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Blood of the Vikings (7/3/2001)

Tags:
genetic markers

Julian Richards investigates Vikings in Great Britain and Europe in this wonderful 5 part documentary. Through new genetic surveying techniques, Richards determines where the descendants of the Vikings are living today.

Part 1: First Blood

This first part of the series starts by showing clips from Hollywood and asking people there perceptions of what the Vikings were. Vikings are still protrayed as violent barbarians wearing horned helmets and butchering everything around them. The narrator (Julian Richards) starts by showing which of our perceptions are correct, and which just aren't reality.

Julian travels to Lindisfarne site of the first recorded Viking attack on Great Britain in 793 a.d., to locate any archaeological evidence that may shed light on who the Vikings were. What he finds there are a written account of the attack from someone not even present during the attack, and a monk manuscript written a century later, nothing conclusive. He continues this chapter by visiting museums and dig sites looking at artifacts and interviewing archaeologists about who the Vikings are. The evidence is spare, but the picture he paints isn't completely different from the movies, but its interesting none the less.

The audience is also introduced to Professor David Goldstein with the University College of London, who is the geneticist tasked with conducting a genetic survey to determine who the British and European descendants of the Vikings are. The process works by tracing the male Y chromosome, which is only passed down from father to son, and doesn't change much through each generation. They start by recruiting males from small towns in Great Britain whose male line can be traced back several generation to the same geographic area. They need several thousand volunteers across Great Britain, and in the Vikings homelands of Scandinavia.

Another interesting link is in a genetic disease called dupuytren's contracture, which may have been passed down through Viking families. It is mentioned in the Saga's, including one about Goodmand the Good who has a servant woman with the disease.

Part 2: Invasion

Julian continues his journey looking for evidence of Vikings in Great Britain, by going to the coast along East Anglia, where in 866a.d. a Viking army of several thousand attacked England. The Danish Vikings stayed for several years attacking all 4 for the major kingdoms in Great Britain at the time. The Vikings eventually took over most of the England, while a besieged kingdom tried to rally an army to expel the invaders.

Julian travels to Repton, which in the 9th century was a large monastery that the Vikings sacked. Archaeologists recently excavated the site and found several pagan Viking items including a Thor's hammer pendant, sword, and several Viking skeletons.

One of the skulls, the one with found with the pendant and swords is used in the facial reconstruction techniques used to identify unidentified bodies. The goal is to show what the Vikings looked like. The same skeleton is subjected to the examination of a forensic pathologist who chronicles a grim set of events that lead to the death and burial of the skeleton.

Julian continues the Viking timeline through to 954 a.d. when the Vikings where eventually defeated and sent packing back to there homelands.

Part 3: The Sea Road

Julian starts off in Western Norway looking for evidence of Vikings in what is considered the Viking homeland. While in Norway Julian also updates the audience with information about the genetic testing. Apparently the researchers have found several genetic markers in the Y chromosome of men that link directly to the Norwegian Vikings.

The genetic survey is continued in Shetland and Orkney, where only men that can trace there lineage back at least 3 generations. Both Shetland and Orkney have populations that strongly believe they are the descendants of the Vikings.

Julian also finds a set of hair combs made from antlers. He has a scientist look at the comb to determine if the comb is made from red deer horn (indigenous to Scotland) or reindeer horn (indigenous to Scandinavia). They discover that several of the combs are made from reindeer antler, which may indicate that Vikings had been trading with Scottish folks long before any of the reported attacks.

The end of this section also mentions that the genetic survey has uncovered that about 1/3 of the population of Shetland and Orkney are of Norwegian Viking descent.

Part 4: Rulers

In 991a.d. the Vikings are back in England. They start by asking for tribute (ransom) to leave the British alone and go home. The battle of Molden, which was easily won by the Vikings, starts off the new campaign. After the loss, the King Ethenred handed over 10,000 pounds of silver in hopes of keeping the Vikings away. Unfortunately this only enticed the Vikings into returning on a regular basis, asking for more and more treasure. The extortion continued for 20 years, and in today's money would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In a bizarre twist, a Danish Viking that was caught by London locals, was flayed alive and his skin was posted to a door. Julian takes a part of the supposed skin to conduct testing. Several text claim it is authentic. Julians testing shows that in fact it was a cows hide.

Part 5: Last of the Vikings

This final chapter of program starts with Julian visiting a recreated Anglo/Saxon village, and discussing the overall goals of the project. He continues narrating the story of the Vikings as known from manuscripts and archeological evidence.

The second half of this episode concludes with a round table style discussion where the findings of the DNA analysis are revealed. Julian starts by clarifying that there are two types of Vikings: Norwegian and Danish, and continues by saying that initially about 30% of the population of Shetland and Orkney are of Norwegian Viking descent. By the end of the analysis the figure was revised to 60%. The next area discussed was Durness in the Hebrides which was discovered to have 30% of the male population being of Norwegian Viking descent.

They continue to the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, where 15% of the male populations are found to be of Norwegian Viking descent. They move on to Castlerea in Ireland, where they found that no one there was of Viking descent, Norwegian or Danish. Julian then discusses Dublin where there is significant archeological evidence of Vikings, but where they found that 0% of the male population is of Norwegian Viking descent.

Julian continues to Anglesey and Wales where no genetic evidence is found of a Viking genetic contribution to the area. In fact the only English sites tested that had any genetic evidence of Norwegian Vikings was Penrith, though the amount isn't disclosed.

Next Julian discusses the Danish Viking genetic contribution to England, which they discover isn't distinctive enough by itself to have unique genetic markers. However when you compare the Danish, Angles and Saxons its discovered that as a group they can be traced. As a whole this group inhabits more of the northern part of England than southern, though the amount isn't mentioned. A map is shown that shows where the Norwegian Vikings, Danish Vikings/Angles/Saxons, and the British/Celts currently inhabit.

Comments:

1. Albert

9/24/2012 2:26:44 AM MST

I have received a DNA analyisis from
Ancestry.com.

88% Scandinavian and 12% Eastern European.

Any idea as to the signifance's, as to paternal ancestors born in Virginia in the mid/late 1700's and early 1800's and Alabama in the early/mid 1800's and Texas in the mid 1870/1880's and early 1900's.

Albert Scarborough


Leave a Reply:

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