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Blood of the Vikings Hardcover – 4 Oct 2001
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In several BBC television episodes of Meet the Ancestors Julian Richards has shown himself to be an enthusiastic explorer of the past and an able advocate of the imaginative reconstruction of the lives of those who peopled it. In Blood of the Vikings, the book accompanying another BBC series, he investigates the reality behind the images everyone has of the Vikings as fearsome and barbaric warriors who raided civilised settlements mercilessly in the 9th and 10th centuries. The book reflects his travels for the TV series. Richards pops up, as curious and inquisitive as always, in a Norwegian replica of a Viking house, in the Orkneys, in Dublin and in other places where the legacy of the Vikings lives on. However, Blood of the Vikingsis more than just "the book of the series". As an archaeologist, Richards has worked largely on prehistoric Britain and he admits that he began this project knowing only a little about the Vikings. He has been a quick learner. At its heart, his book tells more than the story of his journeys to Viking sites. It provides an enjoyable and personal account of Viking history and culture and, particularly, of the confrontation between Danish Vikings and King Alfred's Wessex, a confrontation which did much to shape an "English" sense of identity. It shows, just as clearly as the DNA experiments which it quotes, that a little of the blood of the Vikings runs in all British veins. --Nick Rennison
'A useful book...brings together a variety of evidence and integrates it well.' -- Historical Novels Review
'excellent' -- Time Out
'this is another example of why history on TV has never been better than it is now.' -- TIME OUT
'this landmark series' -- Daily Mail
'you can...revel in the beautiful photography of the book accompanying the series.' -- Daily Telegraph
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Regarding Viking genes in the present day British population only the Y chromosome was sampled in some 2,500 men in small British towns that had experienced little migration as well as Y chromosome samples taken from men "who seemed likely" to have Viking blood in Scandinavia. Norwegians and Danes had 2 different sets of genetic markers and so the emphasis was first on who and where the Norwegian Vikings may have left their genes behind on the British isles. Following the Viking "Sea Road" it was discovered that the men of the Shetland and Orkney islands were at least 30 % Norwegian and possibly as much as 60 % Norwegian. No surprise given that those islands were ruled by Norwegian and Danish kings well into the 1400s. The northernmost coast of Scotland also revealed a high percentage of Viking blood evinced by the genes of the men of the town of Durness. Also, still following the Sea Road the men of the Hebrides had more than 30 % of the Norwegian Y chromosome type. Continuing south towards the Isle of Man where Viking customs are still celebrated today it was discovered that Manx men were at least 15 % Norwegian genetically. Then the town of Wirral on the northwestern coast of England was analyzed, for this was the seat of a Norwegian kingdom where many Norwegian ruins linger and even where a Viking parliament was held. Surprisingly, however, there were almost no Viking genes whatsoever to be found in this seacoast town. A bit further inland in the town of Penrith in Cumbria, however, a solid amount of Norwegian genes were found. One exception to the rule back in Wirral was an Enlglishman by the name of Bill Housely. Housely can trace his ancestry in Wirral back one hundred and fifty years, but the genetic markers reveal that in all probability he is Norwegian, for his Y chromosome was identical to a number of men sampled in Norway. Elsewhere in Britain there were almost no genetic markers in the Y chromosome betraying any Norwegian ancestry - not even in the Norse settlement of Dublin or its environs in Ireland or any of the sites of Viking attacks in Wales; even the Danish settlement of York and its environs in Yorkshire revealed no Norwegian DNA.
What of the Danes who ruled half of England (the Danelaw) since 878 ? Unfortunately it was impossible as of 2001 to identify the descendants of Danish Vikings. Danish Vikings came from almost the same stock as the Angles (of southern Denmark) and the Saxons (of northern Germany) who had invaded England 400 years earlier. The chromosome types are too similar to distinguish, but if all continental invaders are lumped together (Danes, Angles and Saxons), then the highest proportion of "germanic" blood is found in northern England and a progressively lesser amount as one proceeds towards southernmost England. Also, England is more or less the same overall genetically and what is more surprising is that mainland Scotland is virtually identical genetically to southern coastal England. What does that mean? Scots and Englishmen are virtually the same genetically, possessing the same amount of germanic and celtic blood.
What of the Normans who conquered England in 1066? We know that William the Conqueror was the descendant of a Viking, but what of his army that conquered England? Analyzing the genes of the men who live on the Channel Islands, an area colonized heavily by the Normans we find almost no genetic differences between the Englishmen there and those of mainland England. In Normandy itself on the coast of France we find several hundred towns and villages with authentic Viking names, but England itself has thousands of towns with Viking names. Therefore it is concluded the Normans were primarily of French stock. More, there was an uprising in northern England that was assisted by Danish Vikings three years after the Norman conquest. William brutally suppressed the rebellion and slaughtered all Danish sympathizers around the area of York.
Where then are the true Celts? Central Ireland and Wales are entirely descended from the ancient Britons, i.e., the Celts. The Irish and the Welsh seem to be pure Celts lacking any Norwegian or other germanic DNA. But as far as the men of Scotland and England are concerned the author concludes, "Many still have flowing through our veins a little of the blood of the Vikings."
It also dispells many of the myths surrounding the vikings such as the sticking idea of horned helmets and that they were only good at raiding whereas they were good adapters to changing environments and cultural clashes, brilliant blacksmiths, farmers, jewellers and poets. It looks at the viking influence in the not to recent past such as the Victorian interest that sparked up around their myths and most controversially how the German Nazi's distorted the image of the brave viking to spur on their warriors and even used a rune to become the Nazi symbol.
This book is not just easy to understand and follow it never bores you to death, it is always interesting by looking at different archeaological, historical and physical discoveries and finds that have helped support and develope our understanding of the vikings, why they came here, why they stayed here and all they did to help change our history. Julian Richards, the author, also looks at the homelands of the vikings so we understand their brutal and harsh origins but also at the key players that lived and influenced events in this fantasticly turbulent era, from Edmund the Unready, Alfred the Great, Eric Bloodaxe, Athelfaed - Alfred's daughter, Athelstan to Cnut, Harthacnut, Harald Hardrada to William Duke of Normandy.
Some of the pictures used in this book are of good quality and detail enabling you to see many of the finds and discoveries he discusses from outlines of the Danelaw, viking treasure hordes to burials and historical documents from the period.
It really helped improve my understanding of how much the Vikings changed and shaped our present culture today. I really recommend it to anyone whether just beginning to take an interest in these fascinating people or devout fans.