Fiona Govan, Telegraph (London), Nov. 16, 2010
Scientists tracing the genetic origins of an Icelandic family believe the first American arrived in Europe around the 10th century, a full five hundred years before Columbus set off on his first voyage of discovery in 1492.
Norse sagas suggest the Vikings discovered the Americas centuries before Columbus and the latest data seems to support the hypothesis that they may have brought American Indians back with them to northern Europe.
Research indicates that a woman from the North American continent probably arrived in Iceland some time around 1000AD leaving behind genes that are reflected in about 80 Icelanders today.
Investigators discovered the genes could be traced to common ancestors in the south of Iceland, near the Vatnaj Kull glacier in around 1710 ruling out initial theories that they may have arrived via Asia.
“As the island was practically isolated from the 10th century onwards, the most probable hypothesis is that these genes correspond to an Amerindian woman who was taken from America by the Vikings some time around the year 1000,” Carles Lalueza-Fox, of the Pompeu Fabra university in Spain, said.
A Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, in the eastern Canadian region of Terranova, is thought to date to the 11th century.
Researchers said they would keep trying to determine when the Amerindian genes first arrived in Iceland and would seek to link them to burial remains in the Americas.
The genetic research, made public by Spain’s Centre for Scientific Research, was due to be published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
A team of European researchers says the discovery of what appears to be a strain of First Nations DNA among a small group of Icelanders may represent the survival, at least genetically, of the Beothuk, victims of Canadian history’s most tragic cultural extinction. The scientists have linked their discovery to Viking voyages to Canada about 1,000 years ago
The DNA discovery may also help solve one of the country’s most enduring mysteries: the identity of the so-called “skraelings” of the medieval Viking sagas — natives whose attacks forced Leif Ericcson and his fellow Norse colonists to abandon their landmark New World settlement a millennium ago at present-day L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland.
The study, published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, was authored by three anthropologists and geneticists from the University of Iceland and a paleo-DNA specialist from Spain.
“Our findings reveal that a mysterious Icelandic mitochondrial DNA sequence (that we named the C1e lineage), carried by more than 80 Icelanders, can be traced through the female line to four ancestors born in Iceland around 1700,” study co-author Agnar Helgason said. “There is good reason to believe that the C1e lineage arrived in Iceland several hundreds of years before 1700.”
Noting that the newly identified DNA type does not appear to be of European origin, Helgason says further evidence suggests it most likely derives from “the great human genealogical tree through the female line that has, to date, only been found in Native Americans” — the aboriginal nations of the Americas.
But the distinctive C1e “clade” does not precisely match any existing DNA profile among native groups. And the early origin of this unusual Icelandic genetic strain has led the researchers to a startling theory about ancient events at the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Newfoundland, where archeologists have proven that Norse seafarers from Greenland and Iceland established a short-lived colony at L’Anse aux Meadows 1,000 years ago. The research team suspects the Norse kidnapped one or more of the hostile natives they encountered during their colonization effort. A captive female skraeling is then presumed to have become the matriarch of a line of Norse-native descendants that can be traced to the 80 Icelanders recently identified as having the C1e DNA profile.
Following John Cabot’s landmark voyage to Newfoundland in 1498, the island’s Beothuk nation clashed with a succession of would-be colonizers from Portugal, France and Britain and was ravaged by disease. The last known survivor of her people, an artistically gifted Beothuk woman named Shanawdithit, died in St. John’s in 1829.
“Our findings raise the possibility that there was in fact contact between the Icelandic Vikings and the Native Americans, which led to a Native American woman carrying the C1e lineage being brought to Iceland,” said Helgason. “If this is the case, then the contemporary Icelanders carrying the C1e lineage would be descended through the direct female line from the first Native American to travel to Europe.”