Revealed: The softer, caring side of the marauding Viking

FAR from their marauding, pillaging stereotypes, Viking warriors were homemakers who couldn’t wait to ship their wives over to settle the lands they had conquered, new research reveals.

Scientists studying Scots of Viking ancestry in Shetland and Orkney have discovered that there must have been far more Viking women in the Dark Ages settlements than originally thought.

However, it appears that Viking wives refused to go deeper into Scotland, with little evidence they made it as far as the Western Isles.

Researchers from Oxford University took DNA samples from 500 residents of Shetland using a toothbrush to extract some of their saliva. The scientists were able to identify genetic traits in the Scots which they share with modern day Scandinavian populations.

By examining two elements of DNA, one that is passed from father to son and one passed down the female lineages, they could work out the gender balance of the original Viking populations. They could also compare it to results of other studies conducted in the Western Isles.

Dr Sara Goodacre, who conducted the research with colleagues from Oxford University, said: "We looked at the population of the Shetland and Orkney Islands and compared it to the source population of Scandinavia to show the migration patterns of men and women. Contrary perhaps to people’s image of Vikings, we did find evidence of a lot of females outside Scandinavia. Viking family groups were much more evident in such places as Orkney and Shetland.

"The genetic balance becomes much more male orientated the further away from Scandinavia you move to such places as the Western Isles. Colonial strongholds would have been more secure the closer to home they were."

The evidence has been disputed by archaeologists, but some experts say it could explain why the Norse language did not spread further west during the Viking occupation.

Dr Mary MacLeod, an archeologist who specialises on the Western Isles, said there was evidence from burial sites in the area of Viking female settlers.

She said: "There has been work on the Viking heritage of these islands which found a burial ground of people from Oslo fjords which included women as well as men. There has been more research conducted on the Viking legacy in Shetland and such places so more studies are required here."

Ian Tait, the assistant curator at Shetland Museum, added: "As 97 per cent of place names here are Scandinavian in origin they must have settled. Whether they killed or assimilated peacefully with the inhabitants remains a source of debate."

Alex Woolf, a lecturer at the University of St Andrews, said: "The way that the Norse language did not spread south of Mull and Ardnamurchan also backs up this DNA theory of Viking migration. In northern Scotland, Norse took hold, suggesting that male Vikings moved over with their families."