The arrival of the Vikings in Britain around a thousand years ago was a dramatic event that has left a lasting legacy on our language, landscape and place-names. But did the Vikings leave their genes behind as well? Scientists at the world-famous Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, home of DNA fingerprinting, are beginning a new study to map the extent of Viking ancestry in men who live in the north of England.
The study will focus on the Y chromosome, part of our DNA that is passed down from fathers to sons. Previous work from the group, led by Prof Mark Jobling, has shown a high degree of Viking ancestry among men from the Wirral and West Lancashire, and now the aim is to extend the work further afield. One question to be addressed is the relative distribution of Norse Vikings, focused in the west, and Danish Vikings in the east.
The researchers want to recruit male volunteers whose father’s father was born in Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Durham or Northumberland. “As well as analysing the Y chromosomes, we are also interested in the surnames, because they are passed down the generations in the same way,” said researcher Dr Turi King. “Surnames help us to make deeper links into the past, and tease out the signal of past Viking presence.”
Sampling is done by post, and involves simply brushing the inside of the cheek. In return for participating, volunteers will receive a description of their own Y-chromosome type when the work is completed. Men interested in taking part are asked to email Turi King at firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 07512 586 493.
The project forms part of a recently awarded grant from the Wellcome Trust, ‘What’s in a name? Applying patrilineal surnames to forensics, population history, and genetic epidemiology’.