"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.
An artistic reconstruction of 'Southern European' Vikings emphasising the foreign gene flow into Viking Age Scandinavia.
Credit: Jim Lyngvild<p>The results deal a blow to our modern image of Vikings.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"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 <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/sjcu-wld091120.php" target="_blank">statement</a>. "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."</p>
A mass grave of around 50 headless Vikings from a site in Dorset, UK. Some of these remains were used for DNA analysis.
Redefining the 'Viking' identity<p>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.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"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 <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/sjcu-wld091120.php" target="_blank">statement</a>. "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."</p><p>Although Vikings idolized warrior culture, took slaves, and focused much of their energy on conquering Europe, they also <a href="https://www.historyonthenet.com/vikings-as-traders" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">helped expand trade throughout the continent</a>, developed <a href="http://www.sourcinginnovation.com/archaeology/Arch07.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">innovative farming and crafting techniques</a>, and were <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-46194699" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relatively egalitarian in terms of women's rights</a>. Using a genetic framework, the new study adds a deeper layer to history's understanding of the Vikings.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," Willerslev said in the statement. "The history books will need to be updated."</p>
A recent DNA analysis shows that a skeleton found in a famous Viking grace belonged to a female warrior.
The site of Birka, a Viking-era city whose remains lie about 20 miles east of Stockholm, has long been a treasure trove for scholars and archaeologists. Buried here are more than 3,000 Viking graves, all under what was once a central outpost in a complex trading network built during the Early Middle Ages. In the 10th century, for reasons researchers don't fully understand, it was abandoned