August 6th, 2013

Was Your Native American Ancestor Captured by Vikings?

I recently came across this article published by National Geographic that I thought was important to share, especially with those of Native American Ancestry. The article discussed the possibility that “Five hundred years beforeColumbus sailed the ocean blue, a Native American woman may have voyaged toEurope with Vikings.” Of course if a Native American woman was captured and taken away as a trophy, there is a good possibility that a child was born at some later date. This theory is not based on assumption or hypothesis, but on the results of an amazingly revealing DNA study.

The study analyzed Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) the type which passes only from mother to child, and discovered over eighty living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to a type generally found in Native Americans. Scientists figure that this particular signature was introduced to Icelandic bloodlines around the year 1000 AD. It is assumed that the first child of Viking-Native American heritage was probably born around that time.

There are historical accounts and archaeological evidence which prove that Vikings fromIceland landed in Greenland bust before 1000 AD, and then soon landed inCanada. The Vikings even established a settlement inNewfoundland, though it was deserted after about yen years. It would not be hard to believe that the Icelandic Vikings encountered Native American tribes, and due to their inherent warring nature, fought with them. Women were often carried off as part of the spoils of war to be used as slaves or concubines. It is really the only explanation for the DNA similarities that makes any sense.

One of the co-authors of the study Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and theUniversity ofIceland, stated that “all you have to do is assume … that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them. Although it’s maybe interesting and surprising, it’s not all that incredible.” The alternative explanation is that the mutation is an independently existing condition that might also exist undiscovered in a small amount of Europeans. Helgason believes that the alternative explanations are “to me are less likely”. Helgason, along with the student that co-authored the study with him Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and some additional colleagues admit that this particular line of research is far from over.

Dating the DNA Mutation

I thought it very relevant that to confirm the relationship between the Native American and Icelandic DNA signature, the team of Icelanders used genealogical research. The result was even more fantastic, as they found that the Native American variation appeared in four specific lineages of Icelanders. They are all descended from four women who were born at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It is most likely that those four lineages are directly descended from one woman with Native American DNA, born no later than the year 1700 AD.

Like many genealogies, the records for the four Icelandic lineages are incomplete, but both genetics and history suggest that Native American DNA arrived on Icelandic shores hundreds of years before them. Helgason was quick to point out that it is very unlikely that the DNA arrived in Icelandin the few centuries before the 1700’s, as Icelandwas very isolated from the rest of the world during that period. He also showed that further evidence demonstrated that although the Native American DNA signature in the Icelanders is the same, one of the lineages shows a mutation that would have taken many hundreds of years to form. This very unique signature indicates that, according to Helgason, the Native American DNA arrived inIceland at least “several hundred years” before 1700.

No Direct Link Found in Native American DNA Yet

Despite the evidence on the Icelandic side, the DNA signature has not been found in any living group of Native Americans, so it is hard to prove a direct link. However, there are many scattered versions related to the Icelandic mutation that are found in Native Americans, in fact, 95% of them. There are also some East Asians, the ancestors of whom are thought to be the first Americans, who carry a very similar genetic pattern. Strangely enough, that group does not include the Inuit Indians (Eskimos), even thoughGreenlandhas a large Inuit population.

It is possible that the Icelandic variation came from a group of Native Americans that died out after the arrival of Europeans. Disease brought fromEuropewiped out many Native American tribes; hundreds of thousands of Indians were killed by European diseases during the first two hundred years following contact. History doesn’t help much as there are no records indicating that the Vikings carried and Native American women back toEurope, but DNA doesn’t lie, and perhaps one day soon, history will be re-written!