A genetic snapshot of Iceland 1,000 years ago


Meeting site of Allthing democratic parliament in 930

Scientists at deCODE genetics have completed the largest study of ancient DNA from a single population ever undertaken. Analyzing mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to offspring, from 68 skeletal remains, the study provides a detailed look at how a contemporary population differs from that of its ancestors.

The results confirm previous deCODE work that used genetics to test the history of Iceland as recorded in the sagas. These studies demonstrated that the country seems to have been settled by men from Scandinavia – the vikings – but that the majority of the original female inhabitants were from the coastal regions of Scotland and Ireland, areas that regularly suffered raids by vikings in the years around the settlement of Iceland 1100 years ago.

The current study further shows that the gene pool of contemporary Icelanders appears to have evolved rapidly over the intervening thousand years. As a result, the original female settlers are genetically less closely related to present-day Icelanders, and instead more closely related to the present day populations of Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia, as well as those of northwestern and southwestern Europe.

This is a demonstration of a phenomenon known as ‘genetic drift.’ In essence, in any population certain individuals will have more offspring and, by chance and in this case over the course of 35 generations, many more descendants than others. And as a result, particularly in a small population, the genetic variety of the original population can decrease and change over time…

Questions leap to mind. Well, for some of us. 🙂

Iceland being the longest-standing democracy in the world, I’m curious how much of an effect came from those Celtic women, still likely themselves to have deep feelings about Druid democracy.

Icelandic society – and property relations especially – are matriarchal. Interesting in light of these findings.

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