All Vikings were two-metre-tall strapping men, with horned helmets perched atop their flowing blond locks, right? Actually maybe not, science suggests.
They weren’t purely Scandinavian, and it was actually quite common for Vikings to have dark hair, research published in Nature this week revealed.
While you wait for your world to stop spinning, this is how the findings came about.
Researchers from the University of Copenhagen analysed the genomes of 442 real-life (well, now deceased) humans from across Europe and Greenland, who lived during the Bronze Age and Early Modern period, which is from 2400BC to 1600AD.
(The Viking Age was roughly 750AD to 1050AD.)
What they found prompted research co-author Eske Willerslev to declare being a Viking isn’t by chance, it’s a choice.
“[Being a Viking] is not a pure ethnic phenomenon, it is a lifestyle that you can adopt whether you are non-Scandinavian or Scandinavian,” Professor Willerslev said.
The research determined three separate “types” of Vikings, which further suggests there were some pretty strong lines between each region.
There were the Danish Vikings, which headed to Britain, and Swedish Vikings, who sailed east to the Baltics.
The Norwegian Vikings ventured to Ireland, Iceland and Greenland.
In a twist, there were also found to be Asian and southern European DNA in the bloodlines.
“Vikings are, genetically, not purely Scandinavian,” Professor Willerslev said.
Rather than genetics, what appeared to bring Vikings together was their habits: Trading, raiding, and traversing the seas to distant lands.
As an interesting after-fact, Professor Willerslev’s team also analysed the DNA of 34 Vikings found in a burial site in Estonia.
There were buried four brothers, laid to rest side-by-side (no traditional Viking funerals on burning rafts here). This suggests an expedition that was made up of close family members.
In the same set of data was the DNA of two more pairs of kin – but the individuals were found hundreds of kilometres apart. This demonstrates the sheer mobility of the Vikings, the authors noted.
Vikings still walk among us today – an estimated 6 per cent of people in Britain and 10 per cent in Sweden carry Viking DNA.