The One Hair Color Vikings Most Commonly Had

While the word "Viking" might commonly bring to mind images of warriors with flaxen blond hair reminiscent of their modern Scandinavian descents, recent scientific research has shown that was likely not the case. A massive DNA sequencing study of Vikings in Europe conducted last year has shown that, rather than being a genetically related group of people, the main commonality Vikings shared was simply their career choice, not their DNA, as Science Magazine reported. "These identities aren't genetic or ethnic, they're social. To have backup for that from DNA is powerful," Oslo-based archaeologist Cat Jarman explained to the magazine.

The term Viking has been largely been used to refer to Norse seafaring raiders from what is now southern Scandinavia, but it turns out their genetic makeup actually varied quite a lot. Using data from 1,000 ancient individuals and 3,855 people currently alive, researchers were able to determine that the people we may think of as Vikings today were actually members of three distinct population groups, with relatively little intermingling between them.

Vikings were a genetically diverse group of people

The study's co-author Professor Eske Willerslev told The Guardian, "Vikings are, genetically, not purely Scandinavian," and their most common hair color was actually not blond, but black. According to Science Magazine, ancient Vikings were even more likely to have black hair than modern Scandinavians or Danes today. This is because some people buried in Viking-style graves in Norway were found to be members of a group of Indigenous people called the Saami, who were genetically more closely related to East Asians and Siberians than modern-day Scandinavians, as the study reported.

Groups that were then identified under the loose category of Vikings eventually split off into separate groups, with some Swedish Vikings going East to modern-day Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics, and those with Danish blood more likely to travel west toward what is now England. Norwegian Vikings went on to populate Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland. So the next time you picture a fierce Viking, you might want to remember that no one single "look" defined the genetically diverse population of seafaring pirates.