We thought we knew everything about the Vikings. But some new research suggests we’ve got it wrong.
In the largest study of its kind published in the journal Nature Wednesday, researchers found that many Vikings actually had brown hair. And they were not 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 Vikings did not just come from Scandinavia – they also had genes from both Asia and Southern Europe in their bloodline.
The study by academics at the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark showed that Viking burial sites in Scotland contained local people who may have taken “Viking identities”
Scientists say their findings destroy a lot of preconceptions about Vikings.
“The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was. The history books need to be updated,” said Eske Willerslev, a fellow from St. John’s College, Cambridge.
“We did not know genetically what they actually looked like until now,” Willerslev added.
He said the new research “debunks” the traditional image of blonde Vikings, as “many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx outside Scandinavia.”
The study also revealed genetic differences between the different Viking populations in Scandinavia, suggesting that different groups were more isolated than previously thought.
And the research also showed that the identity of the Viking was not something exclusive for the Vikings themselves.
Two skeletons found on Orkney off the north-east coast of Scotland, which had DNA similar to today’s Irish and Scottish people, were buried in Viking-style tombs. This suggests that they may have taken on Viking identities, researchers say.
The word “viking” comes from the Scandinavian term “vikingr”, which means “pirate”, and the Viking Age refers to the Middle Ages between the 800s and 1050s, the researchers explained.
Vikings are known to have traveled all over Europe and on by sea. Many of these expeditions involved raiding monasteries, but the Vikings also traded goods such as fur, tusks and seal fat.
Researchers found that these male raiding parties consisted of friends, family members and neighbors.
The collected data will also be useful in the study of natural selection earlier, according to lead author Fernando Racimo, assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen.
He said the data “allow us to break down how the selection unfolded before, during and after the Viking movements across Europe,” with the potential to “begin to deduce the physical appearance of ancient Vikings and compare them to Scandinavians today.”
The Vikings’ genetic heritage is still present today, the researchers say, with an estimated 6% of the population in the UK and 10% of the population in Sweden carrying Viking DNA in their genes.