Generations of Icelanders
Generations of Icelanders
The newest technique for answering the question of who settled Iceland is genetic studies. Even before these advances took place, the dark eyes and red hair of some Icelanders suggested a non-Scandinavian origin. However, the studies have fluctuated wildly in their conclusions, some estimating 86% Scandinavian genetic markers, while others estimating 98% Celtic! The most recent study suggests up to 50% of the women in Iceland were likely of Celtic stock.

Why does this study base its conclusion on women in Iceland? Mitochondrial DNA is inherited, unchanged except for random mutations, from one's mother. It is thought to be the key to unlocking long-term population movements. Based on comparisons of Icelandic mitochondrial DNA with other European populations, Icelandic women are most similar to the Welsh and British. While the sagas speak often of Irish slaves, perhaps the term really meant Celtic peoples from the Western Isles, and not Irish alone.

Other DNA traces suggest Icelandic women share DNA not only with Scandinavians and people of the British Isles, but also with the Saami, Finns, Russians, Germans, Austrians, Turks, and others. This unique blend means Icelanders are not closely related to any single population.

While enlightening, this study acknowledges a number of problems with their data. Their sample size for Icelanders is quite large, but the samples from other nationalities were much smaller. Therefore, any findings are subject to revision as more data become available. At present, genetic studies can only add an interesting dimension to the debate, but offer no conclusive answers.


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