Vikings may be more complicated than you think

Public fascination with the Vikings runs high these days, with many current television series available for bloody binge viewing. But the Vikings have never really gone out of fashion, whether as pure entertainment or because of their actual historical significance.

From time to time, scholars remind the public that the people we call the Vikings did not think of themselves as a group and were largely, but not universally, from the geographical area that we now live in Scandinavia it is said. The Viking Age, from about 750 to 1050, carried out brutal raids, extensive trade and commerce and probably most of the people who lived indoors on the farm.

Now, one of the most comprehensive genetic surveys of ancient DNA has broadened the current historical and archaeological understanding of the Vikings, but it also provides some surprises about their journey and uncovers some poignant personal stories. . Ninety researchers, led by SK Vilslev, an ancient DNA expert at the University of Copenhagen, reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday the analysis of the genomes of 443 ancient humans from Europe and Greenland.

Based on DNA analysis and modern population comparisons, they found that people genetically similar to modern Danes and Norwegians generally led the West in their raids and trade, while “Swedish-like” people mostly headed east. . The findings are based on the tombs of attackers or traders in England, Ireland, Estonia and elsewhere.

However, he found that this was only a general pattern. Sometimes groups such as the Swedes headed west, and others headed east.

They also found considerable genetic diversity in ancient remains, a sign of migration to southern Europe, prior to the Viking era, to the region of Denmark, which underlies any idea of ​​a single Nordic genetic identity. For example, some of Britain’s earliest inhabitants, Picts, were buried as Vikings.

Researchers also found people of mixed Sami and European ancestry. Sami are a herd of reindeer with some Asian genetic background who have lived in Scandinavia and other countries for thousands of years. They are believed to be in conflict with Scandinavians of European heritage during the Viking era.

Dr. Wilslev said the general view was that the two groups were hostile. But perhaps, he said, there were non-hostile interactions between those leading to offspring who were part of mixed heritage and Viking groups.

David Reich of Harvard University, an expert in population studies based on ancient DNA that was not involved in research, said the survey was one of the largest undertakings of ancient DNA. One result of this, he said, was that not only did widespread patterns emerge, but also specific findings that showed relationships between people. He said, “You have to ask detailed questions about how people relate to each other from a site.”

For example, the earliest evidence of a Viking expedition comes from a site buried around 750 in Salme, Estonia, where two Viking ships were buried; Seven men in one, 34 in the other, with weapons, provisions, dogs and birds hunting. No one knows whether it was a raid, or a diplomatic or business expedition gone wrong, but the men were violently killed and buried as warriors.

DNA analysis showed that four of the men had brothers and were related to a fifth man, perhaps an uncle. One of the authors of the report, Neil Price, an archaeologist at Uppsala University in Sweden and author of just “Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings”, said: “We doubt you go with your family, but it reflects Is that they really did. “

“There’s a story behind it,” he said, “Saving Private Ryan ‘or something.”

Soon you will be available to watch binge on your favorite Viking channel.