The Vikings and Genetics

Researchers are continuing the discover more about the Vikings and how they spread across much of northern Europe during the early Middle Ages.  In an article published this month in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B it was revealed that Norse women accompanied their men when they colonized the North Atlantic.

viking ship sail

The article, Mitochondrial DNA variation in the Viking age population of Norway, examined 45 Norse skeletons dating from between 796 and 1066 AD that were found in Norway. The researchers took DNA samples and found that that they matched with modern-day people living in the North Atlantic isles, in particular from the Orkney and Shetland Islands.


Maja Krzewinska, one of the researchers behind the study on the Norwegian Viking Genetics, said ”We are working with the mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the female line, from a number of Norwegian individuals from the late Iron Age. We compare them with both modern and prehistoric groups in northern Europe, and we show that the Norwegian Vikings are not completely genetically identical to modern humans in Norway. We can also show that our Norwegian Vikings brought Norwegian women when they colonized Iceland and went to other areas. It fits well with what we know from written sources and gives us an exciting picture of how migration was done in groups with high mobility like the Vikings”.

This news follows up on research released earlier this year, that showed nearly one million Britons, or one in 33 men across the United Kingdom, have some Norse ancestry. The study, carried out by BritainsDNA, revealed that in the northern islands of the Orkneys and Shetlands over a quarter of men could trace their roots to the Norse peoples, while in Wales only about 1% of people have some Scandinavian heritage.


Jim Wilson, chief scientist at BritainsDNA, explained, “Despite arriving well over 1,000 years ago the Viking legacy still remains strong in Britain and Ireland. The research suggests that the concentration of Norse blood is quite variable, but as the Y chromosome only relates to the nation’s male population and only to one ancestral lineage for each man, there is a very real chance that many more of us are related to the Vikings.”

We also might be getting some more news related to genetics and the Vikings, as researchers at the University of Copenhagen are set to begin a study to examine the DNA of Greenlanders. Ida Moltke, who is leading the study, explains that “Greenlanders constitute a very small population group which, by reason of its isolation, markedly stands apart in genetic terms from other population groups.”

She hopes that by sampling the DNA of 4,500 individuals living in Greenland, they can determine if these people are solely the descendants of the Inuit who settled on the island in 13th century, or were they mixed with the Viking inhabitants and other Paleo-Eskimo groups.