Vikings burst onto the world stage in the late 700s.
For the next three centuries, known as the Viking Age, Viking ships carried their warriors to distant lands, from modern-day Turkey to Canada.
Could traces of these great adventurers be found in your DNA today?
“There’s a little Viking in everyone”
A common question from people who take the AncestryDNA test and see “Scandinavian” in their results is, “Does that mean I’m part Viking?”
As one of Ancestry’s DNA experts, it’s one of my favorite questions. The answer is a bit complex but fascinating.
I often start my response by saying,
“I like to joke that there is a little Viking in everyone.”
My “Viking” DNA story
Many people with British and Irish heritage (and no known Scandinavian ancestors) may be surprised to discover traces of Scandinavian ethnicity in their AncestryDNA test results.
I’m the perfect example. I can trace my family back to the 1600s in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in several of my lines.
And my DNA test results do show 67% British and 22% Irish, which matches my well-documented family story. But they also show 10% Scandinavian.
How did I get my Scandinavian ancestry? It could well come through my British or Scottish ancestors.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the history of the Vikings in the UK and Ireland.
Vikings in the UK and Ireland
For many, the Viking Age in England began in earnest in June of 793, when Vikings destroyed the abbey on Lindisfarne, on an island off the northeastern coast.
The devastation of the holy island was reported by an Anglo-Saxon scholar (Alcuin of York), who wrote,
“Never before in Britain has such a terror appeared.”
About 80 years later, in 876, Danish Vikings began to invade northern and eastern England.
They eventually came to control a third of the country, defeating several smaller Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
The area the Danish Vikings conquered became known as the Danelaw.
The Danish invaders struggled for nearly 8 decades with English kings over the region.
Traces of Vikings remain today
Many mark the end of the Viking Age in England in 1066.
In that year, the Saxon King Harold Godwinson defeated the Norwegian King Harald III at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.
But echoes of the Danelaw remain.
Place names ending in -howe and -thorp have Norse origins. English words like husband, sky, and window also hark back to Viking times.
Amazingly, it seems that we might also be able to catch glimpses of Viking times in our DNA.
A map of the average AncestryDNA Scandinavian ethnicity estimates across Great Britain and Ireland reveals patterns that may coincide with known events in Viking history.
In the Northeast Midlands, we see the highest average Scandinavian ethnicity of 11.1%.
In fact, across Great Britain there is a clear pattern: the highest Scandinavian genetic ethnicity is found in northeast England, decreasing as you get further from that region.
And in Ireland, the average Scandinavian ethnicity varies rather widely, with a high of 5.3% in Ulster and a low of 2.0% in Munster. Scotland and Wales range from 8% in Wales to 6.5% in Southern Scotland.
So am I part Viking?
Well, just to be clear, the Scandinavian ethnicity shown in your AncestryDNA ethnicity estimate confirms your DNA is similar to a group of modern-day people in our AncestryDNA Reference Panel with deep roots in Scandinavia.
But the Vikings did come from Scandinavia, to the same areas of Great Britain and Ireland with the highest average amounts of Scandinavian ethnicity today.
And the Danelaw was only one instance of migration by Scandinavians to Britain. Another, for example, was the 5th-century Anglo-Saxon migration, in which the Germanic tribes involved in that migration (such as the Angles and the Jutes) had their origins in Scandinavia.
Find out your Scandinavian ethnicity estimate today with an AncestryDNA test.