the large number of genomes involved.

    The study’s conclusions need to be tempered by the idea that these 300 ancient genomes may not be wholly representative of the region’s overall population, according to Ellen Christine Røyrvik, a geneticist at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health who wasn’t involved in the research.

    Many of the genomes used in the new analysis were collected from individuals uncovered in burial grounds, grave fields and churchyards. But some samples came from people who died in unusual circumstances—including sailors from a Swedish warship that sank off the country’s southeastern coast in 1676, and inhabitants of a settlement known as Sandby borg who were likely massacred during an organized attack in the fifth century.

    “There is a question of how much you can call it population genomics as opposed to kind of lots of little vignettes,” Dr. Røyrvik said.


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    The full paper, Population genomics of the Viking world is available to read by clicking the hyperlink although I've posted the abstract from it below


    Abstract

    The maritime expansion of Scandinavian populations during the Viking Age (about AD 750–1050) was a far-flung transformation in world history1,2. Here we sequenced the genomes of 442 humans from archaeological sites across Europe and Greenland (to a median depth of about 1×) to understand the global influence of this expansion. We find the Viking period involved gene flow into Scandinavia from the south and east. We observe genetic structure within Scandinavia, with diversity hotspots in the south and restricted gene flow within Scandinavia. We find evidence for a major influx of Danish ancestry into England; a Swedish influx into the Baltic; and Norwegian influx into Ireland, Iceland and Greenland. Additionally, we see substantial ancestry from elsewhere in Europe entering Scandinavia during the Viking Age. Our ancient DNA analysis also revealed that a Viking expedition included close family members. By comparing with modern populations, we find that pigmentation-associated loci have undergone strong population differentiation during the past millennium, and trace positively selected loci—including the lactase-persistence allele of LCT and alleles of ANKA that are associated with the immune response—in detail. We conclude that the Viking diaspora was characterized by substantial transregional engagement: distinct populations influenced the genomic makeup of different regions of Europe, and Scandinavia experienced increased contact with the rest of the continent.


    Here's another story focusing on a different aspect of the study, ‘Viking' was a job description, not a matter of heredity, massive ancient DNA study shows: Study reveals family histories of black-haired Vikings who set forth—and died—far from home

    My father was half Swedish and half Norwegian with coal black hair.




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