Icelanders May Be Descendants of Native Americans Skip to content

Icelanders May Be Descendants of Native Americans

Genealogy and anthropology studies support a theory that Native Americans accompanied Norsemen to Iceland 500 years before Christopher Columbus discovered America. According to the study, many Icelanders carry genes characteristic of Native Americans.


From a deCODE laboratory. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.

The theory is put forward in the Master thesis of Sigrídur Sunna Ebeneserdóttir, who is studying anthropology at the University of Iceland (HÍ), which was conducted on behalf of deCODE Genetics, Fréttabladid reports.

The conclusions have raised considerable attention and been covered in The Guardian and The Telegraph after an extensive article on the study appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The National Geographic has also expressed interest in the study.

Agnar Helgason, anthropologist at deCODE and HÍ, who served as Ebeneserdóttir’s tutor, published the conclusions of a study in 2000 where it was indicated that most of the women who settled in Iceland came from the British Isles while most of the male settlers came from Scandinavia.

While working on the study, information on a few mitochondria genotypes that cannot be traced back to Europe came to light. Ebenesersdóttir’s study indicates that the genotype originates in America and not from Inuits in Greenland, who have a different genotype.

Helgason said it is possible to trace mitochondria genotypes in direct distaff side many centuries back in time. That way it is possible to make conclusions on the combination of the group of settlers in Iceland.

“Based on deCODE’s genealogy database, this genotype could be found in 350 individuals alive today. They all originate from four women who lived in the countryside in south Iceland. These women were all born before 1700 and their bloodline can be traced back to a woman who lived long before 1500,” Helgason stated.

The study supports the theory that the female ancestors of these 350 Icelanders followed Norsemen to Iceland from North America around the year 1000.

Icelandic medieval manuscripts state that the voyageur Leifur “the lucky” Eiríksson sailed to today’s Newfoundland and Labrador in the year 1000, founded the colony Vinland and settled there temporarily with his crew.

In the 500 years that passed until Christopher Columbus arrived in America, which marked the beginning of the European settlement in the New World, there are no sources on travels from Iceland to America.

Helgason stressed that this is a theory and that it can only be proven or refuted with further research. “Then we have to find the exact same genotype somewhere else in the world. But it doesn’t change the fact that this theory is the most likely based on the data we have.”

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