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'Viking' was likely a job title among diverse people, says DNA study
"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," said project leader Professor Eske Willerslev.
- A team of international researchers spent years analyzing the DNA of 442 people, most of whom lived during the Viking age.
- It's the largest DNA analysis of Viking remains to date.
- The results show that Vikings were more genetically diverse than previously thought.
In the late 8th century, a seafaring people from modern-day Scandinavia began to earn the name víkingr, which meant "pirate" in early Scandinavian languages.
Today, Vikings are often thought of as barbaric blonde-haired invaders who violently changed the course of European history. And that's mostly true: Vikings were cruel and skilled warriors, innovative shipwrights, and they not only colonized many parts of Europe, but also became the first Europeans to settle in North America.
But a new study published in Nature offers a more nuanced understanding of the Vikings, suggesting they were more genetically diverse than previously imagined. For the study, an international team of researchers examined the DNA of 442 people who lived from roughly 2,400 B.C. to 1,600 A.D. The remains were collected from Viking burial sites, and most dated back to the Viking Age from roughly 800 to the 1050s.
An artistic reconstruction of 'Southern European' Vikings emphasising the foreign gene flow into Viking Age Scandinavia.
Credit: Jim Lyngvild
The results deal a blow to our modern image of Vikings.
"We didn't know genetically what they actually looked like until now," project leader Professor Eske Willerslev, director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, said in a statement. "We found genetic differences between different Viking populations within Scandinavia which shows Viking groups in the region were far more isolated than previously believed. Our research even debunks the modern image of Vikings with blonde hair as many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx from the outside of Scandinavia."
A mass grave of around 50 headless Vikings from a site in Dorset, UK. Some of these remains were used for DNA analysis.
Part of that genetic influx came from afar. The team's genetic analysis — which is the most comprehensive ever conducted on Viking remains — revealed influences from Southern Europe and Asia. For example, some Viking remains showed influences of mixed European and Sami heritage. (Known for reindeer herding throughout Scandinavia, the Sami people share some genetic links with Asian populations.)
Findings like these suggest the Vikings might have had less hostile interactions with some groups than previously thought.
"We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books - but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn't that kind of world," Willerslev said. "This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was — no one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age."
Redefining the 'Viking' identity
What's more, some of the people who received Viking burials weren't genetically related to the Vikings, suggesting the term "Viking" might have referred more to a job description or cultural identity rather than genetic heritage.
"Importantly our results show that 'Viking' identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry," study co-author Søren Sindbæk, an archaeologist from Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, said in a statement. "Two Orkney skeletons who were buried with Viking swords in Viking style graves are genetically similar to present-day Irish and Scottish people and could be the earliest Pictish genomes ever studied."
Although Vikings idolized warrior culture, took slaves, and focused much of their energy on conquering Europe, they also helped expand trade throughout the continent, developed innovative farming and crafting techniques, and were relatively egalitarian in terms of women's rights. Using a genetic framework, the new study adds a deeper layer to history's understanding of the Vikings.
"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," Willerslev said in the statement. "The history books will need to be updated."
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A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.
- There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
- A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
- Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.
First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)
Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.
All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.
Image source: European Space Agency
The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.
Into and out of Earth's shadow
In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.
The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."
In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."
When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.
The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.
BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.
MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.
Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.
Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.
- There are numerous strategies for building and maintaining a high-performing team, but unfortunately they are not plug-and-play. What works for some companies will not necessarily work for others. Erin Meyer, co-author of No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, shares one alternative employed by one of the largest tech and media services companies in the world.
- Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
- "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.