Native DNA linked to Vikings
A team of European researchers says the discovery of what appears to be a strain of First Nations DNA among a small group of Icelanders — which the scientists have linked to Viking voyages to Canada about 1,000 years ago — may represent the survival, at least genetically, of the Beothuk, victims of Canadian history’s most tragic cultural extinction.
The DNA discovery may also help solve one of the country’s most enduring mysteries: the identity of the “skraelings” of the medieval Viking sagas — natives whose attacks forced Leif Ericcson and his fellow Norse colonists to abandon their landmark New World settlement a millennium ago at present-day L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland.
The study, published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, was authored by three anthropologists and geneticists from the University of Iceland and a paleo-DNA specialist from Spain’s Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.
“Our findings reveal that a mysterious Icelandic mitochondrial DNA sequence (that we named the C1e lineage), carried by more than 80 Icelanders, can be traced through the female line to four ancestors born in Iceland around 1700,” study coauthor Agnar Helgason told Postmedia News on Thursday. “There is good reason to believe that the C1e lineage arrived in Iceland several hundreds of years before 1700.”
Noting that the newly identified DNA type does not appear to be of European origin, Helgason says further evidence suggests it most likely derives from “the great human genealogical tree through the female line that has, to date, only been found in Native Americans” — the aboriginal nations of Canada, the U.S. and Central and South America.
But the distinctive C1e “clade” does not precisely match any existing DNA profile among native groups in the Americas.
“Our findings raise the possibility that there was in fact contact between the Icelandic Vikings and the Native Americans, which led to a Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage being brought to Iceland,” said Helgason. “If this is the case, then the contemporary Icelanders carrying the C1e lineage would be descended through the direct female line from the first Native American to travel to Europe.”
In the published paper, the researchers speculate that the DNA match they’re now searching for may belong to an extinct culture from the Americas, the best known of which in Canada is the vanished Beothuk nation of Newfoundland.