The Viking Age through to the modern Scandinavian period is revealed through 2,000 years of genetic history

Kronan underwater fossils

Kronan underwater fossils. Credit: Lars Einarson

reported a new study in the journal cell On January 5, 2023, records genetic history across Scandinavia over a period of 2,000 years, from the Iron Age to the present day. This view of Norse history is based on an analysis of 48 new ancient human genomes and 249 publications representing multiple archaeological sites with genetic data for more than 16,500 people living in Scandinavia today.

Among other intriguing findings, the new study led by Stockholm University and deCODE Genetics (Reykjavik) provides insight into migration patterns and gene flow during the Viking Age (750-1050 AD). It also shows that the ancestors introduced to the region during the Viking period later declined for reasons that are not clear.

“Although still evident in modern Scandinavia, in some areas levels of non-native ancestry are lower than those observed in ancient individuals from the Vikings to the Middle Ages,” said Ricardo Rodriguez-Varela of Stockholm University. “This indicates that ancient individuals of non-Scandinavian ancestry contributed phylogenetically less to the current gene pool in Scandinavia than would be expected based on the patterns observed in the archaeological record.”

Different processes brought people from different regions to Scandinavia [at different times]Added Anders Gutherström, Stockholm University.

Archaeological excavations at Sandby Borg

Archaeological excavations at Sandby Tower. Credit: Daniel Lindskog

The researchers did not originally plan to piece together Scandinavian history across time and space. Instead, they were working on three separate studies focusing on different archaeological sites.

“When we were analyzing the genetic affinities of individuals from various archaeological sites such as the boat burials of the Vendel period, the chamber burials of the Viking period, and known archaeological sites such as the migration period Sandby borg Ringfort, known for the massacre that took place there [in] AD 500, Rodriguez-Varela explained, and personnel from the Royal Swedish warship Kronan in the 17th century, we begin to see differences in levels and origin of non-native race across different regions and periods of Scandinavia.

“At the beginning, we were working with three different studies,” Gutherstrom said. “One on Sandby Burgh, one on the boat burials, one on Kronan the Man-of-War. At some point it made sense to unite them into a single study of Scandinavian demography over the last two millennia.”

The aim was to document how past migrations affected the Norse gene pool across time and space to better understand the current Norse genetic makeup. As reported in the new study, the researchers found regional variation in the timing and magnitude of gene flow from three sources: the eastern Baltic, British-Irish Isles, and southern Europe.

Kronan underwater fossils

Kronan underwater fossils. Credit: Lars Einarson

Anglo-Irish ancestry was prevalent in Scandinavia from the Viking period, while East Baltic ancestry is more localized in Jutland and central Sweden. In some regions, the decline in current levels of outward ancestry indicates that ancient immigrants contributed phylogenetically less to the modern Scandinavian gene pool than suggest ancestors of genomes from the Viking and medieval periods.

Finally, the data show that the northern and southern genetic stratification that characterizes modern Scandinavia is mainly due to differential levels of Uralic ancestry. It also shows that this dish existed in the Viking Age and maybe even earlier.

Götherström suggests that what the data reveals about the nature of the Viking period is perhaps even more interesting. Immigration from the West affected all of Scandinavia, and immigration from the East was sexist, with primarily women moving into the region. As the researchers wrote, overall, the results “indicate a significant increase [in gene flow] During the Viking period a possible bias towards females was introduced in the eastern Baltic and, to a lesser extent, the Anglo-Irish dynasties.

They continued: “It appears that the influx of genes from the British-Irish Isles during this period had a lasting effect on the gene pool in most parts of Scandinavia.” This is perhaps unsurprising given the extent of Norse activities in the British-Irish Isles, beginning in the eighth century with frequent raids and culminating in the North Sea Empire in the eleventh century, the personal union that united the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and England. It is likely that the circumstances and fate of the persons The ancestry of the British-Irish who arrived in Scandinavia at this time is variable, ranging from the forced migration of slaves to the voluntary migration of high-ranking individuals such as Christian missionaries and monks.”

Overall, the findings show that the Viking period in Scandinavia was a very dynamic period, as they say, with people moving around and doing many different things. In future work, they hope to add additional genetic data in hopes of learning more about how the dynasties that arrived during the Viking period were later diluted. They would also like to determine when the north-south creeks were formed based on studying ancient datasets larger than the north.

“We need more pre-Vikings from northern Scandinavia to investigate when the Uralic dynasty entered this region,” said Rodriguez-Varela. Also, individuals from 1000 BC to 0 are very rare, [and] recovery[{” attribute=””>DNA from Scandinavian individuals with these chronologies will be important to understand the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age in this part of the world. Finally, more individuals from the Medieval period until the present will help us to understand when and why we observe a reduction in the levels of non-local ancestry in some current regions of Scandinavia.”

“There is so much fascinating information about our prehistory to be explored in ancient genomes,” Götherström said.

Reference: “The genetic history of Scandinavia from the Roman Iron Age to the present” by Ricardo Rodríguez-Varela, Kristjan H.S. Moore, S. Sunna Ebenesersdóttir, Gulsah Merve Kilinc, Anna Kjellström, Ludvig Papmehl-Dufay, Clara Alfsdotter, Birgitta Berglund, Loey Alrawi, Natalija Kashuba, Verónica Sobrado, Vendela Kempe Lagerholm, Edmund Gilbert, Gianpiero L. Cavalleri, Eivind Hovig, Ingrid Kockum, Tomas Olsson, Lars Alfredsson, Thomas F. Hansen, Thomas Werge, Arielle R. Munters, Carolina Bernhardsson, Birgitte Skar, Axel Christophersen, Gordon Turner-Walker, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Eva Daskalaki, Ayça Omrak, Patxi Pérez-Ramallo, Pontus Skoglund, Linus Girdland-Flink, Fredrik Gunnarsson, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Kerstin Lidén, Mattias Jakobsson, Lars Einarsson, Helena Victor, Maja Krzewinska, Torun Zachrisson, Jan Storå, Kári Stefánsson, Agnar Helgason and Anders Götherström, 5 January 2023, Cell.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.11.024

This research was supported by the Swedish Research Council project ID 2019-00849_VR and ATLAS (Riksbankens Jubileumsfond). Part of the modern dataset was supported by a research grant from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), grant number 16/RC/3948, and co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund and by FutureNeuro industry partners.

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