Replica of 9th century Viking ship docked in Norway.

Did a Native American travel with the Vikings and arrive in Iceland centuries before Columbus set sail?

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Scientists have been searching for answers on the puzzles of history by sifting through the genetic code of certain Icelanders. They have been looking to see if a Native American woman from the New World accompanied the Vikings back to Europe, five centuries before Columbus arrived back in Spain with indigenous Native Americans.

It is well established through historical accounts and archaeological findings that Vikings set up initial colonies on the shores of North America just before 1000 A.D. But what is not known for certain is how a family of Icelanders came to have a genetic makeup which includes a surprising marker dating to 1000 A.D. — one which is found mostly in Native Americans.

In 2010, it was reported that the first Native Americans arrived on the continent of Europe sometime around the 11 th century. The study, led by deCODE Genetics, a world-leading genome research lab in Iceland, discovered a unique gene that was present in only four distinct family lines. The DNA lineage, which was named C1e, is mitochondrial, meaning that the genes were introduced by and passed down through a female. Based on the evidence of the DNA, it has been suggested that a Native American, (voluntarily or involuntarily) accompanied the Vikings when they returned back to Iceland. The woman survived the voyage across the sea, and subsequently had children in her new home. As of today, there are 80 Icelanders who have the distinct gene passed down by this woman.

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Nevertheless, there is another explanation for the presence of the C1e in these 80 Icelanders. It is possible that the Native American genes appeared in Iceland after the discovery of the New World by Columbus. It has been suggested that a Native American woman might have been brought back to mainland Europe by European explorers, who then found her way to Iceland. Researchers believe that this scenario is unlikely, however, given the fact that Iceland was pretty isolated at that point of time.

Nevertheless, the only way to effectively eliminate this possibility is for scientists to find the remains of a pre-Columbian Icelander whose genes can be analyzed and shown to contain the C1e lineage.

The Skálholt Map made by the Icelandic teacher Sigurd Stefansson in the year 1570. Helleland ('Stone Land' = Baffin island), Markland ('forest land' = Labrador), Skrælinge Land ('land of the foreigners’ = Labrador), Promontorium Vinlandiæ (the of Vinland = Newfoundland).

The Skálholt Map made by the Icelandic teacher Sigurd Stefansson in the year 1570. Helleland ('Stone Land' = Baffin island), Markland ('forest land' = Labrador), Skrælinge Land ('land of the foreigners’ = Labrador), Promontorium Vinlandiæ (the of Vinland = Newfoundland). Public Domain

Another problem facing the researchers is that the C1e genes might not have come from Native Americans, but from some other part of the world. For instance, no living Native American group has the exact DNA lineage as the one found in the 80 Icelanders. However, it may be that the Native American people who carried that lineage eventually went extinct.

One suggestion, which was proposed early in the research, was that the genes came from Asia. This was eventually ruled out, as the researchers managed to work out that the C1e lineage had been present in Iceland as early as the 18 th century. This was long before the appearance of Asian genes in Icelanders.

Did a Native American travel to Iceland and leave behind a telltale genetic marker? A man helms replica Viking vessels.

Did a Native American travel to Iceland and leave behind a telltale genetic marker? A man helms replica Viking vessels. Wikimedia Commons

If the discovery does prove ultimately that the Vikings took a Native American woman back to Iceland, then history would indeed have to be rewritten. Although encounters with the Native Americans, known as Skraelings (or foreigners), were recorded by the Viking sagas, there is no mention whatsoever about the Vikings bringing a Native American woman home to Iceland with them. Furthermore, the available archaeological record does not show any presence of a Native American woman in Iceland.

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The more digging is done into the history of the Vikings, the more our perceptions are changing as to how they lived, travelled, and traded.

Hopefully more light will be shed on this mystery over time, and the goings-on of the historic world can be unequivocally established, giving us a clearer understanding of our ancient past.

Featured image: Replica of 9th century Viking ship docked in Norway. Juanjo Marin/ Flickr

Comments

There's a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada that dates around 1000AD called L'ance aux Meadows. The oldest in North America I believe. At that time the Beothuck were indigenous to Newfoundland. They were all killed during European settlement of the island sadly. However, it is often wondered if some of the Beothuck mated with another native tribe of the Island the Mi'kmaq. There are a lot of Mi'kmaq in Newfoubdland. I am one in fact. A possible DNA lead?

No, that can't have happened, the gene is mitochondrial which means it can only be passed on by a female.

Since the Viking were believed to have taken females with them on your voyages, it's a possibility that a Viking woman became pregnant by an Amerindian before leaving for the return journey back to Europe with her menfolk.

The vikings were from what would now be Scandinavia. They were farmers, fishermen and kind of war like and master ship builders-which makes sense becasue those countries have a lot of rivers a boat would have to travel up and down.-.

When the communites were full, and there was no more land to give for farming, they would send anyone without property-or who wanted to go- to go and take some from the next place over, or go find some somewhere else worth having. A second son and his buddies were still valued in the community, they just had to go bring back some wealth or honor or go set up a kingship somewhere. They had to go further and further out looking for property or targets to easily attack and ended up in other parts of the world. The viking age, when they were pillaging and burning Europe, is actually just their period of expansion and settlement for the viking people. 

 

--Still learning--

Apparently, the ancient Kelts, Vikings, Franks and Germans were genetically derived from two of the Lost Tribes of Israel who themselves were one and the same.

Look for a video account called 'The Native People of Britain' narrated by a Scots scholar and advance the slider to 36.34 and 41.02.

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