Posts Tagged ‘arctic canada’
The headline of Traci Watson’s National Geographic News article sensationalizes the news a bit–it would have been a one-time migration to Iceland, on medieval Europe’s extreme western periphery, and the effects are limited to Iceland–but it’s still fascinating to think that there might have been pre-Columbian migration between the two hemispheres of the world with lasting effects.
Five hundred years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged to Europe with Vikings, according to a provocative new DNA study.
Analyzing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to one found mostly in Native Americans.
This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, the study authors theorize.
Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so.
The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders’ variant, the research team says.
“We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas,” said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues. “So all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them.
[. . .]
Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.
Those four lineages, in turn, likely descended from a single woman with Native American DNA who must have been born no later than 1700, according to study co-author Ebenesersdóttir.
The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, study co-author Helgason said.
The DNA in question doesn’t have precise parallels with any existing First Nations population, although many similar mutations do exist.
The whole story is remarkable inasmuch as the historical consensus is that relations between the Vikings and the First Nations of the Arctic and Newfoundland, the so-called Skræling, were profoundly hostile.
Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, scholars say.
“It makes no sense to me,” said archaeologist and historian Hans Gulløv of the Greenland Research Centre in Copenhagen.
For one thing, experts say, nothing in excavations or the Icelandic sagas—thought to be rooted in fact but not entirely reliable—suggests a personal alliance of the kind reported in the new study, published online November 10 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
The Saga of Erik the Red does tell of four Skraeling boys—the Norse term for the American Indians—who were captured by an Icelandic expedition and taken back to Greenland, said Birgitta Wallace, an emeritus archaeologist for Parks Canada who has written extensively about the Norse.
But Icelanders spent little time in North America, and their relations with the people they found living there seem to have been mostly hostile, she said. The stories “talk in not very flattering terms about [Native Americans'] looks,” Wallace said.
One saga, she added, tells of explorers “who found some sleeping natives—and they just killed them.”
“What we have is a big mystery,” study co-author Helgason admitted.
But still, the DNA evidence suggests that all it took was a single woman’s child. Spike on Facebook, who linked to the article, theorized that the woman likely belonged to either to the Dorset in the Arctic or the Beothuk culture in Newfoundland, both areas contacted by the Vikings in the medieval period. I’d be inclined to bet on the woman coming from the Dorset culture, since the Viking pattern of occasional trade with the inhabitants of the Arctic would support migration better than the violently failed settlement in Newfoundland.