The Celtic origins of the Icelanders
While most of the people with a certain knowledge regarding Iceland would consider that the Icelanders are solely descended from the Norse colonists who settled there during the 9th and 10th centuries, it must be mentioned that their genetic structure is not entirely Scandinavian in origin.
The contemporary Icelanders are as such descended from both the Norse colonists who settled there during the Viking Age (that spanned from the 8th to the 11th century) as well as from various Celtic-speaking populations that were brought by the Norsemen from their raids in Ireland and Scotland (and possibly even the Hebrides, the Shetlands, the Orkneys, and Isle of Man).
Most people think that Iceland was uninhabited prior to the Norsemen’s arrival, but sparse archaeological findings as well as various written accounts suggest that there might have been an Irish/Scottish presence in Iceland before the Norse settlement which commenced in the 9th century. This presence, however, was represented only by Irish and Scottish hermit monks (known as ‘Papar‘ in medieval texts) who were most likely part of a mission sent to the isles of the North Atlantic Ocean in order to spread Christianity.
Nowadays, in Iceland there are several place names of Gaeilge origins such as Bekansstaðir (i.e. ‘Beecan’s place’), Njálsstaðir (i.e. ‘Nial’s place’) and Írafell (i.e. ‘Mount Irish’). Furthermore, genetic studies reveal the fact that the Icelanders are of both Norse and Irish descent.
A genetic research project conducted by deCODE in association with Oxford University published the results of the mtDNA (the mitochondrial DNA representing the female genetic lineage) which showed the fact that 63% of Icelandic women are of Irish/Scottish origin, with their lineage being connected to the British archipelago.
The remainder of 37% of the female settlers in Iceland were shown to be of Norse origin, stemming from Norway. On the other hand, concerning the male population, the study revealed a greater Norse genetic influence among men than in women. As such, 80% of the Icelandic men are Norse and only 20% Irish/Scottish.
Below is a short funny and interesting Icelandic TV report on the mixed genetic legacy of the Icelanders:
- deCODE genetics on www.decode.com
- The Origins of the Icelanders on www.arnastofnun.is (The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies)
- Origin and population structure of the Icelanders on www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (the National Center for Biotechnology Information)
- The majority of Icelandic female settlers came from the British Isles on www.decode.com (deCODE genetics)
- Irish Roots in Iceland on www.icelandicroots.com
- Viking beaters: Scots and Irish may have settled Iceland a century before Norsemen on www.theconversation.com
- Scots And Irish Might Have Preceded Viking In Iceland on www.grapevine.is
- New evidence suggests Scots and Irish beat the Vikings to Iceland on www.lonelyplanet.com