The fabled haplogroup R1a - or, more precisely, its subclade R1a1 - is said to indicate a "Viking origin"
when it is found among men of British descent. This is the haplogroup that will earn you a "Viking" certificate
from Oxford Ancestors, and its presence was the main focus of the Capelli study "A Y Chromosome
Census of The British Isles".
It is believed to have originated among the Kurgan culture of western Asia, which is often credited
with spreading the Indo-European languages to northwestern Europe. The Kurgans were nomads with a
pastoral economy, and to this day their descendants bear the genetic traces of a dependence on livestock and
animal products. The incidence of milk tolerance among the Swedes, for instance, is among the highest
in the world.
The Scandinavians have long believed that their ancestors originated in Asia. The Icelandic sagas claim
the classic "Kon Tiki" - spent his final years attempting to trace the human originals of Wodin and the Aesir
back to Azerbaijan in the Caucasus. There may be an element of truth to these speculations, since individuals with
R1a haplotypes often score matches with Indians, Siberians, Chinese and other Asians - even when they score no
matches with persons from Europe. The recent discovery of fair-haired mummies in the Takla Makan desert of western
China has revived interest in the long forgotten Indo-Iranian tribe, the Tocharians, their possible role in the economy
of the Silk Road, and their relationship with the people of Europe. Haplogroup R1a is also, implicitly, the "Aryan"
haplogroup, and perhaps the less said about that, the better.
A person who does not belong to haplogroup R1a may, in fact, have a "deep ancestry" in Scandinavia.
R1a accounts for only about 30% of the men of Norway. The various subclades of Haplogroup I account for
about 35%, and even R1b accounts for as much as 28%. Conversely, a person who does belong to R1a does
not necessarily have Scandinavian ancestors - even if his people are from Britain.
Suppose you take three Britons - one whose grandfather was a Pakistani immigrant, another whose grandfather
was a Polish pilot with the RAF, and the third a Scot descended from one of the Hungarian noblemen who
accompanied Margaret Atheling to the court of Malcolm Canmore - and who, perhaps, bears the name
Drummond, Borthwick or Crichton.
All three gentlemen could easily be R1a, but that doesn't make them Vikings.
However, some DNA genealogists have asserted not only that R1a was "Viking", but that only R1a was truly Viking -
and that all the occurrence of R1b in the Norwegian population is due to the importation of Celtic slaves. This is a
curiously Anglo-Centric argument. Vikings took slaves from many foreign lands, and sold most of them to
other foreign lands. Most of the slaves in Norway were, in fact, the descendants of prisoners captured in wars
with other Vikings. Even those foreign slaves who were imported to Norway were more likely to be Slavic
than Celtic, as Slavs comprised the largest number of the slaves the Vikings bought and sold. Slavs had been
common victims of the "peculiar institution" since Roman times.
R1a is, in fact, far more prevalent in Poland and Hungary than in Norway. One could actually mount a
counterargument that it was not R1b, but R1a, whose incidence in Scandinavia was artificially enhanced by slavery.
R1a could also have entered Britain with the Goths, who served with the Roman Army in Britain. Many
Visigoths also settled in France, and some of their descendants accompanied the Normans to England. The De Vaux
family of Dirleton Castle, for instance, came from Normandy. Before that, however, they were reputedly descended
from a Visigothic family that obtained lands in Roman Gaul.
Indo-Iranian nomads like the Alans and the Sarmatians also probably carried R1a, and they found their
way to Britain as well.
Viking DNA Among The Border Reivers
Many of the Border Reiver families are rumored to have Viking origin. That is a reasonable assumption in view of the
fact that Cumbria - the heart of the "Debateable Lands" - offers abundance evidence of Viking settlement, from place
names and Norse dialect, to archaeological finds of Viking artifacts and "hogback" style tombstones. Most of
these Vikings were actually Hiberno-Norse, which means that their forebears had resided in Ireland for generations
and had intermarried with the Irish Gaels. From the start of the wars in Dublin in the early tenth century, up until Brian
Boru finally ejected the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, there was a steady stream of refugees to the Isle
of Man, the Wirral (near Chester) and the sparsely populated areas of Galloway and Cumbria.
Penrith, which is in Cumbria, showed the highest proportion of R1a haplotypes of any place tested in England -
about 8 percent, according to the Capelli study. The percentage of R1a in our sample so far is less than half that.
R1a Haplotype #11
The high frequencies in Greece and Turkey suggest the Black Sea wanderings of the
Goths, Heruls and Rugians - or, possibly, the later military exploits of the Normans in
the Mediterranean. The hit in Brussels also suggests a Norman connection.
This haplotype most likely came to Britain with the Norwegian Vikings or the Normans.
|Central Anatolia, Turkey||.91|
|Gdansk, Northern Poland||.37|
R1a Haplotype #12
Among the top five frequencies, Oslo comes in second and Groningen (part of Frisia)
comes in third. Both suggest a Scandinavian origin. The hit in the Caucasus most likely
reflects the ancestral origin of the haplotype, and the top frequency - among Gypsies in
Hungary - may reflect either the pre-Viking period wanderings of the Rugians in
southeastern Europe or the "Indian" ancestry of the Romani.
Additional hits in Greenland, Finland, Sweden, along the Baltic coast of Germany
and among Byelorussians also support an origin in Scandinavia or Eastern Europe.
|Baranya, Hungary [Romani]||5.12|
|Groningen, Northern Netherlands||2.08|
|Bialystok, Poland [Byelorussians]||.64|
|Tyrol, Western Austria||.44|
|London, England [Asian]||.38|
R1a Haplotype #13
This haplotype is fairly typical R1a, in that it includes high frequencies in Southern
Asia and Eastern Europe. Among the highest European frequencies, however, four
out of the top five fall in areas of the Baltic that saw considerable Viking settlement.
Therefore, it is safe to conclude that this haplotype entered Britain with the Vikings.
|Pakistan [Makrani Negroid]||3.03|
|London, England [Asian]||.76|
R1a Haplotype #14
The haplotype below is very rare, and appears to have a Baltic origin. It most likely
came to Britain with the Norse Vikings.
|Bydgoszcz, Northern Poland||.59|
|Gdansk, Northern Poland||.18|
R1a Haplotype #15
The haplotype below shows its highest frequencies in Southern Norway and in multiple locations
in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is, of course, possible that this haplotype was spread by Norman
activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, but its presence here probably dates from an earlier period.
This haplotype may have originated ancestrally among the Indo-Iranian tribes of
Western Asia, and spread southeast to the Indian subcontinent, west to Anatolia, and northwest
to the plains of Eastern Europe. From Eastern Europe, it may have migrated north to
Scandinavia in prehistoric times, or was absorbed by Heruls, Rugians or Goths during
their wanderings in the Balkans, the Ukraine and around the Black Sea.
It most likely came to Britain with the Vikings, but it just as easily might have
come with Roman troops or settlers.