Viking Era

Not-so-breaking news flash – – Did you know some Vikings had non-Scandinavian ancestors?

Illustration of what a Viking warrior may have looked like. Typical armament would have been one-hand battle ax and wood shield.  Notice well groomed hair and beard. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Sometimes you just gotta’ laugh at news reports…

With surprise that is not news to anyone who’s ever read more than one actual book on the Vikings, news reports from most media outlets are breathlessly reporting somewhere around 90 researchers in evolutionary genetics announced their research showing that there’s a lot of Western European, English, Slavic, and Mediterranean DNA in Vikings buried during the Viking Age. News reports present this as breakthrough research.

Check out:

The supposed shocker is people buried in Scandinavia during the Viking age are not pure blood Scandinavians.  Instead there are “significant gene flows” into the Scandinavian population from southern Europe and Asia.

Poking fun flows so easy…

The abstract for the paper declares there is Danish gene flow into England, Swedish gene flow into the Baltics, and Norwegian gene flow to Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. The researchers also find gene flow from Europe into Scandinavia.

“Gene flow” means the visiting guy warriors, um, hung out with the local girls and had lots of children after living with the local girls for years.

If you have read even one book on the Vikings you are well aware the Danes settled in England and negotiated a partitioned area for themselves.  Check out the concept of Danelaw.

You are also aware the Norwegians settled Iceland and Greenland along with having a major presence in Ireland.  You also know the Swedes typically went east to the Baltics and south through what is now Russia to reach the Byzantine Empire.

In general, the Norwegians sailed west and the Swedes sailed east. Check out a map and it will take about 15 seconds to realize why. So the direction of ‘gene flow’ and the specific locations makes perfect sense.

If you have done any reading (in contrast to merely watching TV) you also know the Vikings captured lots of slaves along the way. (Yeah, they were big into human trafficking. They really, really liked human trafficking. They took home lots of silver coin from slave trading.) Most slaves were sold and some they took home.

While out aviking, the Vikings would grab some women from the raided areas, taking them home as wives or concubines or slaves.

In a surprise to no one over the age of about, oh 13 or 14 I suppose, those Vikings had children through their new wives and concubines. Those children would grow up as….Vikings.

In what should be a surprise to absolutely nobody, the DNA pool in Viking Age Scandinavia is quite varied.

In another non-surprise, the authors breathlessly point out not every Viking had blond hair. With all the foolin’ around, it is a bit of a surprise there is so much blond hair today in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Okay, I’m done laughing at the news reports.

Wait. Not yet.

The news reports also breathlessly announce that one burial site shows four men from one family buried together when they died on the same day. Other bodies at the site show genetic closeness such that they certainly came from the same village or were kinfolk.

My absolute lack of shock over this news is based on knowing Viking longships were crewed by men from the same village or same area.  The local yarl (petty king) would build a boat, raise a crew, and send out a raiding party. If a yarl was bossman of a larger area, each village under influence of such yarl might build and staff its own ship.

Thus, all the members of the ship usually would be neighbors, if not somehow related. If a ship’s crew of 30 or 60 had a really bad day in battle, it would be no surprise that 4 men from one family perished in the battle. Yet that is a news flash to reporters who are all rewriting the abstract as their own reporting.

Okay, now I’ll stop chuckling.

Wait.

The story has been picked up by the New York Times, National Geographic, CNN, Guardian, Science Alert, and ArsTechnica. along with dozens of other outlets.

I learned years ago that journalism today means surfing the ‘net for breaking news, rewriting any juicy story, then publishing it in your paper. Within a day or two most new outlets on the planet will have their own story repeating the original story.

Actually, I was encouraged by the ArsTechnica article, which did not report this as breaking news, instead explaining it provides reinforcement to what was already known while providing nuance on the already understood patterns.

 

Seriously, the real value of the research paper is to provide genetic evidence that supports what other researchers from other disciplines have learned previously. This paper reinforces and can subtly refine what is already known. Now that is useful news.

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