Viking DNA and Genetic Testing
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Since the Viking tradition died out around 400 years ago, few people alive today have any recorded connection to the Viking societies that dominated parts of Europe and Scandinavia for several thousand years. While these connections have been buried in history, they are now coming to light via modern genetic techniques and the clues that Vikings left in their burial sites - Viking DNA, that is!
Curious if you are related to a Viking? This article breaks down everything you need to know about Viking DNA and looks at a few different ways you can test for your Viking heritage. Check it out!
What is Viking DNA?
DNA is a molecule carried within the cells of all living organisms that stores important information the cell needs to carry out its functions. In every cell of your body, right now, the recipes stored in your genome are being read and turned into important biological molecules. These molecules - proteins, to be precise - are like little cellular machines that build other parts of the cell and give each cell a specific function.
Using advanced sequencing methods to “read” the DNA code, geneticists can now easily compare DNA from two different sources. Since the DNA molecules in each of your cells contain around 6 billion tiny pieces (called nucleotides), this is no small feat! However, all humans share around 99.9% of the same nucleotides in each chromosome. The tiny 0.1% difference accounts for all the variation we see in the modern human population. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, “snips”) represent individual nucleotides that have been changed in certain populations. Since we inherit these SNPs from our parents (and so on back through time), we can use these small changes to track how different populations of people are related to each other!
Well, Vikings had DNA, too! Fortunately for us, the genetic legacy of the Vikings has been preserved in the bone marrow of Vikings that were buried thousands of years ago in the heart of the Viking age!
When archaeologists uncovered these burial sites, they were able to take small DNA samples from the bones of people who lived as a part of Viking societies. Checking if you share DNA with these Vikings is simple. The laboratory will compare your raw DNA data with Viking DNA samples, checking for any overlapping SNPs. Depending on how many mutations you share, this can give scientists a reliable estimate of how closely you are related to the Vikings!
In fact, this process is no different than an ethnicity estimate - except that ethnicity estimates are made from living populations of people, whereas checking your relation to the Vikings relies on ancient, preserved Viking DNA. Otherwise, the science is remarkably similar and incredibly accurate!
Population Genomics: Insights into Viking Lives
Contrary to popular belief, the “Vikings” were not a monolithic group of blond-haired, axe-wielding warriors exclusively from the Scandinavian region. In fact, modern genomic analysis of over 400 Viking DNA samples from 80 different Viking settlements proves conclusively that the “Vikings” were actually an incredibly diverse group of humans that simply shared the same Viking culture and social structure. This study included researchers from the University of Copenhagen, the University of Cambridge, and a number of other universities from across the United Kingdom and Europe. Samples were collected from various museums like the Moesgaard Museum that specialize in Viking and Iron Age archeological samples.
Researches found that the Viking culture may have originated in parts of Scandinavia, but it quickly spread across Europe as the Vikings explored, raided, and established settlements in various locations as far apart as Orkney and Oslo. The common misconception that Vikings were from some sort of “pure” Scandinavian heritage is essentially propaganda from white supremacists groups. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Genetic analyses show that that Viking culture was spread across a very diverse group of people with different skin tones, hair colors, and even religious practices. While Vikings share a spirit of exploration, building settlements, and seem to have used similar weapons and technologies, the word “Viking” actually describes a sort of collective culture rather than a specific population of Norse people.
Since the Viking culture spread throughout many different parts of Europe and Scandinavia, there are actually many different genetic populations that are considered “Viking.” In fact, Vikings and Viking culture were so prolific that there is a good chance you share at least some DNA markers with the Vikings - even if you have no Scandinavian ancestry! Plus, the original Norse Vikings migrated to Germany and Scandinavia from places within western Asia, meaning that some Asian populations share in the Viking haplogroup.
While the Scandinavian Vikings are closely related to the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish peoples, there are other genetically-distinct groups of Vikings that DNA analysis and geogenetics have uncovered. The Finnish Vikings, having a homeland in what is now Finland, had a distinct language and culture. The Slavic Vikings occupied lands deep within areas of what is now Russia and the European steppe. The British Vikings occupied regions of modern-day Great Britain (including parts of England, Scotland, and Wales) and Ireland.
However, genetic analysis of these groups also shows that there was a large amount of genetic exchange between these different populations - likely due to trade routes, wars, and other cultural exchanges throughout the centuries these populations co-existed. Vikings represent a diaspora of peoples from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark that ultimately settled down and interbred with people from Iceland, Greenland, Scotland, Poland, Ukraine, Wales, the British Isles, the Baltics, Estonia, and even parts of Southern Europe. Geneticists have also detected a high level of gene flow between Nordic Vikings, Scottish peoples, the Danes, Anglo-Saxons, and Irish peoples throughout the Viking Age.
Get Tested for Viking DNA and Learn Even More!
To know exactly what Viking populations you are related to, you have a few options! Both options below use a raw DNA data file to analyze your DNA and match it to ancient Viking populations. Check them out!
Genomelink: Viking Index Report
The Genomelink Viking Index Report will analyze your DNA and tell you how closely related you are to each of the 4 genetically-distinct Viking groups outlined above: The Scandinavian Vikings, Finnish Vikings, Slavic Vikings, and British Vikings. The report also comes with detailed information about each of these groups and a short history about how these groups are related and the populations of present-day humans that they are most closely related to.
MyTrueAncestry: Your Ancient Past in Action
MyTrueAncestry not only compares your DNA to a number of Viking DNA samples, but to ancient samples unearthed in archaeological sites spanning thousands of years and 85+ civilizations. For example, you can find out if you are genetically connected to ancient Greek culture, the Celtics, or even the Mayans! This includes several of the same Viking cultures outlined above. While you can compare your DNA to 10 ancient samples for free, an analysis of all the cultures and your ancient haplotype will cost you nearly $600.
National Geographic - Scientists raid DNA to explore Vikings’ genetic roots
Smithsonian Magazine - Sweeping DNA Survey Highlights Vikings’ Surprising Genetic Diversity