We thought we knew everything about the Vikings. But some new research suggests we got it wrong.
In the largest study of its kind, published in Nature Wednesday, researchers found that many Vikings have brown hair. And they weren’t just from Scandinavia.
In a six-year study, archaeologists and academics used DNA technology to analyze more than 400 Viking skeletons from sites in Scandinavia, Greenland and the United Kingdom.
They discovered that not only did the Vikings hail from Scandinavia – they also had genes from both Asia and southern Europe in their lineage.
The study, conducted by academics at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, found that Viking burial sites in Scotland include local people who may have taken “Viking identities”.
The researchers say their findings shattered many preconceptions surrounding the Vikings.
“The results change the notion of who the Vikings actually were. The history books will need updating,” said Esk Willersliffe, a fellow at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
“We didn’t know genetically what it looked like until now,” Willersleaf added.
He said the new research “exposes” the traditional image of blond Vikings, because “many of them have brown hair and have been affected by the genetic influx from outside of Scandinavia.”
The study also revealed genetic differences between different Viking groups within Scandinavia, indicating that the different groups were more isolated than previously thought.
The research also indicated that the identity of the Vikings was not exclusive to the Vikings themselves.
Two skeletons were found at Orkney, off the northeast coast of Scotland, which contained DNA similar to people of the Irish and Scots era, and were buried in Viking-style graves. Researchers say this indicates that they may have taken on Vikings’ identities.
The researchers explained that the word “Viking” is derived from the Scandinavian term “Viking” which means “pirate” and that the Viking Age refers to the medieval period between 800 and 1050.
Vikings are known to have traveled through Europe and beyond by sea. Many of these campaigns included raiding monasteries, but the Vikings also traded in goods such as furs, canines, and seal fat.
The researchers found that these male-only parties consisted of friends, family members, and neighbors.
The data collected will also be useful in studying natural selection in the past, according to lead author Fernando Rasimo, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen.
He said the data “allows us to deconstruct how selection occurred before, during and after the Vikings’ movements across Europe” with the possibility “to begin to deduce the physical appearance of the ancient Vikings and compare them to today’s Scandinavians.”
The researchers said the genetic legacy of the Vikings still exists today, with an estimated 6% of people in the UK and 10% of people in Sweden carrying Viking acid in their genes.