Researchers Dig Into the Genetic History of Vikings

Human remains found on the Kronan wreck.

Paleogeneticists have taken a comprehensive look at 297 ancient genomes from Scandinavia and compared them to genetic data from 16,500 living Scandinavians to better understand the region’s genetic history.

From their analysis, the team determined the origin and timings of major gene flows into the region, the dilution of external ancestors from the gene pool over time, and the reason for a north-south tone in the modern gene pool.

Research, released in Cell today, were originally three separate genetic studies: one considered data from the Sandy Borg ring fort; one examined human remains from the wreck of a 17th-century Swedish warship; and another examined the genetic identities of ancient Norse buried in boats.

“At some point, it made more sense to combine them into a study of Scandinavian demography over the past 2,000 years,” Anders Götherstrom, a paleogeneticist at the Center for Paleogenetics in Sweden and co-author of the paper, said in a Cell release.

The research traced gene flow to Scandinavia, and the team reported sources of gene flow from the eastern Baltics, Britain and Ireland, and southern Europe.

Using ancient DNA extracted from human remains found at a variety of archaeological sites, the researchers collected a similarly diverse sample of people in the region spanning two millennia. “I don’t think there’s any other study that goes that deep into Scandinavia,” Götherstrom said.

The team examined a genetic cline – a geographically based distinction – in modern Scandinavians from the northern and southern parts of the region, with people in the north having more Uralic ancestry. They hypothesize that the difference could be due to Uralians migrating towards the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 BC. BC, came to the eastern Baltic Sea.

Researchers also explored the Viking Age (from about 750 AD to 1050 AD), when there was significant cultural (and genetic) exchange, thanks in no small part to Viking seafaring.

Part of a human jaw uncovered at Sandy Borg, one of the most important archaeological sites.

Part of a human jaw uncovered at Sandy Borg, one of the most important archaeological sites.
Photo: Daniel Lindskog

Based on their analysis, researchers believe the Viking Age contributed to British and Irish gene flow into Scandinavia. In the study they wrote that “the circumstances and fate of the people of British-Irish descent who arrived in Scandinavia at this time were likely to have varied, ranging from the forced migration of slaves to the voluntary immigration of higher-ranking individuals such as Christian missionaries and monks.”

Two examples are a woman buried in a boat in central Sweden in the late Viking Age; Their burial circumstances indicated a high social status. Meanwhile, a 5th-century woman of British-Irish descent buried in Denmark had no such insignia, suggesting a different type of social class.

Andre Luiz Campelo dos Santos, an archaeologist at Florida Atlantic University who was not involved in the recent study, told Gizmodo via email that the work “confirms that the Viking Age — apart from showing past Norse expansion.” to other regions within Europe – also made possible by the first arrival of various foreign genomic ancestors on the Scandinavian Peninsula.”

“I look forward to the future results of a finely crafted survey in Scandinavia as it has the opportunity to uncover the detailed levels of diversity in the region,” said Santos.

Despite all the ancient gene flow to Scandinavia, a relatively small set of external ancestors actually made it into the modern gene pool in Scandinavia. The team isn’t sure why. In future work, they intend to add more genomes to the already extensive dataset, which could help clarify these and other remaining questions.

More: Remains of a Viking hall found in Denmark Researchers Dig Into the Genetic History of Vikings

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