Viking families traveled together, research shows

Frank Douwes CC BY 2.0

Frank Douwes (CC BY 2.0)


(—A new study shows that when Vikings moved to new territories, men and women traveled together. Erika Hagelberg of the University of Oslo and her colleagues compared ancient Norse and Icelandic mitochondrial DNA with mitochondrial DNA of modern Northwestern Europeans. They found similarities between the ancient and modern DNA suggesting women played a significant role in Viking migrations. The research appears in The Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B.

Vikings traveled long distances, establishing colonies in Iceland and many parts of Northwestern Europe. They even traveled as far as North America. It’s a commonly held belief that Viking expeditions consisted entirely of men, and that a shortage of women at home compelled Viking men to seek out women in foreign lands. Earlier genetic studies have suggested that while Viking men ventured forth to pillage and plunder, women and children stayed home. Viking women did not rejoin their men until after the men had already settled in new territories.

Hagelberg’s team wanted to gain a better understanding of the migration patterns of Viking women. To do this, they studied mitochondrial DNA. Carried in egg cytoplasm, mitochondrial DNA passes through the maternal line. The team examined mitochondrial DNA from the teeth and long bones of 45 skeletons of ancient Norwegians who lived between A.D. 796 and 1066. They found that it was similar to the previously analyzed mitochondrial DNA of ancient Icelanders.

The researchers then compared the Norse and Icelandic mitochondrial DNA to the mitochondrial DNA of more than 5,000 modern people from the Scottish mainland, the Shetland and Orkney Islands, Norway, Sweden, England, Germany and France. They found that the ancient mitochondrial DNA closely resembled that of the modern Northwestern Europeans.

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