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DNA - Background of the Orkneys

      10 May 2001 The newsletter of the University of Oxford Vol. 1 Issue 10 


      New light shed on the legacy of the Vikings
      Scientists at the Department of Molecular Medicine and the Institute of Biological Anthropology, in an international collaboration with a team from Reykjavik, have published research that casts new light on the genetic legacy of the Vikings of Iceland and the Scottish Isles. 
      The findings, which appeared in the March issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, are the result of research carried out by Agnar Helgason and Professor Ryk Ward of the Institute of Biological Anthropology, Professor Bryan Sykes, Dr Eileen Hickey and Dr Sara Goodacre of the Oxford Genetic Atlas Project at the University's Institute of Molecular Medicine, and scientists from deCODE Genetics in Iceland. 

      Archaeologists have told us that Vikings from western Norway dominated the north Atlantic from the eighth to eleventh centuries, raiding Scottish monasteries, and occasionally settling permanently with local women. The study, which detects the genetic echo of these events in the modern population, has provided a far clearer picture of the extent to which these two populations mixed than was previously known. Using DNA taken from more than 1,600 volunteers in Scandinavia, Orkney, the Western Isles, and the Isle of Skye, the team analysed the gene known as mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited exclusively down the maternal line. This allowed them to developed a new method to estimate the Gaelic affinity of each sample. 

      Findings have shown that a high proportion of Icelanders (60 per cent), trace their maternal ancestry back to Scotland rather than Scandinavia. This suggests either that Vikings who had previously settled with Scottish wives in Scotland returned to settle in Iceland, or that Icelandic Vikings raided Scotland and took Scottish women back to Iceland with them. The study also revealed the contribution of Viking women to the ancestors of the modern population of Orkney (35 per cent) the Western Isles (12 per cent) and the Isle of Skye (12 per cent). 

I saw this on the web and thought it may interest Sinclairs with Orkney roots.
Mark Anderson
Cape Town