Viking DNA and surnames

New research techniques have provided novel insights about the Viking diaspora and our relationship to it.  By focusing on those parts of the British Isles most settled by Scandinavians, researchers have been able to learn more about their impact using DNA and surname analysis on modern populations.  A study in the Wirral and West Lancashire showed that, of men with old-established local surnames, 50% of those tested in the Wirral had a Y-chromosome match in Scandinavia.  The percentage for West Lancashire was 30%.  Although this didn’t guarantee Viking lineage for any of the individuals tested, it provided further evidence of Scandinavian legacy in this part of the UK.

Viking skeleton


Moving People Changing Places

“In Orkney, gravesites reveal two very different women. One, a young, stout and wealthy mother of newborn twins, and the other a high-status, elderly matriarch from Scar, buried in a boat with a younger man and child, who might even have been a priestess.”
Judith Jesch, expert on Viking Britain

This unique Viking cross shows a radical approach to religion. It is carved with a crucifixion scene and images from Norse mythology, possibly linking the two belief systems.

The Gosforth Cross
© Judith Jesch, The Gosforth Cross

Viking legacy

Recent research has taken a fresh look at the Vikings, the Danes and Norse who raided and later settled in the British Isles from 800 to 1100 CE, seeing them as part of a widespread diasporic population stretching from Eastern Europe to North America but with their roots in Scandinavia.  Questions have been asked about their culture and identity, and the way these both influenced the life of local populations and were changed by it.  The impact of the Vikings runs deep in the history of the United Kingdom.

migration map

How do we know about the migrations of the Danes and Norse, and their identities and cultures?  Many traces of their settlement have been unearthed and examined by archaeologists and specialists in early written sources.  Remains of their daily life, boat-building, runic inscriptions, coins, sagas and place names provide evidence of how they lived, their language and stories.  These tell us not only about their Scandinavian traditions, but also about how they engaged with their new environment and made it their own.

Sometimes evidence attests to the local dominance of Scandinavian settlers and their culture. In other places, for example in the Isle of Man, it suggests an ethnically mixed Celtic- Scandinavian population.

Vikings were male warriors, but what about the women who came with them, or those in local communities that they formed relationships with?  Once Viking invaders had established what was later to be known as the Danelaw, immigration from Scandinavia followed in the 10th and 11th centuries.  Archaeological finds in graves and on rune stones show the presence of female settlers in many places, but particularly in the Northern Isles and around the Irish Sea. Skeletal remains, jewellery, tools for weaving, and clothing remnants have been found.

Up Helly Aa annual festival

Up Helly Aa, annual festival, burning longship, Lerwick, Scotland