January 13, 2018 – FRN –
Scientists have deciphered the DNA of the oldest Vikings and found that they are descendants of two different groups of people – people from Central Europe and inhabitants of the north of modern Russia and the Baltic States, who migrated to Scandinavia about 10 thousand years ago, according to an article published in the journal PLoS Biology.
“We discovered that 10 thousand years ago, when Scandinavia became warmer, two groups of migrants settled its territory. These migrations were repeated many times afterwards – at the end of the Stone Age, at the beginning of the Bronze Age and after the appearance of civilization. Modern Scandinavians have almost nothing in common with the first inhabitants of the peninsula,”said Mattias Jacobson from Uppsala University in Sweden.
As scientists believe today, the first people arrived in Europe about 45-40 thousand years ago, traveling in several ways – through the Balkans, the islands of the Mediterranean and moving along the coast of Africa towards Spain.
The first inhabitants of Europe, whose trace has almost completely disappeared from the DNA of modern Europeans, settled almost all of its northern regions, including Britain, the north of Russia and Scandinavia – which earlier were covered with ice and not suitable for life. It was only 17-15 thousand years ago, with a warmer climate, the north became accessible to its first inhabitants.
Jacobson and his colleagues have deciphered the DNA of the first inhabitants of Scandinavia, whose remains were buried on the western coast of Norway, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea and in the Stura-Carlsø reserve about 6-9 thousand years ago.
Due to low temperatures and permafrost, DNA fragments remained unusually preserved in their bones, which helped scientists to restore the genomes, with almost the same accuracy of genetic material from modern people.
Scientists looked at not only the “female” mitochondrial DNA and the “male” Y chromosome, but also found about 10,000 small mutations in the rest of their genome. This allowed to very accurately calculate the age of the remains, reveal their pedigree and find their modern relatives.
The results of the analysis were extremely surprising to scientists – it turned out that the inhabitants of the western part of modern Norway were much closer in their DNA to the ancient inhabitants of the north of Russia and the Baltic States, than to their neighbors living in the southern part of Scandinavia. These genomes were similar to the genetic material of hunter-gatherers living at that time in Germany and in other regions of Central Europe.
According to scientists, this is due to the fact that Scandinavia at that time had two isolated populations of ancient “Vikings”, one of which penetrated the region from the south, moving through Denmark and the adjacent islands, and the second – from the east, moving along the coast Norway. Interestingly, these first inhabitants of the peninsula, according to Jacobson and his colleagues, were extremely unlike each other.
Southerners had a typical “European” appearance of the time – they had blue eyes and dark skin, and the northern “Vikings” were distinguished by light skin and a variety of colors of eyes and hair. These differences match archaeological and paleochemical data, showing that these people were nourished by different foods and produced completely different instruments of labor.
Traces of DNA from both groups of people have been preserved in the genomes of the later inhabitants of Scandinavia, as well as modern inhabitants. This suggests that they were not isolated from each other and periodically entered into contact, exchanging DNA. As scientists suggest, such an exchange helped their common descendants to adapt to life in the harsh northern Europe and maintain a high level of genetic diversity that is not observed in other regions of the subcontinent.