The difficulty of defining ethnicity on the basis of genetic evidence has once again been demonstrated by the recent analysis of DNA from a Viking gravesite in southern Greenland. Those buried in the 1,000-year-old graveyard are among the first settlers to have arrived on the island after it was colonised in AD 985 by Icelanders and Norwegians — except that the genetic data from the remains show that these Nordic pioneers also had Celtic blood in their veins, probably originating from the British Isles.

Jette Arneborg, Curator and Senior Scientist at the National Museum in Copenhagen, and one of the Danish archaeologists involved in the project to study southern Greenland’s early European settlers, says that: ‘Initial results somewhat surprisingly suggest that the people in the graves were more Celtic than Nordic. We’ve always known that Norsemen travelled a lot and we also know that the early inhabitants of the Faroe Islands and Iceland had traces of Celtic genes. But now we also have evidence of this in Greenland as well’.

Earlier studies of populations living in the Faroe Islands and Iceland have shown that it was primarily the women who were of Celtic origin. Arneborg believes this indicated that the Vikings may have come from Norway stopping by the British Isles, from where they took women with them on their North Atlantic journey via the Faroe Islands and Iceland to southern Greenland.’


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 41. Click here to subscribe

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