DNA analysis shows the movements of Vikings outside Scandinavia, as they pillaged Britain and Europe.

A new study finds that distinct populations of Vikings influenced the genetic makeup of different parts of Europe.

Vikings from present-day Denmark targeted Britain, while Vikings from Norway had Ireland, Iceland and Greenland in their sights, and Swedish Vikings sailed their longboats east towards the Baltic region and beyond.

This maritime expansion of Scandinavian populations during the Viking Age (around AD 750–1050) altered the political, cultural and demographic map of Europe.

To explore the genomic history of this period, researchers sequenced the genomes of 442 ancient humans from across Europe and Greenland, covering the Bronze Age (approximately 2400 BC) to the Early Modern period (around AD 1600).

They found evidence of a foreign gene flow into Scandinavia from the south and east, confirming the long-argued movements of Vikings outside of Scandinavia.

The analysis also included examples of ancestry with affinities to present-day Swedish populations in the western fringes of Europe and modern Danish populations in the east. They suggest that these individuals were from communities with mixed ancestries, brought together by complex trading, raiding and settling networks that crossed cultures and continents.

The project involved sequencing the genomes of 34 Viking individuals from a burial site in Salme, Estonia. This revealed evidence of an expedition that had included close family relatives — four brothers were identified, buried side by side.

They also found two additional pairs of kin in their dataset, but the related individuals were found hundreds of kilometres apart from each other. This, the authors note, illustrates the mobility of individuals during the Viking Age.

The study is accessible here.