Before Columbus, Viking-Indian child ‘may have been born in Europe’Published On: Thu, Nov 25th, 2010 | Health | By BioNews
A new study has claimed that a Native American woman might have voyaged to Europe with Vikings five centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Analysing a type of DNA passed only from mother to child, the scientists found more than 80 living Icelanders with a genetic variation similar to the one found mostly in Native Americans, reports the National Geographic News.
This signature probably entered Icelandic bloodlines around A.D. 1000, when the first Viking-American Indian child was born, said the study authors.
Historical accounts and archaeological evidence show that Icelandic Vikings reached Greenland just before A.D. 1000 and quickly pushed on to what is now Canada. Icelanders even established a village in Newfoundland, though it lasted only a decade or so.
The idea that a Native American woman sailed from North America to Iceland during that period of settlement and exploration provides the best explanation for the Icelanders’ variant, said the research team.
“We know that Vikings sailed to the Americas,” said Agnar Helgason of deCODE Genetics and the University of Iceland, who co-wrote the study with his student Sigrídur Ebenesersdóttir and colleagues.
“So all you have to do is assume that they met some people and ended up taking at least one female back with them. Although it”s maybe interesting and surprising, it’s not all that incredible,” he added.
The authors admitted the case was far from closed.
But University of Illinois geneticist Ripan Malhi—an expert in ethnic DNA differences who wasn’t part of the project—agreed that the report holds ‘strong genetic evidence for pre-Columbian contact of people in Iceland with Native Americans’.
Through genealogical research, the study team concluded that the Icelanders who carry the Native American variation are all from four specific lineages, descended from four women born in the early 1700s.
Those four lineages, in turn, likely descended from a single woman with Native American DNA who must have been born no later than 1700, said Ebenesersdóttir.
The genealogical records for the four lineages are incomplete before about 1700, but history and genetics suggest the Native American DNA arrived on the European island centuries before then, said Helgason.
He pointed out that Iceland was very isolated from the outside world in the centuries leading up to 1700, so it’s unlikely that a Native American got to the island during that period.
As further evidence, he noted that—though the Icelanders share a distinct version of the variation—at least one lineage’s variation has mutated in a way that would likely have taken centuries to occur.
This unique signature suggests that the Native American DNA arrived in Iceland at least ‘several hundred years’ before 1700.
Despite the evidence, it’s nearly impossible to prove a direct, thousand-year-old genetic link between Native Americans and Icelanders.
Helgason speculated that the precise Icelandic variation might have come from a Native American people that died out after the arrival of Europeans.
It’s possible, he added, that the DNA variation actually came from mainland Europe, which had infrequent contact with Iceland in the centuries preceding 1700. But this would depend on a European, past or present, carrying the variation, which so far has never been found.
Complicating matters, the historical record contains no evidence that Icelandic Vikings might have taken a Native American woman back home to their European island, said the researchers.
“What we have is a big mystery,” Helgason admitted.
It won’t be solved until the DNA pattern’s origins are nailed down, perhaps through the study of ancient DNA—for example, if an ancient Native American bone is found with DNA closely matching the Icelandic variant, he said.
The new study is published online in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. (ANI)
A new subclade of mtDNA haplogroup C1 found in icelanders: Evidence of pre-columbian contact?
Sigríður Sunna Ebenesersdóttir, Ásgeir Sigurðsson, Federico Sánchez-Quinto, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Kári Stefánsson and Agnar Helgason, American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 10 Nov. 2010.