Wednesday 16 September 2020

Irish Viking dna debunks our image of blonde warriors

The largest-ever DNA analysis of Viking remains has shed new light on the identity of Irish Vikings.

This group of invaders certainly changed the course of Irish history and left a lasting legacy on the island’s gene pool, and they are usually recognised as blonde-haired invaders, pirates and warriors, who travelled by sea from Scandinavia to raid and eventually settle on the island.

Viking whalebone plaque: National Museum Ireland - Archaeology
Now, a milestone international study involving cutting-edge DNA analysis on archaeological remains has revealed:
  • Irish Vikings derive much of their genetic ancestry from Norway
  • English Vikings show sharp ancestral differences with their Irish counterparts, with much stronger Danish influences
  • Many Vikings had brown hair, not blonde, including the famous Eyrephort warrior from Co. Galway
  • Viking identity in Britain and Ireland was not limited to those of Scandinavian ancestry
  • An individual buried in the Viking tradition from Ship Street Great is mostly of local origin
The first Irish Viking genomes were published today in the highly respected international journal Nature, as part of the largest ever DNA analysis of Viking remains, led by Professor Eske Willerslev, a Fellow at the University of Cambridge, and director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen.

The six-year project also saw researchers from the National Museum of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin become part of the international effort to decode the genetic make-up of the Viking world. The results debunk the modern image of the typical Viking as a blonde-haired Scandinavian warrior.

You can find out more about this important project and its discoveries on the TCD website.