May 28, 2008

Ancient Viking mtDNA from Denmark

Table 1 has the data from this study, Table S3 previous Danish Iron Age and Viking results.

Iron Age, Viking Age, and Eskimo mtDNA
Ancient mtDNA from Iron Age Denmark
mtDNA of an early Danish sample

UPDATE: Frequencies of mtDNA haplogroup I several populations in Quintana-Murci et al. (pdf). The higher frequencies appear in Sindhi from Pakistan (8.7%), Kurds from western Iran and Turks from eastern and western Azerbaijan (both 5%), and Mazandarians from northern Iran (4.5%). In Russians from Oryol oblast (8.3%) (Ann. Hum. Genet. (2001), 65, 63-78). Various European groups (table).

UPDATE (June 10): From a press release related to this by the University of Copenhagen:

At the beginning of the Danish iron age, the roman legions were based as far north as the river Elbe (on the border of northern Germany) and it is thought that the man of arabian descent found in the burial grounds in Southern Zealand would have either been a slave or a soldier in the roman army. It is probable that he possessed skills or special knowledge, which the people in Bøgebjerggård or Skovgaard settlements could make use of, or he could have been the descendant of a female of arabian origin, who for reasons unknown, had crossed the river Elbe and settled down with the inhabitants of Zealand.

"This discovery is comparable to the findings of a colleague of mine, who found a person of siberian origin on the Kongemarke site," continues scientist, Linea Melchior. He was buried on consecrated ground, just as the circumstances of the arab man's burial was identical to that of the locals. The discovery of the arab man indicates that people from distant parts of the world could be and were absorbed in Danish communities.

PLoS ONE 3(5): e2214. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002214

Evidence of Authentic DNA from Danish Viking Age Skeletons Untouched by Humans for 1,000 Years

Linea Melchior et al.



Given the relative abundance of modern human DNA and the inherent impossibility for incontestable proof of authenticity, results obtained on ancient human DNA have often been questioned. The widely accepted rules regarding ancient DNA work mainly affect laboratory procedures, however, pre-laboratory contamination occurring during excavation and archaeological-/anthropological handling of human remains as well as rapid degradation of authentic DNA after excavation are major obstacles.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We avoided some of these obstacles by analyzing DNA from ten Viking Age subjects that at the time of sampling were untouched by humans for 1,000 years. We removed teeth from the subjects prior to handling by archaeologists and anthropologists using protective equipment. An additional tooth was removed after standard archaeological and anthropological handling. All pre-PCR work was carried out in a “clean- laboratory” dedicated solely to ancient DNA work. Mitochondrial DNA was extracted and overlapping fragments spanning the HVR-1 region as well as diagnostic sites in the coding region were PCR amplified, cloned and sequenced. Consistent results were obtained with the “unhandled” teeth and there was no indication of contamination, while the latter was the case with half of the “handled” teeth. The results allowed the unequivocal assignment of a specific haplotype to each of the subjects, all haplotypes being compatible in their character states with a phylogenetic tree drawn from present day European populations. Several of the haplotypes are either infrequent or have not been observed in modern Scandinavians. The observation of haplogroup I in the present study (<2% in modern Scandinavians) supports our previous findings of a pronounced frequency of this haplogroup in Viking and Iron Age Danes.


The present work provides further evidence that retrieval of ancient human DNA is a possible task provided adequate precautions are taken and well-considered sampling is applied.


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