Silk, Silk, Silk – and more Silk. Who were they?

DNA analyses of human remains from Valsgärde and Gamla Uppsala

Contact: Annika Larsson +46 - (0)70 - 499 98 85

In my combined textile-archaeological research, the point of departure is that Viking Age Scandinavia (850-970) was part of a common cultural area that stretched along the northern Silk roads, from Scandinavia in the west to Central Asia in the east.

A large part of Scandinavian Viking Age textile finds originate in these eastern areas. The patterns have survived for more than a thousand years in Scandinavian folk art, which is clearly apparent in still living crafts traditions. From the same time, many Eastern coins are found in Scandinavia. The question is whether some "Vikings" came from Central Asia, too?

The history is often written in the form of hypotheses, seen through a filter consisting of our own cultural belonging. In Norway, as an example, DNA analyses were made on remnants of both women in the famous Viking Age boatgrave from Oseberg. The remnant from one of the women showed traces from Persia. This is eliminated with speculation that "someone with Persian origin" might have handled the archaeological material, so that the bones have become contaminated.

The results, and the contradictory interpretations, have inspired me to know more about the origin of other buried "Vikings". Indeed, in the Oseberg grave, as in other boat- and chambergraves from the same time, there are large numbers of silk. However, in most of these graves, human remains are poorly preserved. But new technology now makes it possible to extract archeological DNA, even from a relatively poorly-preserved bone or dental material.

The application concerns in-depth DNA analyzes in order to ensure preliminary results from 2012-2014, made on the remains of human bones/teeth in the Viking Age graves from Valsgärde and Gamla Uppsala. The analyses will be made public in the autumn of 2017, in parallel with a museum exhibition.

The project is important for increased understanding of complex historical processes, and is highly relevant for integration and to counteract xenophobic tendencies.

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