View Full Version : Genetic Evidence for a Family-Based Scandinavian Settlement of Shetland and Orkney

Sunday, December 31st, 2006, 11:00 PM
Heredity. 2005 Aug;95(2):129-35

Genetic evidence for a family-based Scandinavian settlement of Shetland and Orkney during the Viking periods.Goodacre S, Helgason A, Nicholson J, Southam L, Ferguson L, Hickey E, Vega E, Stefansson K, Ward R, Sykes B.
Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford OX3 9DS, UK. s.goodacre@uea.ac.uk

The Viking age witnessed the expansion of Scandinavian invaders across much of northwestern Europe. While Scandinavian settlements had an enduring cultural impact on North Atlantic populations, the nature and extent of their genetic legacy in places such as Shetland and Orkney is not clear. In order to explore this question further, we have made an extensive survey of both Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in the North Atlantic region. Our findings indicate an overall Scandinavian ancestry of approximately 44% for Shetland and approximately 30% for Orkney, with approximately equal contributions from Scandinavian male and female subjects in both cases. This contrasts with the situation for the Western Isles, where the overall Scandinavian ancestry is less ( approximately 15%) and where there is a disproportionately high contribution from Scandinavian males. In line with previous studies, we find that Iceland exhibits both the greatest overall amount of Scandinavian ancestry (55%) and the greatest discrepancy between Scandinavian male and female components. Our results suggest that while areas close to Scandinavia, such as Orkney and Shetland, may have been settled primarily by Scandinavian family groups, lone Scandinavian males, who later established families with female subjects from the British Isles, may have been prominent in areas more distant from their homeland.

Monday, January 1st, 2007, 11:43 PM
Makes perfect sense and the results being supported by physical anthropology, racial typological studies on Iceland. Strong Atlantid/Nordatlantid component especially in certain areas depending on the exact history of settlements.

Friday, November 23rd, 2007, 10:51 PM
How was the arriving of Vikings to the Orkney archipelago?

Some theories have the idea that there was a Viking invasiion to the islands where they killed the original inhabitants, the Picts.

Some others say it was a peaceful trip where the tribes settled with their original neighours.

Do you have more information about it? I got this site by googling and I had no idea about the matter.

Here's the main article:

Pict and Viking: settlement or slaughter?

"A furore Normannorum, libera nos Domine."
From the fury of the Northmen deliver us O Lord

When it comes to the question of what happened to Orkney's Picts when the Norsemen took the islands, there is only one thing we can say with certainty - there is no agreement on the answer.

Analysing all the arguments and debates over the years, we are generally left with two opposing viewpoints - the Vikings either slaughtered Orkney's Pictish inhabitants or settled and integrated peacefully with them.

Both arguments can be shown to be backed up by historical, archaeological and other evidence, but in some cases this evidence can also prove to be a downfall.

What this goes to prove, in my opinion at least, is that the situation was not necessarily as "black and white" as some would have it.

Instead I suspect that elements of both theories came into play at different times and different locations.

The genocide theory

The "genocide theory" has it that the Viking "invaders" treated Orkney and Shetland no different to the other areas of Britain they "visited" - what they wanted, they took, either slaughtering, enslaving or driving away the indigenous population.

Scandinavian historical sources seem to add weight to this theory, stating variously that Orkney was deserted at the time of the earliest Norse settlement, or that the Norsemen fought with, and slaughtered, the inhabitants.

The apparent lack of pre-Norse placenames in Orkney would also seem to corroborate the idea that the Norse "overwhelmed" the native Orcadians. Had they integrated with the original inhabitants, claim supporters, even as slaves, surely a few native placenames would have survived as the newcomers adopted them.

For more on this theory, see Brian Smith's paper: The Picts and the Martyrs - Did Vikings kill the native population of Orkney and Shetland (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/vikingorkney/warpeace/index.html)

Peaceful integration?

On the opposite side of the fence are those who favour the idea of a peaceful co-existence. They have it that the incoming Norsemen settled peacefully and gradually integrated with the local population.

Countering the genocide theory, they cite the archaeological lack of battle sites, as well as the uncertainty surrounding a number of Orcadian placenames - which they say could actually have Pictish origins - as evidence for this peaceful integration between Pict and Norseman.

Again, the interpretation of archaeological evidence can back this up - discoveries at Buckquoy in Birsay in particular. There, in houses of a later Norse design, were found a number of Pictish artefacts, including pins, combs and pottery. This find has long been held up as proof that Norseman and Pict lived together.

But although we have evidence that Pictish artefacts were still in use in early Norse settlements, does that necessarily imply a peaceful coexistence? Perhaps the Norse "invaders" had simply taken the items. Or did we have a situation where Pictish slaves were simply servicing their new masters? The idea is open to interpretation.

An abandoned haven?

A third scenario is that the population of Orkney was so low and scattered that the subsequent Norse settlement soon absorbed the indigenous islanders.

As mentioned above, some Scandinavian historical sources are clear that Orkney was deserted at the time of the earliest Norse settlement. What, if anything, could have decimated the islands population, or at least forced large numbers to move away?

Again, the answer is open to debate but historical documents of the time do provide some intriguing possibilities.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, for example, Britain suffered a "great plague" in 664AD. Did this affect the Northern Isles? And if so, was its effect severe enough that the population in Orkney never recovered?

Aside from any potential natural disasters, Orkney also suffered at the hands of a number of invaders during the time of the Picts.

In 682AD, for example, the Irish Annals of Tigernach record that Orkney was "destroyed" by the Pictish High King Bridei mac Bile. Seventeen years later, in 709AD, the Annals of Ulster tell of an Irish expedition to Orkney. This warband, led by a character known only as Artablair, was victorious over the "Orkneymen".

And even if none of the above had any effect on the population of Orkney, the start of Norse raiding could have. If the Norse settlement was preceded by a time of raiding, did the Orcadian Picts drift away to the comparative safety of the Scottish mainland?

Early Norse contact and integration

All these theories imply a sudden influx of Norwegian settlers, based on the Viking invasions elsewhere in Britain. As far as the English chroniclers were concerned, the Viking age began in 793AD, when the Lindisfarne Abbey was raided. Because of this it has generally always been assumed that the Norsemen began arriving in Britain in the latter years of the eighth century.

But in Orkney in Shetland, both of which are a mere day's sailing from Norway, it is likely that there were Norse visitors before this date. Although we can't say how extensive this contact was, archaeological evidence does seem to confirm it took place.

In Orkney, Pictish combs made from deer antler are fairly common. Although the early Norwegians also manufactured antler combs, theirs were made from reindeer antler and not the native red deer antler used in Orkney.

However, examinations of a number of combs held at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall revealed that some of the Pictish combs found in Birsay were actually made from reindeer antler.

Did early Norse traders or settlers import the reindeer antler into Orkney? It seems to confirm that, in one area of Orkney at least, the Norse were trading long before the traditional date of their arrival.

Source (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/vikingorkney/takeover.htm)

Thursday, December 11th, 2008, 08:07 PM
I came upon this interesting article.

According to a book to be published next month, they were.

In The Early English Settlement of Orkney and Shetland, Dr Graeme Davis, a specialist in medieval linguistics and history, counters popular historical belief by proposing there was an Anglo-Saxon settlement, in both Orkney and Shetland, from the fourth century AD.

Accepted history has the Angles, Jutes and Saxons “invading” southern Britain, from Denmark and northern Germany, in the middle of the fifth century AD. Over time the Anglo-Saxons took control of vast swathes of land, eventually giving their name to England - Angleland.

Dr Davis proposes, however, that a group of Anglo-Saxons had settled in the Northern Isles at least a century before this, resulting in one of the first English settlements in the British Isles. These Orkney Anglo-Saxons, he suggests, were a minority group who were ultimately subsumed into the Norwegian population, who began arriving in the islands in the eighth century AD.

A number of accounts by classical historians do refer to an early Saxon presence in Orkney and Shetland. Over the years, however, historians have generally ignored these, or dismissed them as errors.

Dr Davis feels, however, that these accounts can’t be simply disregarded.

He said: “References are scant - I couldn't have written a book on the basis of written references - but there are some good ones. For example, Claudius wrote:

‘What avail against him (Theodosius) the eternal snows, the frozen air, the uncharted sea? The Orcades ran red with Saxon slaughter; Thule was warm with the blood of Picts; ice-bound Hibernia wept for the heaps of slain Scots’

“Or then there’s Nennius, who recorded a Saxon attack on Orkney shortly before the 449AD English ‘invasion’ of Britain.

Hengist, after this, said to Vortigern, "I will be to you both a father and an adviser; despise not my counsels, and you shall have no reason to fear being conquered by any man or any nation whatever; for the people of my country are strong, warlike, and robust: if you approve, I will send for my son and his brother, both valiant men, who at my invitation will fight against the Picts, and you can give them the countries in the north, near the wall called Gual. The incautious sovereign having assented to this, Octa and Ebusa arrived with forty ships. In these they sailed round the country of the Picts, laid waste the Orkneys, and took possession of many regions, even to the Pictish confine beyond the Frenesic Sea.

But although he feels the statements are persuasive, and should therefore not be ignored, Dr Davis is at pains to stress they are not proof in themselves.

“The written records are enough to establish a hypothesis, but no more than this. I could not have written the book on the basis of these written accounts alone, because they are so scant, and because there are scholarly reservations about every one of them. That said, there is no good reason to reject such sources out of hand. Most of the time early writers did aim to write the truth as they saw it.”

Instead, the crux of his theory is linguistics.

He explained: “What first attracted me to the topic was a linguistic argument, and it is language which is the key. Without the evidence of language, I wouldn’t have a book.”

According to Dr Davis, his analysis of features found in Orkney and Shetland Norn, the language spoken in the islands until the 18th century, serves as strong support for the accuracy of the assertions of early historians.

“In its structures, the language shows faint echoes of Anglo-Saxon, heavily overlaid by later Viking influences. Orkney and Shetland Norn is not merely a dialect of the Old Norse language, with local modifications as usually assumed, but rather a predominantly Old Norse language with certain embedded Anglo-Saxon features. It is therefore a language which emerged on the islands and is a unique - and neglected - part of the cultural heritage of Orkney and Shetland.”

He added: “I don’t see any way of explaining the words in Orkney and Shetland Norn other than to conclude that a Germanic people were in Orkney and Shetland from fourth century AD, and the language developed independently in the islands.

“From a language point of view, these people could be English or Norse, or indeed any other Germanic group - though when we go back as far as fourth century it is a moot point how different the different Germanic groups really were, linguistically, ethnically or culturally. The written sources do say Saxon, that is Early English, so I’ve gone with this.

“I present the linguistic arguments in terms fully accessible to the layman. There is nothing difficult to read. That said, the discipline on which I draw has the frightening name ‘neogrammarian philology’, and is able - with many reservations - to reconstruct early forms of a language, or move forward from early forms to more recent forms.

“One example which Orcadians will know is the word Jarl, used as a title for the Earls or Orkney. This word jolly well shouldn’t be Jarl - rather it should be Jerl, the word, which in modern spelling, and with a southern pronunciation, is the familiar English Earl. There are lots of oddities like this in Orkney and Shetland Norn. One or two might just be an accident; the whole demand a different explanation.”

He added: “My arguments are based on language. They don’t conflict with anything in the historical or archaeological record, but they do modify interpretation. For example, language evidence suggests that the Roman poet Claudian is right and suggests that there is an explanation for no archaeological trace of ‘the coming of the Vikings’.

“I don’t rewrite the history of Orkney and Shetland. I do, however, add a new people to the cultural mix, and I do suggest that Orkney and Shetland Norn is a homegrown Orkney and Shetland product. I also suggest that the only substantial text in Norn is a remarkable piece of literature in this language, of which the people of the Northern Isles can be very proud indeed.”

The inevitable question relates to archaeology. Surely an Anglo-Saxon group in fourth century Orkney would leave some trace?

Dr Davis countered: “Any archaeological footprint from early English settlers would be small. We probably already have copious evidence of them, however, in that the present archaeological record cannot see a ‘coming of the Vikings’ around 790AD.

"There is no abrupt change, which is what we could reasonably expect. An explanation is that a Germanic people were already in Orkney and Shetland well before 790AD. We don’t see one Germanic people, the Vikings, arrive because a very similar Germanic people, the English, were already here.

“These early Anglo-Saxon settlers stayed where they were. When the Vikings arrived they merged with them and with the other ethnic groups of Orkney and Shetland. Because their language was so similar to that spoken by the Vikings there is a process of language mixing, which means that Norn reflects these English language roots, along with the Viking language roots.

“Among the already rich ethnic heritage of every Orcadian can now be counted a few early English genes. Orcadians are descended from the very earliest English inhabitants of the British Isles, present in Orkney a century or more earlier than their invasion of England.”

* The Early English Settlement of Orkney and Shetland, by Dr Graeme Davis, is published by John Donald and due for release on November 1.

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008, 04:30 AM
And are there any Anglo-Saxon place names on the Orkney Islands?

Or what are the traces?