Native American came to Iceland over a thousand years ago, research finds

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 New genetic research has uncovered evidence that suggests a Native North American woman came to Iceland in the year 1000, most probably as a captive of Viking marauders.  This early contact between medieval Europeans and Native Americans has led to at least 80 Icelanders carrying her genes.

The story behind this finding was revealed this week in the article, “A new subclade of mtDNA haplogroup C1 found in icelanders: Evidence of pre-columbian contact?” in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.  The Icelandic and Spanish authors came across the discovery as they were doing research on the genetic background of contemporary Icelanders.

“It was thought at first that (the DNA) came from recently established Asian families in Iceland,” said Carles Lalueza-Fox, one of the study’s authors and a researcher at Spain’s CSIC  institute. “But when family genealogy was studied, it was discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland.”

Agnar Helgason, an Icelandic geneticist and study co-author, added in an interview with Postmedia News “the great human genealogical tree through the female line that has, to date, only been found in Native Americans” although they have not been able to determine which native group this women might have come from.  They speculate that it could be a person from the Beothuk, a people who lived in Newfoundland and became extinct in the 19th century.

Icelandic sagas and archaeological evidence have supported the idea that Viking ships reached the eastern coast of North America and attempted to establish settlements there. One such settlement was discovered at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.  According to the Vinland sagas, the Norsemen came across a people they called ‘skrælings’ with whom they fought.

The article concludes, “The mystery surrounding the geographical origin of the Icelandic C1e lineage will remain until additional members are found in other populations—ancient or contemporary. Until then, we propose that the most likely hypothesis is that the Icelandic voyages to the Eastern coastline of the Americas resulted in the migration of at least one Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage to Iceland around the year 1000.”

Sources: American Journal of Physical Anthropology, AFP, CSIC, The Independent, The Daily Gleaner

Sharan Newman