World’s largest ever DNA sequencing of Vikings

2020-09-16

Genetic examinations of more than 400 Viking age skeletons reveal that the Vikings that raided Europe came from relatively isolated groups in Scandinavia and many of them had a genetic influx from Asia or Southern Europe. This is presented in a study in the journal Nature, in which Marie Allen and Magdalena Bus from IGP have participated.

The new study is the result of a six-year project where an international research team has analysed the whole genomes of 442 skeletons from Viking graves in Europe and Greenland. Based on the genetic analyses the researchers could for instance see that Viking groups in Scandinavia were far more isolated than previously believed.

During the Viking Age there wasn’t a word for Scandinavia but the study shows that the Vikings from what is now Norway travelled to Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and Greenland. The Vikings from present day Denmark travelled to England and Vikings from what is now Sweden went to the Baltic countries on their all male ‘raiding parties’.

Marie Allen and Magdalena Bus have worked with remains from two Viking Age boat burials found close to the village Salme on the island Sareema in Estonia. The grave called Salme I contained remains from 7 men, in ages between 18 and 45 years. The Salme II grave had skeletons from 34 men and the bones showed many injuries of sharp edge weapons as stabs and cuts. These are likely the remains of Swedish warriors that were buried in their boat after a battle.

“Our Estonian colleagues did the archeological and osteological examinations of the skeletons in the Salme burials while Magdalena and I collected samples and analysed their DNA. It turned out that 4 of the 34 men that met a sudden and violent death were brothers. This particular Viking journey, which likely started in the Lake Mälaren region, therefore also resulted in a family tragedy, says Marie Allen.

Other findings that surprised the scientists were that the Vikings had unexpected genetic influences in their DNA from Southern Europe and Asia, which had entered the Scandinavian population before and during the Viking Age. In addition, it was found that not everyone who identified themselves as Vikings had a Scandinavian ancestry.

“An interesting result came from famous Viking burial sites in Scotland and showed that those that were buried were actually local people who could have taken on Viking identities and were buried as Vikings, with swords and other Viking memorabilia, says Marie Allen.

More information:
Article in Nature
Marie Allen’s research