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DNA Shows Viking, Amerindian Link To Iceland

November 18, 2010

Vikings may be responsible for bringing the first Native American to Europe via Iceland more than a thousand years ago, Spanish and Icelandic researchers suggest in a new study.

The findings may confirm long-accepted theories, based on Icelandic medieval texts and a Viking settlement in Newfoundland in Canada, that Vikings reached the Americas several centuries before Christopher Columbus did in 1492.

The Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) said genetic analysis of about 80 people from four Icelandic families showed they possess a type of DNA normally found only in Native Americans or East Asians.

“It was thought at first that (the DNA) came from recently established Asian families in Iceland,” CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox said in a statement, according to the institute.

“But when family genealogy was studied, it was discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland,” He said.

The specific gene — C1e — was found to also be mitochondrial, which means the genes were introduced into Iceland by a woman.

“As the island was virtually isolated from the 10th century, the most likely hypothesis is that these genes corresponded to an Amerindian woman who was brought from America by the Vikings around the year 1000,” Lalueza-Fox told the AFP news agency.

Data for the study was used from the Icelandic-based genomics firm deCODE Genetics. Lalueza-Fox said the research team hopes to find more instances of the same Native American DNA in Iceland’s population.

The report, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, said 75 to 80 percent of modern-day Icelanders can trace their lineage to Scandinavia, while nearly the rest trace back to Scotland and Ireland.

The C1e gene makes up a very small percentage of those who can trace some of their lineage back to the Americas.

“Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival (in Iceland), preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mitochondrial DNA pool at least 300 years ago,” the journal reported.

“This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century,” said the journal.

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