'Time team' to seek out genetic secrets of Yorkshire's Viking past

YORKSHIRE has always been proud of its Viking ancestry – and now DNA genetic finger-printing could tell us if we belong to the Danish or Norwegian side of the pool.

The arrival of the Vikings in Britain more than 1,000 years ago was a dramatic event that left a lasting legacy on our language, landscape and place-names.

But the era was also something of a carve-up where the North of England was concerned, as often warring tribes of Vikings grabbed different areas.

A settlement was established at Scarborough, for example, around 950AD by a Viking raider called Thorgils Skarthi.

However the community was soon burned to the ground by a rival band of Vikings including Harald of Norway.

York was established as Jorvik by the Danes, but in 1066 came a Norwegian attack that led to the battle with King Harold at Stamford Bridge, shortly before th Battle of Hastings.

Scientists have long suspected that the Norwegians colonised Lancashire and the Wirral while the landings in Yorkshire were mainly from Denmark.

However, population shifts during the industrial revolution mixed things up and only now can science determine how far east the Norwegians penetrated.

In one of the biggest projects of its kind, academics from the world-famous Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, home of DNA fingerprinting, are beginning a new study to map the extent of Viking ancestry in men who live in the north of England.

DNA tends to be a mishmash of genes from parents but the male Y chromosome has been passed down unchanged from father to son since the dawn of time.

A member of the team, Prof Steve Harding, who is based at the University of Nottingham, said of the new project: "The Viking influence in Yorkshire is very strong.

"The goal is to pinpoint to what extent the Vikings have influenced the ancestry of modern Yorkshire where people still tend to think of themselves as Viking."

Previous work from the group, led by Prof Mark Jobling, has shown a high degree of Viking ancestry among men from the Wirral and West Lancashire and now the aim is to extend the work further afield.

The researchers want to recruit male volunteers whose father's father was born in Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire, Durham or Northumberland.

"As well as analysing the Y chromosomes, we are also interested in the surnames, because they are passed down the generations in the same way," said researcher Dr Turi King. "Surnames help us to make deeper links into the past, and tease out the signal of past Viking presence."

Sampling is done by post, and involves simply brushing the inside of the cheek. In return for participating, volunteers receive a description of their own Y-chromosome type when the work is completed.

Men interested in taking part are asked to e-mail Turi King at surnames@le.ac.uk, or telephone 07512 586 493.

North's foreign roots revealed

Most Northerners have either Celtic or Viking blood running through their veins.

Although we also think or ourselves as mixed with the French, that is not strictly true. Historians say the Normans merely established a ruling class to run England after the 1066 Conquest and there is no evidence of much movement by ordinary French people to England.

Although we speak English, Anglo Saxon genes are weak in the North because settlers showed little inclination to move into Celtic territory.