There is a stereotype that the Viking lifestyle, for the most part, consisted only of epic battles and brutal raids on neighbors and that they were all burly, muscular men with blonde hair and blue eyes. But this is not the case. A recent large-scale genetic study published in the Nature journal showed that the Vikings were not as homogeneous a group of people as it was believed. DNA analysis of the remains from Viking burials revealed that these people often had roots outside Scandinavia and sometimes were not Scandinavians at all. The study also revealed new data on the travel destinations of the ancient Vikings.

Stereotypes about Vikings

The Vikings were said to be brave Scandinavian sailors, tall and blue-eyed blondes who terrified the coastal cities of Europe with their fast sailing vessels — Drakkar. However, the previously mentioned genetic study by an international group of scholars has shown that this is nothing more than a silly old myth and that the “Viking” was more of a job description rather than a specific ethnic group.

How was it researched?

Scientists have deciphered the genomes of 442 men, women, and children whose remains were found in Viking burials in Greenland, Ukraine, Britain, Scandinavia, Poland, and Russia. In addition, the researchers analyzed data on 1,118 people who lived there in the past and 3,855 people still living today.

Who were the Vikings?

Research shows that the Vikings were not a homogeneous group of people. In particular, this applies to their appearance. For example, dark-haired people were more common in Scandinavia back then than they are now. Scientists have not found any Scandinavian DNA in the Viking burial in Britain, but some remains buried in Scandinavia had Irish and Scottish markers. In addition, several individuals buried in Viking tradition turned out to be Saami, an indigenous people genetically closer to East Asians and Siberians than Europeans. Based on the results, scientists conclude that the word “Viking” in at least some groups in ancient times referred to the occupation and not the appearance or origin.

Where did they travel?

Genetic analysis has allowed scientists to trace the movement of ancient Vikings and their origins. They found out that the Vikings of Sweden made frequent runs to the Baltic, Poland, and the rivers of Ukraine and Russia, while the Vikings of Denmark visited England more. On the other hand, the Norwegians preferred the North Atlantic zone, where they colonized Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland.

Although scientists have found little evidence of genetic mixing between different people, some coastal cities have been hotspots for genetic diversity. One of them was located in modern Denmark; the other two were on the islands of Gotland and Eland, which now belong to Sweden.

The genome of modern humans still preserves the legacy of the ancient Vikings. For example, about 6% of Britons, 5% of Poles, 10% of Swedes, and 12-15% of Norwegians have their DNA. What does this all mean? Not much, really, aside from the fact that even today, we’re still slaves to the centuries-old stereotypes and that there are a lot of misconceptions yet to be shattered.