Viking DNA Results In Normandy

A genetic study has determined that some of todays Normans are probably descendants of the Vikings.

Thousands of people thronged the streets of Lerwick, Shetland Islands, last night (TUES) to watch a Viking longboat meet her fate as the blazing centrepiece of Up-Helly-Aa, Shetland's world-famous fire festival. A warm orange glow filled the sky above the town as nearly 1,000 torch-bearing guizers celebrated the island's Norse heritage by burning the dragon-headed vessel before heading into local halls for the mother of all parties. Nuns, monks, leprechauns and a large contingent of cross-dressers paraded proudly behind the modern-day Vikings of the Jarl squad, led by Guizer Jarl John Hunter, as they reduced the 30ft pine board boat to ash. A firework display followed the flaming ritual and temperatures soared as 5,000 people packed into the town centre./Credit:CATERS NEWS AGENCY/SIPA/1101271449

Do the Normans really have Vikings ancestors?

A lot of places in Normandy have names of Viking origin including the local people. A genetic study conducted in the Cotentin region wanted to determine the biological portion of this Scandinavian heritage. Here are the first results.

ANCESTORS. “Men of the North”, such is the literal meaning of the word “Norman”. And the term used to describe the inhabitants of Normandy and their descendants. It was once used to talk about the Vikings, the Scandinavian people who landed on the French coast of the English Channel at the end of the first millennium AD.

Can the Normans today still boast of being the direct descendants of those dreaded Nordic warriors of the Middle Ages? “It could be or not”, The first results of the genetic study were announced Thursday, April 21, 2016.  It was a collaboration between British and French researchers, known as the “Viking DNA Project” aims to determine if the Normans contain a “signature” left by the Vikings. Now, this signature is not always clear.

The Viking DNA Signature

Researchers are interested in Normandy because it is the only sustainable political foundation established by the Vikings on the mainland. Scientists have also focused their study on the population of the Cotentin peninsula because the density of places and people whose names are of Scandinavian origin is particularly strong. “We were interested in men with surnames with Scandinavian-sounding that could reflect this legacy: names such as Anquetil, Dutot, Equilbec, Gonfray, Ingouf, Lanfry, Osouf, Osmont, Quetel, Tougis, Tostain, Raoult and their many variations, explains Richard Jones of the University of Leicester. We have also retained only people whose four grandparents were born and lived within 50 km of their current home. This stable residence is often indicative of a longer history of the family in one area.” In the end, the researchers selected according to these criteria, 89 men. They were asked to complete a genealogical questionnaire and submit to a saliva test. The scientists then looked for a “Viking signature” on the Y chromosome (present only in males and passed from father to son) extracted from cells in saliva. Specifically, they were interested in genetic variations present on this chromosome.

“These changes can be grouped according to several criteria. This allows to classify an individual in a ‘haplogroup’ particular depending on the type of detected changes in their DNA,” said British historian.

Results? Of the 89 men who participated in the study, the vast majority (52) represented haplogroup R1b, the type of Y chromosome variations most common in Northern and Western Europe. Its origin, still unclear, is found on the side of shepherds from the plains north of the Black Sea who migrated to the West 4,000 years ago. There can’t, therefore, be a typical Viking signature. But without totally excluding it either: according to experts, this genetic variation could mean an indirect link with the Vikings. However, haplogroup I1, found in 11 of the Normans of the study, suggests more clearly a possible Viking ancestry (more direct this time).

These variations are indeed very present among the Scandinavians (over 45% of the population belongs to this genetic group in some areas). But a Germanic origin is also possible. In fact, “when we look at fingerprints’ underlying haplogroup I1, some Norman Y chromosomes show an affinity with the Germanic, while others show an affinity with the Scandinavians,” said Richard Jones. Still, “it’s very tempting to consider l1 as a mark left by the Vikings in Normandy because it is present in approximately the same proportions as those observed in other populations with known Viking history,” the searcher. Finally, 2 participants presented a haplogroup often regarded as typical Nordic: R1a. The other haplogroups found among the Normans are a priori unrelated to the Vikings. They are of other origins witnesses, particularly around the Mediterranean (including Sicily and southern Italy, the land that belonged to the Norman empire) and extending further eastward from the Middle East and Eastern Europe (going back perhaps to the Crusades).

These results are however not definitive, but they already reflect a high genetic diversity within the population of Cotentin. The researchers intend to refine their analysis of haplogroups in order to more clearly identify the geographic origins of each.

They also want to study another type of genetic material: mitochondrial DNA (inherited this time by the mother to her children), even more, complex to decipher. Finally, future methods of ancient DNA samples may enable to harvest DNA on Viking skulls: it will then be sufficient to compare this authentic DNA to that of the Normans to see if they are related, rather than attempting to trace the genetic trees following the traces of a possible Viking signature. “Knowledge of the genetic history of Normandy is still in its infancy!” Enthuses Richard Jones.

* Groupware matter between the University of Leicester (UK) and the Centre for Archaeological Research and Historical Ancient and Medieval UMR 6273 (CNRS / UCBN), University of Caen Lower Normandy (France).

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  • alaine deBreaux

    This is intriguing because my ancestry goes back to Rollo and Mainfred (Manni) down through those who settled Percy-on-Auge to the Percy Barons in England to my mother’s Pierce line. Interestingly, I am of German heritage also–Hanover and Mecklenberg (near the Baltic Sea).

    • Zoe Porphyrogenita

      To judge by their use of names such as Alan, the Percy earls’ male line was Breton.

  • Very interesting! I myself have ancestral roots that go back to Normandy and to see that I have even more Viking heritage is always fun to discover.

    • S Oh

      I wonder how many children Rollo had including any not from his official wife. I read that Ragnar Lodbrok, who was probably a close relative of Rollo, but I doubt they were brothers, had something like 19 children.

  • S Oh

    I had my DNA tested by 23&Me and wasn’t surprised that I was in a Scandinavian Haplogroup on my mother’s side, which was made up mainly of Huguenots who left Normandy in the late 1600s. When I met a young man from Normandy while travelling in Asia, I told him that he clearly looked Norwegian and that he must descend significantly from the Vikings. I was from Minnesota, so I know a Norwegian when I see one.

    • Zoe Porphyrogenita

      Which Scandinavian haplogroup?

      • S Oh

        U5b2a1. If you google that haplogroup you’ll get more information on it. According to 23andMe the haplogroup U5b2a1 is most concentrated right now in Finland and Sweden. My mom also has a lot of Dutch ancestry in addition to the French Protestant Normans who moved into Zeeland, so the haplogroup could have been transmitted via the tens of thousands of Norwegians who moved into the Netherlands in the 1600s looking for work on ships or as housemaids for the then wealthy Dutch. They changed their family names to Dutch names after the King of Norway threatened to execute them for “treason” if they returned to Norway or his spies found them. He later withdrew that threat when his economy tanked.

        • Zoe Porphyrogenita

          U5b2a1a or U5b2a1b ? Both are widespread, according to Eupedia: b is across central and northwest Europe, and a occurs from the British isles to Persia. U5 is Mesolithic, correlating with I1, I2 and R1a. I guess it is more concentrated in the northeast Baltic, the Pyrenees and Lower Brittany because these are remote frontier areas, less attractive to others and more defensible. Similar situation with I1 and I2.

          • S Oh

            23&Me doesn’t say whether a or b but I’d have to guess b since my ancestry composition is mostly northwest European according to 23&Me (Germany, Holland, and Normandy, and the Normandy DNA is about 12% (half from the British Isles and the other half Scandinavia).

  • Zoe Porphyrogenita

    Definitive results from a study of the Y DNA extracted by separate teams from teeth believed to belong to Duke Richard II of Normandy, the Conqueror’s grandfather, are expected later this year (2016). Preliminary indications are that it may be R1b-L21. British!

    • Mike

      Have you heard of any new updates on the results?

      • Zoe Porphyrogenita

        Currently still waiting, with bated breath.

  • I am a Ruello and maybe a descendant of Rollo. I am keen to know the results. Why is it taking so long?

  • Lilyrose

    Rollo was a Goth, probably a East Goth. The Goths split into two groups, the East Goths and the West Goths, (visgoths) If you read the Volsung Saga, there’s hints that there was a Gothic migration north. I am guessing Rollo was R1b.