A DNA study has shown that it wasn’t just Viking men who spread themselves around Europe and the North Atlantic – their womenfolk also made important genetic contributions to today’s populations.
Scientists from the University of Olso in Norway led by Professor Erika Hagelberg analysed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers in 45 Late Iron Age skeletons found in Norway (in most species, including humans, mtDNA is inherited solely from the mother).
The team compared the ancient Norwegian DNA samples to those found in ancient remains from Viking Age Iceland, as well as modern samples from over 5,000 people living in the Shetland and Orkney Islands, Scotland, England, Germany, France, Norway and Sweden.
The study found that the Viking Age population had higher frequencies of K*, U*, V* and I* mtDNA haplogroups than their modern counterparts, but a lower proportion of T* and H* haplogroups. Three individuals carried haplotypes that are rare in Norway today (U5b1b1, Hg A* and an uncommon variant of H*).
The overall picture showed that the ancient Norwegians were genetically similar to the modern populations, especially in Scotland, and the study concluded that “Norse women were important agents in the overseas expansion and settlement of the Vikings, and that women from the Orkneys and Western Isles contributed to the colonization of Iceland.”
The findings support the view that the spread of Norse DNA to distant lands in the Middle Ages wasn’t just down to male-only rapers and pillagers who picked up Gaelic women on their travels – their colonizing expeditions were more of a family outing.