What is Scandinavian DNA Ethnicity on Ancestry?
If you've recently done a DNA test and the result revealed "Scandinavia" as your ethnicity, you might wonder what that means. In this article we'll cover where this region is, the history of it, the genetic makeup of the region, and much more!
Did you discover that you have DNA ancestry from one of the Scandinavian countries when you took your AncestryDNA? If you did, you are likely to want to know a little bit more about that, especially if you were surprised by this result.
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Until fairly recently the countries of Scandinavia were classified together by AncestryDNA as a single Scandinavian region. Thanks to a growing number of testers and improvements to testing practices as well as algorithms the site has been able to give each country its own official region. So then what does Scandinavian DNA in your ethnicity estimate mean?
What Are the Regions of Scandinavia?
Scandinavia is a collection of countries in Northern Europe most of which are part of the Scandinavian peninsula. This is the largest peninsula in Europe and shares a land border with only one non-Scandinavian country, Russia.
According to AncestryDNA, there are several Scandinavian regions which include:
- Sweden & Denmark
What Are the Countries of Scandinavia?
The three distinct Scandinavian regions on Ancestry do not just cover the 4 countries mentioned but also encompass others. This is because of a common heritage and culture that historically exists between all of these countries.
Non-Peninsula Countries or Islands
- Faroe Islands
It is important to note that Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and the Faroe Islands all fall within what is considered the Norway region on AncestryDNA. This is despite the fact that these are islands that in some cases are over 1000 miles from mainland Norway.
Sweden & Denmark History
After the Ice Age
Around 12,500 years ago the last ice age ended and vast glaciers receded north from northern Europe. As the sheet of ice moved northward it exposed the land of what is today the Scandinavian Peninsula. This new land was quickly explored by stone age mainland Europeans who traveled north between 9,000 and 1800 BC.
These hunters and gatherers followed herds of animals with the hunters ranging the furthest north in search of game. In the south groups would settle and start farming the land and building communities. These southern settlers also quickly developed boat building skills which kept them connected to mainland Europe.
The early settlers in the region spoke a language known as Old Norse, also known as donsk tunga (Danish tongue), which is the root of all known Scandinavian languages today.
Rise of the Vikings
These early settlers were for the most part content to lay down roots, living in independent clans, working the land and raising their families. However, following the Scandinavian Iron age (500 BC – 800 AD) things began to change. Advances in weapons and shipbuilding created the potential for exploration.
These iron age advances led to the Viking age (793 – 1066 AD). This era saw ships full of Norsemen travel throughout the seas and waterways of Europe. In some places, they would trade while in others they would raid.
The Swedish Vikings became merchant river explorers in Eastern Europe giving rise to the Varangian Vikings. They ranged through eastern Europe as far east as the Ukraine and Russia where they established strongholds. In the 9th century these Vikings created one of the first Slavic States, Kievan Rus.
The Vikings of Denmark along with the Norwegians raided and traded to the West across the sea where many settled in England. This gave rise to the Danelaw settlements in Britain.
Descended from the same people who settled in Denmark and Sweden, the people of what is now modern-day Norway consisted of the hunters who traveled further north. In this region remnants of the ice age hung onto the northern coast of the Scandinavian peninsula making for harder and colder conditions.
The early settlers of Norway mainly hunted and fished to survive with a few starting very primitive farms as well. It wasn’t until around 2500 BC that the ice age finally fully receded from Norway making it possible for more settlers to arrive.
Farming began to take over hunting although fishing remained an important source of food. During this same period, new nomadic peoples arrived in Norway. The Sami traveled to and settled in Norway from somewhere in Eurasia. They were reindeer herders, hunters and fishermen and they still exist today holding on to many ancient practices.
As with the Vikings that developed in Sweden and Denmark the Norse of Norway developed as a result of the Scandinavian iron age (500 BC – 800 AD). They traveled by sea to the west interacting with the Gauls and the Roman Empire from (1 – 800 AD).
The Norwegians acted as mercenaries and traders throughout this period developing a ferocious reputation. They did not trade as much as the Swedish and Danes but were most often raiders who would settle in other regions when they could.
Settlement of England
In about 876 the Norwegian Vikings began to settle in northern and eastern England taking control of about a third of the country in a region they called Danelaw. They would maintain this control for 80 years.
From 1016 – 1035 AD the Danish King Cnut the Great ruled England as well as Denmark and parts of both Norway and Sweden.
Finland is located at the eastern end of the Scandinavian peninsula and was originally settled in the same way as Sweden, Denmark and Norway. They too had an Iron Age but unlike the other countries on the peninsula did not become boat makers and raiders.
The Finnish interacted with the Vikings and were often the victims of raiding but did not really have a Viking culture of their own. They did, however, hang onto their religious practices longer than the Viking nations. Christianity does not appear to have been of considerable impact in Finland until the 11th century.
It was an isolated country during the Viking era only really interacting with Sweden and Norway for the most part. Farming didn’t really develop until the Viking era in Finland with settlers mainly surviving on hunting and fishing. In the north of Finland, most people lived a nomadic lifestyle much like the Sami of Norway but were distinctly not related to this group.
The Scandinavian Islands
Westward into the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the Norwegian Vikings ranged in search of lands to raid and settle. This gave rise to the Scandinavian strongholds of Iceland, Greenland, and Faroe Isles.
This is an island that has no pre-historic known settlement and is thought to have first been settled by Vikings from Norway. Records written centuries after the supposed events suggest that a Norwegian by the name of Ingolfr Arnarson was the first permanent settler on the island in 874 AD.
Records from the 12th century “Book of Settlements” mention some 400 settlers going to Iceland. These supposedly included mainly people from Norway but also families from other Scandinavian countries and some Scandinavian settlers from England.
The largest island in the world, Greenland, unlike Iceland, did have a prehistoric culture that precedes the Norwegian settlements. Early Inuits travelled to Greenland from the islands north of the North American mainland.
These indigenous American peoples lived on the island in phases between 2500 BC – 700 AD with periods in which the island was uninhabited. Around 700 AD the most recent wave of Innuit settlers arrived on the island and made homes in the North. They remained there until around 1300 AD.
It was around 980 AD that settlers from Norway arrived in Greenland making their settlements in the South. This means it is likely there could have been interactions between the Inuits in the north and the Norse in the South.
The Faroe Islands were first settled by Irish monks in 700 AD before the arrival of Norwegian Vikings in 800 AD. This led to settlement from Norway and various other Scandinavian countries.
The islands have been subject to frequent changes of political control over the centuries but exist today as part of the Sovereign State of Denmark.
What Is Scandinavian DNA?
Scandinavian DNA essentially originates from one of the three main countries of the region: Sweden, Norway or Denmark. These countries share a common cultural and historical heritage that has been spread beyond the Scandinavian peninsula.
Those who possess DNA from one of the Scandinavian regions likely have an ancestor who at one time came from Scandinavia. This of course depends on how high the percentage of Scandinavian DNA is in your ethnicity estimate.
Other Countries that Exhibit Scandinavian DNA
The widespread nature of Scandinavian exploration and settlement has led to the presence of DNA in countries that are not considered Scandinavian. This DNA is a hangover from when Vikings settled in various regions and is found in countries such as:
- The Netherlands
Later Swedish Expansion
The presence of Scandinavian DNA in other parts of eastern Europe may not be as a result of the Vikings. Sweden, for example, between 1500 – 1700 AD expanded its borders to encompass northern Germany and several Baltic countries.
This obviously led to a certain level of Swedish settlement in these areas which over time would have impacted the genetic makeup of the local population.
The Recent Spread of Scandinavian DNA
In the 1600 – 1700s tens of thousands of Norwegians left Norway in search of work and religious freedoms. This brought over 80,000 Norwegian immigrants to the Netherlands where they joined the fishing industry, navy and merchant shipping.
How Much DNA Indicates a Recent Scandinavian Ancestor?
Knowing you have Scandinavian DNA doesn’t mean very much to you unless you can potentially pinpoint an ancestor from which it comes. When percentages are low it can often mean the connection to that region is distant and may not be traceable.
If you have a result of 20% or higher indicating one of the Scandinavian regions it is likely that you have an ancestor from that region within a few generations of you. This could potentially be proven using genealogical research.
When you show a low percentage of DNA from a Scandinavian region or several regions this can be from multiple more distant ancestors. As the AncestryDNA database improves you may be able to get more refined results which might pinpoint your connection to the region more clearly.
Can I Track My Scandinavian Ancestry?
The answer to this question depends on certain circumstances and individual cases. If the ancestor you are looking for is recent in your tree perhaps in the last few hundred years then there is a chance you might locate them.
When it comes to smaller percentage results then the ancestor is likely more distant. The presence of Scandinavian DNA in your test may date back to dozens of ancestors in the more distant past. If the DNA is from Viking settlers in the country your family originated from then you will not likely be able to determine who those ancestors were as individuals.
How do I Trace Recent Scandinavian Ancestors?
If your DNA test shows you have a high percentage of DNA from one of the specific Scandinavian regions then your ancestor may be only a few generations away from you. When you can get a subregion within Norway, Sweden or Denmark you might have an even smaller potential place of origin to research.
The best place to start is by building a family tree and trying to track any ancestral names in your tree that may sound Scandinavian. Try and locate when those family lines may have entered the country you are presently in and if they appear in immigration documents.
If you can find your ancestors listed as coming from one of these regions you may be able to try and find records for them before they left Scandinavia. This is where subregions will help you locate areas to focus your efforts.
The Scandinavian countries were first settled by mainland Europeans chasing the receding ice age glaciers. They settled down as farmers before developing skills as boat builders in their new peninsular homelands.
Scandinavian ancestors descend from people who were at home on the water. They became traders, explorers, mercenaries and raiders. Spreading throughout Europe, Scandinavian DNA is not uncommon and turns up in the tests of millions of ancestry hunters.