DNA — Danes, Norse And…

History of Huddersfield

DNA — Danes, Norse And…

After being briefly in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, Between the 8th and 11th centuries Yorkshire was ruled by the Danes, and then the Vikings. The history of that period is swathed in darkness, no one really knows much about it because very little has been kept as part of the written record. What the Vikings did leave behind though is twofold: Agriculture and their DNA.

The Vikings were the technologically advanced people of their time, able to navigate vast oceans, crossing the Atlantic over 500 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue and sailing into the Mediterranean and trading with the North Africans. But their technology was not just in ships and weaponry. Vikings were great farmers. Their agriculture was advanced for their time. I shall come back to this later in the blog.

They also left behind their DNA. When a Yorkshire man says he is different from the rest of the country it is no idle boast. The Yorkshire DNA project, started in 2012, is causing history to be re-written. It isn’t just the Scandinavian cross on the West Riding flag. It has been found to be true in his DNA. 70% of Yorkshiremen carry Viking DNA compared with 30% typical in the British population. And I am not being sexist, the Viking genes are carried on the Y-chromosome so it is only carried by men. The Viking men came over in the longboats and settled the area, and took wives from the native population. There is also another anomaly. Celtic DNA is carried by the 19% of the men in West Yorkshire, as opposed to the 13.5% in the rest of Yorkshire, consistent in that area having been the kingdom of Elmet, a Celtic nation.

West Riding of Yorkshire flag

But why should West Yorkshiremen have 70% DNA of the new settlers and only 19% of the DNA of the native population? The answer is down to farming and breastfeeding. I said I’d be back to farming.

Celtic and Anglo-Saxon farming was labour intensive, harvests were not guaranteed. Women would breastfeed their children until they were five years old. During that time they would not be having other children. The technologically advanced, for that time, Viking farming methods meant more consistent and better harvests. Women were released from the five year breastfeed and were able to have subsequent children earlier. Vikings simply outbred the Celts and Saxons, a result of better farming.

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