Composition of the founding population of Iceland: Biological distance and morphological variation in early historic atlantic Europe

Benedikt Hallgrímsson*, Barra Ó Donnabháin, G. Bragi Walters, David M.L. Cooper, Daníel Guobjartsson, Kari Stefánsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We examined the composition of the founding population of Iceland through the study of morphological traits in skeletons from Iceland, Ireland, Norway, and Greenland. This is the first study to address this issue from the Settlement Period of Iceland and contemporary samples from Ireland. We pose the following questions: 1) Was the founding population of Iceland of mixed or homogeneous origin? 2) Is there evidence for a significant Irish cohort in the founding population, as suggested in medieval Icelandic literature? Analysis of biodistance revealed that both Settlement Age and later samples from Iceland showed a greater degree of phenetic similarity to contemporary Viking Age Norwegians than to samples obtained from early medieval Ireland. Analysis of among-individual morphological variation showed that the Settlement Age population of Iceland did not exhibit an increase in variation in comparison to other populations in the sample, suggesting a relatively homogenous origin. However, estimation of admixture between the Irish and Norwegian populations indicated that 66% of the Icelandic settlers were of Norwegian origin. Comparison of the Icelandic samples to hybrid samples produced by resampling the Viking Age Norwegian and early medieval Irish samples revealed that the Icelandic samples are much closer to the Norwegian samples than expected, based on a 66:34 mixture of Norwegian and Irish settlers. We conclude that the Settlement Age population of Iceland was predominantly (60-90%) of Norwegian origin. Although this population was relatively homogenous, our results do not preclude significant contributions from Ireland as well as other sources not represented in our analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-274
Number of pages18
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume124
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2004

Other keywords

  • Bioarcheology
  • Biodistance
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Medieval Europe
  • Migration
  • Nonmetric traits
  • Norway

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