Genomic and Strontium Isotope Variation Reveal Immigration Patterns in a Viking Age Town

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Abstract

The impact of human mobility on the northern European urban populations during the Viking and Early Middle Ages and its repercussions in Scandinavia itself are still largely unexplored. Our study of the demographics in the final phase of the Viking era is the first comprehensive multidisciplinary investigation that includes genetics, isotopes, archaeology, and osteology on a larger scale. This early Christian dataset is particularly important as the earlier common pagan burial tradition during the Iron Age was cremation, hindering large-scale DNA analyses. We present genome-wide sequence data from 23 individuals from the 10th to 12th century Swedish town of Sigtuna. The data revealed high genetic diversity among the early urban residents. The observed variation exceeds the genetic diversity in distinct modern-day and Iron Age groups of central and northern Europe. Strontium isotope data suggest mixed local and non-local origin of the townspeople. Our results uncover the social system underlying the urbanization process of the Viking World of which mobility was an intricate part and was comparable between males and females. The inhabitants of Sigtuna were heterogeneous in their genetic affinities, probably reflecting both close and distant connections through an established network, confirming that early urbanization processes in northern Europe were driven by migration. Krzewińska et al. report genetic and isotopic data from 23 Viking Age individuals from Sweden. By complementing archaeological and osteological data with paleogenetic and isotope data, a high level of mobility within the early medieval world can be detected, revealing the cosmopolitan nature of the late Viking towns.

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Krzewińska, M., Kjellström, A., Günther, T., Hedenstierna-Jonson, C., Zachrisson, T., Omrak, A., … Götherström, A. (2018). Genomic and Strontium Isotope Variation Reveal Immigration Patterns in a Viking Age Town. Current Biology, 28(17), 2730-2738.e10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.06.053

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