New book on genetic heritage of Vikings: it's one Thingwall after another

Posted by mjs76 at Dec 16, 2010 11:25 AM |
Between 2002 and 2007, researchers from the Universities of Leicester and Nottingham conducted an epic research project into the genetic influence of Vikings in Northwest England.

This resulted in plenty of high-profile academic papers and the results have now been made more generally available in a new book, Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project.

Co-authored by Professor Mark Jobling and Dr Turi King from our Department of Genetics and Professor Steve Harding from the University of Nottingham’s School of Biosciences, the book is a terrific mixture of science and history. In one corner, you’ve got the magnificent historical element of the Norsemen – big blokes with big swords – arriving (via Ireland) in the 10th century. In the other, the equally enthralling field of genetic research and the fantastic tales which can be told from a bit of DNA. Something for everyone, in fact.

West Lancashire and the Wirral were chosen as the study area because place names in that part of the world (including the iconic ‘Thingwall’) betray a Viking influence. Local volunteers with surnames known to exist in the area before about 1600 lined up to provide DNA samples. Analysis of the Y-chromosome (carried down through the male line, of course) showed quite how much the Scandinavian influence remains within the local population even despite the influx of genes from many other populations in modern times.

Top telly historian Michael Wood - who recently packed out our biggest lecture theatre for a public lecture even on a subzero, snowy night - has contributed an erudite and enthusiastic foreword to the book, in which he says:

As the best history always should, the tale also involves identity, local feeling, the life lived; it suggests how in a mysterious way even the deep past still lives on in us. It also shows how gripping and informative local history can be, but how it also can vividly illuminate the big picture. It is a model applicable to every community in the UK: a perfect example of what one hopes will become the new history. Not one delivered from on high but developed at grass roots in conjunction with the people themselves, using their archaeology history and landscape, their family histories documents and memories -and even their DNA.”

Well illustrated and eminently readable, Viking DNA: The Wirral and West Lancashire Project has been published by Nottingham University Press in association with Countyvise and is available now from Amazon and all good booksellers.

A proper launch event is planned for next year but there’s still time to put the book on your Christmas list.