DNA shows how Vikings rampaged across the UK and Europe

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DNA analysis has confirmed the long-argued movements of Vikings outside Scandinavia as they pillaged Britain and Europe. Vikings from present-day Denmark targeted Britain, while Vikings from Norway had Ireland, Iceland and Greenland in their sights, and Swedish Vikings sailed their longboats east towards the Baltic region and beyond. The study, which includes an Australian researcher, analysed DNA from 442 ancient humans from across Europe and Greenland, covering the Bronze Age (approximately 2400 BC) to the Early Modern period (around 1600 AD). It found evidence that confirmed the movements of Vikings outside of Scandinavia. But it wasn't simply one-way traffic; the researchers found many Viking Age individuals - both within and outside Scandinavia - had high levels of non-Scandinavian ancestry, which suggests movement and interbreeding across Europe.

Journal/conference: Nature

Link to research (DOI): 10.1038/s41586-020-2688-8

Organisation/s: Curtin University, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Funder: This work was supported by the Mærsk Foundation, the Lundbeck Foundation, the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the Danish National Research Foundation, University of Copenhagen (KU2016) and the Wellcome Trust (grant no. WT104125MA). E.W. thanks St John’s College, Cambridge for providing an excellent environment for scientific thoughts and collaborations. S.R. was supported by the Novo Nordisk Foundation (NNF14CC0001). F.R. was supported by a Villum Fonden Young Investigator Award (project no. 00025300). G.S. and E.C. were supported by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship ‘PALAEO-ENEO’, a project funded by the European Union EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (grant agreement number 751349). R.M. was supported by an EMBO Long-Term Fellowship (ALTF 133-2017). M.C. is supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program (231256), the Canada Foundation for Innovation (36801) and the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (962-805808). I. Moltke was supported by a YDUN grant from Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF-4090-00244) and a Villum Fonden Young Investigator Award (project no. 19114). N.P. and C.H.J. are supported by the Swedish Research Council (2015-00466). N.G. was supported by the Program of Fundamental Scientific Research of the State Academies of Sciences, Russian Federation, state assignment no. 0184- 2019-0006. D.G.B. and L.M.C. were supported by Science Foundation Ireland/Health Research Board/Wellcome Trust award no. 205072.

Media release

From: Springer Nature

Genetic insights into Vikings’ European explorations

Distinct populations of Vikings influenced the genetic makeup of different parts of Europe, reveals an analysis of ancient human genomes published in Nature this week.

The maritime expansion of Scandinavian populations during the Viking Age (around AD 750–1050) altered the political, cultural and demographic map of Europe. To explore the genomic history of this period, Eske Willerslev and colleagues sequenced the genomes of 442 ancient humans from across Europe and Greenland, covering the Bronze Age (approximately 2400 BC) to the Early Modern period (around AD 1600).

During the Viking Age, the authors observed foreign gene flow into Scandinavia from the south and east. They also found evidence that confirmed the movements of Vikings outside of Scandinavia: Danish Vikings headed to England; Swedish Vikings sailed east to the Baltics and Norwegian Vikings travelled to Ireland, Iceland and Greenland. However, their analysis also included examples of ancestry with affinities to present-day Swedish populations in the western fringes of Europe and modern Danish populations in the east. They suggest that these individuals were from communities with mixed ancestries, brought together by complex trading, raiding and settling networks that crossed cultures and continents.

As part of their analysis, Willerslev and co-authors sequenced the genomes of 34 Viking individuals from a burial site in Salme, Estonia, and found evidence of an expedition that had included close family relatives — four brothers were identified, buried side by side. They also found two additional pairs of kin in their dataset, but the related individuals were found hundreds of kilometres apart from each other. This, the authors note, illustrates the mobility of individuals during the Viking Age.

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