- BBC News World
Popular culture often depicts the Vikings as fierce warriors, with blond hair and blue eyes, who sailed the sea looting coastal towns.
But new scientific studies have debunked this modern myth that they were “purebred.”
An international group of evolutionary geneticists achieved examine genetic ancestry of these famous Germanic warriors, and came to surprising conclusions about their ethnic diversity.
“It all started when we succeeded in sequencing the first ancient human genome,” Danish evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev, a professor at the University of Cambridge, UK, and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, told BBC Reel.
“That gave us a huge amount of information about individuals that we can use to infer the past of the human being,” he said.
“After we saw that that was possible, we decided to go out and explore the human past around the world, (to see) how we become who we are today,” he said.
Over a six-year period, the researchers analyzed human remains found at more than 80 archaeological sites, including Viking tombs.
To understand the past through ancient DNA, the team sequenced the genomes of 442 men, women, children and babies from the Viking era.
One of the experts who worked on the project, Martin Sikora, from the University of Copenhagen, remarked that the remains in which the DNA was best preserved was in teeth and in a bone called the petrosal or rock, which is part of the ear bones and is particularly hard.
By extracting the genetic material from these sources, the experts were able to compare the DNA of these peoples with the DNA sequences of more than 1,000 ancient individuals and some 4,000 modern humans.
This studio, the largest genetic analysis of Viking remains, showed that their genes came from southern Europe and Asia.
“The typical Viking is portrayed as a big, strong, blond Scandinavian. But the truth is that being blond was much less common in Scandinavia in the Viking age than it is now,” Willerslev explains.
“The Viking period is characterized by an enormous interest in the Scandinavian Vikings on the part of the rest of the world, but a very limited interest in what is really happening in Scandinavia,” says the expert.
Viking trade routes stretched from Canada to Afghanistan, so this town was actually much more diverse than previously thought.
This intermixing with people from the south and the east diversified their genetic makeup, leading to a variety of physical appearances.
“You can’t truly say that there was a genetically homogeneous group that was very Scandinavian and looked the same everywhere,” Sikora says.
“Actually there was a lot of diversity“, he assures.
The study also made it possible to determine that there were different Viking groups that went to different parts of the world.
“The Danes went mainly to England, the Norwegians went to Ireland, Iceland and Greenland, and the Swedes went to the Baltic,” Willerslev explains.
Research also suggests that Viking identity was not related to genetic background or ethnicity, but was rather a social identity.
“The Viking phenomenon is not something Scandinavian, in the sense that it is not ethnicity that determines whether you are a Viking or not, It is a lifestyle“says the scientist who led the project.
In fact, the researchers found Vikings who “did not have Scandinavian genes.”
“Thanks to this work we are changing history, and by changing history as well we are changing our identity“, reflexiona Willerslev.
The scientist considers it a positive thing.
“At least now the identity debate, which is a political debate, is based on real science.”
You can watch the BBC Reel video (in English) here
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.