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Explained: What does the largest-ever DNA analysis of Viking remains tells us?

The study reveals that skeletons from famous Viking burial sites in Scotland were local people who could have taken on Viking identities and, therefore, were buried as them.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 18, 2020 8:27:57 am
The word Viking comes from the Scandinavian term “Vikingr”, which means pirate. Pic: Landing of a Viking fleet at Dublin by James Ward (Wikimedia Commons via Dublin City Council)

The world’s largest DNA sequencing of Viking skeletons conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen claims to debunk the modern image of Vikings as having blonde hair and reveals that not all of them were from Scandinavia.

The results of the study were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

What does the study tell us?

The researchers carried out DNA sequencing on more than 400 Viking skeletons of men, women, children and babies from archaeological sites spread across Europe and Greenland to understand the global influence of their expansion. The study reveals that skeletons from famous Viking burial sites in Scotland were local people who could have taken on Viking identities and, therefore, were buried as them.

Significantly, it found that Viking identity was not limited to Scandinavian genetic ancestry and that Scandinavia’s genetic history itself was influenced by foreign genes from Asia and Southern Europe before the Viking Age started.

“We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books – but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn’t that kind of world,” the study’s lead geneticist Eske Willerslev was quoted as saying in a press release.

The study also confirms the large-scale movement of the Vikings outside Scandinavia. For instance, the movement of Vikings from present day Denmark to England, from Sweden to the Baltic countries and from Norway to Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland.

What was the Viking Age?

The word Viking comes from the Scandinavian term “Vikingr”, which means pirate. The Vikage Age refers to the period between AD 800 until the 1050s. The Vikings played an important role in changing the political and genetic course of Europe. Further, the Vikings also exported ideas, technologies, language, beliefs and practices to other places.

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As of today, six per cent of people in the UK are predicted to have Viking DNA in their genes as compared to 10 per cent in Sweden.

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