Scandinavian DNA Studied For Effects Of Viking Migrations

A study of 297 ancient Scandinavian DNA samples from before, during, and after the Viking age helped scientists piece together history.

Much is known about the genetic history of Scandinavia before the Viking Age of history...

Until now, less was known about effects of human migrations during the Viking Age.

First things first: Who lived in Scandinavia prior to the rise of Vikings?

  • 1) The first were European Mesolithic hunter-gatherers 12,000 years ago. "Mesolithic" refers to the middle of the Stone Age. These were basically "cave men" who moved from Central  and Southern Europe to Scandinavia. DNA from these early settlers is still found in around 35-40% of today's Scandinavian population.
  • 2) Next came the Anatolian Neolithic Farmers around 8,000-9,000 years ago. "Neolithic" still refers to a part of the "Stone Age," but marks the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer cultures to permanent settlements with farming and domestication of animals. "Anatolia" is sometimes referred to "Asia Minor," but most people today just call it Turkey. DNA from these ancient Anatolian settlers is still found in around 20-25% of today's Scandinavian population.
  • 3) Finally, Early Bronze Age peoples from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe arrived in Scandinavia 4,000-5,000 years ago. The "Pontic-Caspian Steppe" refers to a stretch of land in Eastern Europe that roughly covers Ukraine to Kazakhstan, or from the Black Sea to the Ural Mountains. The Early Bronze Age was marked by major technological and cultural advancements, including metalworking, written languages, urbanization of society, and increased trade. DNA from these ancient European settlers is still found in around 20-25% of today's Scandinavian population.

The effects of these ancient migrations on the gene pool of Scandinavia has been relatively well-known among scientists and historians...

However, it's also well-known that the Viking Age was a significant period of migration for Scandinavian people...

The Vikings were skilled sea-farers who traveled literally all over the world, with evidence their ships carried them well beyond Europe to North America, Africa, and Asia.

It's often assumed that Vikings were raiders. While they certainly did their fair share of raiding, they were also settlers. Their advanced techniques in metalworking and agriculture enabled them to establish settlements almost anywhere they traveled to.

The effects of Viking travels on the gene pools of other regions, such as the British Isles, is well-documented by now...

In a new study published in the scientific journal Cell, a team of scientists sought to investigate the opposite: How the migrations of the Viking Age impacted the gene pool IN Scandinavia instead of everywhere else.

For the study, scientists analyzed the genomes of 297 ancient Scandinavian individuals from over a 2,000 year period that covers DNA from before, during, and after the Viking Age. This allowed scientists to track changes in Scandinavian DNA over time.

As it turns out, the exchange between the gene pools of Scandinavia and the British Isles was mutual. Scientists discovered an increase in British and Irish DNA among Scandinavians during the Viking Age.

This increase in British and Irish DNA among Scandinavians had a noticeable bias toward female "immigrants." Scientists were able to see this by looking at Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which showed an increase in certain maternal haplogroups known to be associated with British and Irish populations.

An easy assumption to make is that Vikings kidnapped women in their raids and brought them back to Scandinavia in sort of forced-marriage situations...

However, scientists conducting the study found evidence this wasn't always the case...

Many of the women who "immigrated" to Scandinavia were actually high-ranking individuals, possibly from noble British and Irish families, who went with the Vikings willingly... Or at least not in a violent fashion, but rather in one of those medieval marriage scenarios where two powerful families intermarry for political reasons.

One such piece of evidence the scientists found was in a boat burial site in Sweden where a woman of fully British-Irish ancestry was buried in such a way that indicates a high social status in the community.

The reality of British-Irish genes mixing into Scandinavian populations during the Viking Age was likely a combination of peaceful intermarriages and forced migrations due to violent raids.

At CRI Genetics, we're happy to bring you yet another summary of recent breakthroughs in genetic science. There are likely more studies of ancient genomes to be published in the near future. Stay tuned as maybe one of YOUR ancestries will be covered next.