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They may have had a reputation for trade, braids and fearsome raids, but the Vikings were far from a single group of flaxen-haired, sea-faring Scandinavians. A genetic study of Viking-age human remains has not only confirmed that Vikings from different parts of Scandinavia set sail for different parts of the world, but has revealed that dark hair was more common among Vikings than Danes today. Writing in the journal NatureWillerslev and colleagues report how they sequenced the genomes of humans who lived across Europe between about 2,BC and 1,AD, with the majority from the Viking age — a period that stretched from around AD to AD.
The study also drew on existing data from more than 1, ancient individuals from non-Viking times, and 3, people living today. Among their the team found that from the iron age, southern European genes entered Denmark and then spread north, while — to a lesser extent — genes from Asia entered Sweden. However, the team found Viking age Scandinavians were not a uniform population, but clustered into three main groups — a finding that suggests Vikings from different parts of Scandinavia did not mix very much.
The team found these groups roughly map on to present-day Scandinavian countries, although Vikings from south-west Sweden were genetically similar to their peers in Denmark. Genetic diversity was greatest in coastal regions. Further analysis confirmed the long-standing view that most Vikings in England came from Denmark, as reflected in place names and historical records, while the Baltic region was dominated by Swedish Vikings, and Vikings from Norway ventured to Ireland, Iceland, Greenland and the Isle of Man.
However, the team say remains from Russia revealed some Vikings from Denmark also travelled east.
The study also revealed raids were likely a local affair: the team found four brothers and another relative died in Salme, Estonia, in about AD, in what is thought could have been a raid, with others in the party likely to have been from the same part of Sweden. In addition, the team found two individuals from Orkney, who were buried with Viking swords, had no Scandinavian genetic ancestry. Dr Steve Ashby, an expert in Viking-age archaeology from the University of York said the study confirmed what had been suspected about movement and trade in the Viking age, but also brought fresh detail.
But Judith Jesch, professor of Viking studies at the University of Nottingham said the study is unlikely to rewrite the history books. Even so, Jesch said the study offered food for thought. Did it happen as a result of the movements of people or by some other process? This article is more than 9 months old. Research reveals Vikings were genetically diverse group and not purely Scandinavian.
A female skeleton named Kata found at a Viking burial site in Varnhem, Sweden. Nicola Davis Science correspondent. Wed 16 Sep Researchers find earliest confirmed case of smallpox.
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