New research refutes myth of pure Scandinavian race

June 09, 2008

A team of forensic scientists at the University of Copenhagen has studied human remains found in two ancient Danish burial grounds dating back to the iron age, and discovered a man who appears to be of arabian origin. The findings suggest that human beings were as genetically diverse 2000 years ago as they are today and indicate greater mobility among iron age populations than was previously thought. The findings also suggest that people in the Danish iron age did not live and die in small, isolated villages but, on the contrary, were in constant contact with the wider world.

On the southern part of the island of Zealand in Denmark, lie two burial grounds known as Bøgebjerggård and Skovgaarde, which date back to the Danish iron age (c. 0-400 BC). Linea Melchior and forensic scientists from the University of Copenhagen analysed the mitocondrial DNA of 18 individuals buried on the sites and found that there was as much genetic variation in their remains as one would expect to find in individuals of the present day. The research team also found DNA from a man, whose genetic characteristics indicate a man of Arabian origin.

The ancestors of the Danes were in contact with the wider world

Archeologists and anthropologists know today that the concept of a single scandinavian genetic type, a scandinavian race that wandered to Denmark, settled there, and otherwise lived in complete isolation from the rest of the world, is a fallacy.

"If you look at the geographic position of Denmark, "then it becomes clear that the Danes must have been in contact with other peoples," says scientist, Linea Melchior. "We know from other archeological excavations that there was a good deal of trade and exchange of goods between Denmark and other parts of Scandinavia and Europe. These lines of communication must have extended further south as one of the Danish burial grounds, which dates back to the iron age also contained the remains of a man, who appears to have been of arabian origin.

People from distant lands were absorbed in Danish iron age communities

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.

The iron age peoples moved away from their place of birth

"All of our ancestors, no matter when they arrived have contributed to our history and the development of our lifestyle," explains Linea Melchior. "Indeed, Danish identity is more a definition of where one is physically located and lives today than a question of our past history - since we're all originally african in origin. That we ended up in Europe was accidental, which is in itself remarkable".

"Another interesting feature of the approximately 50 graves assessed so far on the two sites and also from other burial sites and time periods in Danish history is that none of the individuals seem to be maternally related to one another", explains Linea Melchior. "We couldn't see any large families buried in the same location. This suggests that in the Danish iron age, people didn't live and die in the villages of their birth, as we had previously imagined".
-end-


University of Copenhagen

Related Forensic Scientists Articles from Brightsurf:

Study finds field of forensic anthropology lacks diversity
The field of forensic anthropology is a relatively homogenous discipline in terms of diversity (people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with mental and physical disabilities, etc.) and this is highly problematic for the field of study and for most forensic anthropologists.

Could plants help us find dead bodies? Forensic botanists want to know
Search teams looking for human remains are often slowed by painstaking on-foot pursuits or aerial searches that are obscured by forest cover.

In glowing colors: Seeing the spread of drug particles in a forensic lab
NIST Scientists used UV light and glow powder to study the way small amounts of drug residue get spread around a forensic chemistry lab when analysts test seized drugs.

Maggot analysis goes molecular for forensic cases
Maggots on a dead body or wound can help pinpoint when a person or animal died, or when maltreatment began in elder, child care or animal neglect cases.

A solution to a hairy problem in forensic science
In an effort to make hair comparison a more useful technique for investigating crimes, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new way to dissolve hair proteins without destroying them.

Solving a hairy forensic problem
For decades, forensic scientists have tested strands of hair to reveal drug use or poisoning.

Research finds serious problems with forensic software
New research finds significant flaws in recently released forensic software designed to assess the age of individuals based on their skeletal remains.

Establishing a universal forensic DNA database
In the wake of recent high-profile successes catching criminals using publicly-accessible genomic data, results that build momentum for this approach, James Hazel and colleagues argue for the establishment of a universal forensic DNA database for law enforcement purposes.

Can we trust digital forensic evidence?
Research carried out at the University of York has suggested that more work is needed to show that digital forensic methods are robust enough to stand-up to interrogation in a court of law.

NIST builds statistical foundation for next-generation forensic DNA profiling
When forensic experts compare DNA left at a crime scene with DNA from a suspect, they generate statistics that describe how closely those DNA samples match.

Read More: Forensic Scientists News and Forensic Scientists Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.