Republication from  national geographic

Image credit: Wikimedia commons


While our modern ideas of these ancient seafarers paint a very homogenous picture, their reality was decidedly diverse.

In popular imagination, Vikings were robust, flaxen-haired Scandinavian warriors who plundered the coastlines of northern Europe in sleek wooden battleships. But despite ancient sagas that celebrate seafaring adventurers with complex lineages, there remains a persistent, and pernicious, modern myth that Vikings were a distinctive ethnic or regional group of people with a “pure” genetic bloodline. Like the iconic “Viking” helmet, it’s a fiction that arose in the simmering nationalist movements of late 19th-century Europe. Yet it remains celebrated today among various white supremacist groups that use the supposed superiority of the Vikings as a way to justify hate, perpetuating the stereotype along the way.

Now, a sprawling ancient DNA study published today in the journal Nature is revealing the true genetic diversity of the people we call Vikings, confirming and enriching what historic and archaeological evidence has already suggested about this cosmopolitan and politically powerful group of traders and explorers.

Murky origins

Who were the Vikings? The answer has never been clear cut. The term “Viking” is itself contested; the English term has its origins in an Old Norse word, víking, with a variety of meanings that range from raiding to exploring to piracy. Usually used by people on the receiving end of violent encounters, it described groups of Scandinavian seafarers between A.D. 750 and 1050—the period now known as the Viking era.

Continue reading