A mysterious group of people may have inhabited the Faroe Islands before the Vikings

A lake on Eysturoy where centuries-old sheep DNA has been found.

The lake on Eisturoi where the centuries-old DNA of sheep was located found.
Photography: Jostein Bakke / University of Bergen

Centuries-old DNA collected from the bottom of the lake The Faroe Islands are turning back the clock due to human occupation archipelago. The Vikings arrived there around 850 AD, but a a team of researchers concluded that an unknown group of people must have arrived on this North Atlantic islands a few hundred years earlier, around 500. no Research team ands published today in Communications Earth & Environment.

“Our findings provide evidence that humans occupied the Faroe Islands and introduced livestock at least 300 years before the accepted time of the Norse settlement,” said William D’Andrea, a paleoclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in an email to Gizmodo. “Of course, it’s possible that people have been there before.”


“There is still a lot of uncertainty about the history of research in the North Atlantic, in part because of the fragmentary nature of archaeological sites,” D’Andrea added. “Our study shows that for the Faroe Islands, this history dates back at least three centuries before the Nordic Lándnam, or colonization period.”

The Faroe Islands are an archipelago about 200 miles northwest of Scotland. They are rocky and windy, which means a little annoying archeology has remained intact on surfaces. So researchers turned to a less altered part of the island: relict sediments at the bottom of the lake, on a large Eysturoy Island.

Getting to the Faroe Islands is not easy, especially with 6th century technology. But some group – the team is not sure who exactly is, since they did not analyze the human DNA found in their samples – succeeded there before the Vikings with a lot of sheep. They know that the sheep arrived together with these people because of the abundant sheep DNA and fecal biomarkers in the sediments.

The lakebed for centuries it acted as a basin, as a surrounding material the earth was washed into the water. Everything in that soil – including the DNA of the islanders and things like lipids from their guts– ended up preserved at the bottom of the lake.


Sheep DNA and biomarkers indicate a probable arrival date between 492 CE and 512 CE, but it could have been as early as 370 CE. (For reference, this is only 50 years after Constantine divided the Roman Empire.) These dates are determined based on the depth of the sediment layers – the ash layer from a volcanic eruption known to have occurred in 877 CE provided a recognizable timestamp.

Past research another appeared traces of human history on the islands. In the 1980s, researchers discovered that weeds commonly associated with human movements appeared in the Faroe Islands around 2200 BC. But that weed could stretch the wind, as many plant seeds do. But in 2013, a study found charred barley grains under a Viking long house on Sandoy Island. This indicated the arrival before the Nordics of the islands but there was only one piece of evidence. Lorelei Curtin, co-author of the new one paper and an Earth scientist from the University of Wyoming said the new rresearch confirms that the Vikings were not the first people there.

Who are these early researchers? bili, this team said they could have been Celts, but it is not certain. They are to find human DNA in the sediment, but perhaps it was modern contamination and has not been further investigated.

“We are still in the process of making a record of past climate and human activities from additional locations around the Faroe Islands,” D’Andrea said. “The great thing about lake sediments is that they contain information not only about human activities, but also about natural changes in the past climate and environment.”

D’Andrea and his colleagues have ongoing projects around The North Atlantic and Arctic, he said, so more discoveries about ancient human travel may yet be coming.

More: Climate change is erasing human history

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Naveen Kumar

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