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Has Viking settlement in England been underestimated?

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Has Viking settlement in England been underestimated?

Post Neon Knight on Fri 12 Jan - 22:25

http://sciencenordic.com/new-study-reignites-debate-over-viking-settlements-england

The Vikings plundered, raided, and eventually reigned over a large part of what is modern day England. But exactly how many Danish Vikings migrated west and settled down in the British Isles?

In 2015, a large DNA study sparked a row between DNA scientists and archaeologists after concluding that the Danish Vikings had a “relatively limited” influence on the British—a direct contradiction to archaeological remains and historical documents.“We see no clear genetic evidence of the Danish Viking occupation and control of a large part of England,” write DNA scientists in a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2015.

A new study has reignited the debate by claiming that somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 Vikings relocated to England.

“We don’t think that the Nature study analysis of the Danish Vikings is correct. We think that they incorrectly interpret the DNA material and that they don’t take into account all of the archaeological discoveries and the knowledge that historians and archaeologists have gathered concerning the Danish Vikings in England,” says co-author Jane Kershaw, an archaeologist and Viking researcher Jane Kershaw, a post doc at the University College London.

The new study is published in the archaeological journal Antiquity. In it, Kershaw and her colleague argue that evidence collected from language studies, written sources, and archaeological discoveries indicate a “large-scale Danish Viking presence in England,” says Kershaw.

The new result is pretty much what Viking researcher Søren Sindbæk, a professor at the School of Culture and Society from Aarhus University, Denmark, had expected. “It’s very interesting because it gives a very precise estimate of how many Vikings that moved to England. Both their analysis of the genetic material and archaeological remains indicate that the Danish Vikings had quite a significant influence,” says Sindbæk. “It all fits together beautifully and I’m in total agreement with their critique of the original DNA study conclusions about the Vikings,” he says.

Sindbæk was not involved in either of the two studies, but has closely followed the debate about the influence of Vikings in England. “20,000 to 35,000 Vikings moving to England might not sound like much to us. But remember that this was before flying, cellphones, and GPS. In the Viking times it was quite a significant migration,” says Sindbæk . . .

Kershaw was shocked when she read in British media that a new DNA study showed that Danish Vikings had very little influence on British genetics. “When I first read the Nature study I was a little shocked. I thought, “No, it simply doesn’t fit.” All of my own research is based on completely the opposite argument that there were a lot of Vikings—both men and women-- that settled in England,” says Kershaw.

She immediately called her friend Ellen Røyrvik, a geneticist at the University of Warwick, UK, who was one of the co-authors on the 2015 study. “Ellen explained that, in her opinion, there were many problems with the study’s interpretation of the DNA data concerning the Danish Vikings. This ended up being the reason why we collaborated to write a response, which is the study that’s just been published in Antiquity,” says Kershaw.

The original DNA study in Nature provides a genetic map of the British population and both Kershaw and Røyrvik stress that their criticism does not apply to the whole study—only to the conclusions that relates to the Danish Vikings. “The data are excellent, I just feel the interpretation is too simplistic,” says Røyrvik.

The Nature study concluded 20 per cent of the British DNA comes from the Anglo-Saxons who had come from Germany and invaded England in the 5th and 6th centuries. The study concluded that they largely mixed with the existing population. They concluded that it was difficult to isolate the influence of the Danish Vikings just by looking at the DNA material. “We’re quite confident that the Danish Vikings didn't leave much DNA in the UK population,” says Peter Donnelly, lead-author on the Nature study and director of the People of the British Isles project, which supplied the genetic data for the Nature study . . .

Their mistake, according to Røyrvik, is the way in which they differentiate between the Anglo-Saxon and Danish Viking DNA. A part of the genetic input that they describe as Anglo-Saxon actually probably has a Danish origin, she says.

“I think that the population that they think reflects Anglo-Saxons, also includes Danish Vikings. The arguments that they use to establish that it doesn’t apply to Danish Vikings don’t hold up,” says Røyrvik. She points out that the Anglo-Saxons invaded England in the 5th century, but they originally came from northern Germany, close to Jutland in West Denmark, where the Vikings later prospered. “It’s difficult to separate Danish Vikings and Anglo-Saxons genetically because these populations lived so close together. And at the same time, the Vikings arrived in England relatively soon after the Anglo-Saxons. This leads to extra uncertainty and it means that you can’t separate the two,” says Røyrvik . . .

DNA scientist Professor Rasmus Nielsen, from the Center for Theoretical Evolutionary Genomics at the University of California, Berkeley, USA, has read both the Nature study and the criticisms in the new Antiquity study. He emphasises that the Nature study methodology is both ground-breaking and innovative, but: “In relation to the part of the conclusions that relate to the Danish Vikings, I agree that they have probably pushed the interpretation of their results a bit further than what the data can support,” says Nielsen. “But I hope that this doesn’t overshadow that technically speaking, it’s a very impressive study,” he says.

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