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How a DNA study toppled the Viking family tree

Turns out, being a Viking isn't all in the genes.

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Pop culture and history books usually portray Vikings as tall, blonde, blue-eyed warriors pillaging their way across the North Atlantic. But a new DNA study now says that history may be totally wrong.

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Instead, Vikings may have had much more diverse DNA than historians originally thought. Even those without Viking DNA may have been treated as part of the clan as well.

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"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," said Eske Willerev, the study’s lead author. "The history books will need to be updated."

To come to this conclusion, the researchers sequenced the DNA from more than 400 Viking remains dating to the Bronze Age.

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The first big takeaway from this study is that genetic diversity can be found in Vikings' DNA dating back to even before the so-called “Viking Era.” Scientists found Southern European and Asian DNA in Vikings that would have otherwise been assumed to be purely Scandinavian.

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This means that instead of looking like carbon copies of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, some Vikings may have looked more like Italian casanovas.

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The study also confirmed previous theories of Viking migration and showed that Danish Viking DNA was present in England while Norwegian Viking DNA showed up in Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. Though, they also found this DNA on the fringes of Europe and Asia as well.

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This discovery suggests that Viking communities may have been less isolated and insular than previously imagined, and probably consisted of mixed ancestry.

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In fact, for two burial sites they studied in Scotland, the researchers found that even individuals with no genetic Viking DNA were sometimes given ornate Viking funerals.

This suggests that being a Viking wasn’t necessarily what was in your blood, but what was in your spirit.

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"This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was,” says Willerslev.

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“We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books… [W]e have shown for the first time that it wasn't that kind of world.

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