British or Irish reached remote islands before Vikings

By Paul Rincon
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The earliest known Viking arrival was hundreds of years ago.

New evidence shows that people from Britain and Ireland may have arrived in the Faroe Islands before the Vikings.

The inhabitants of the North Atlantic archipelago speak a language that is derived from Old Norse.

Evidence shows that people arrived on the island around 500 AD.

The adoption of long-distance sailing technology by the Vikings pre-dates this settlement.

The sheep faeces and fragments of sheep DNA were found on the island of Eysturoy. Scientific dating techniques were used to assign these ages. Humans on boats could only take livestock to the archipelago.

You can see the sheep's genes at once. "It's like an off-on switch," said Dr William D'Andrea from the Columbia University Earth Observatory.

The scientists say the new results show a human presence before the Vikings arrived. There are indirect lines of evidence that show the occupation of the Faroes by Celtic-speaking people from Britain, Ireland or both.

The people who went to the Faroe Islands still don't know who they are. There are a lot of pieces of information that lead us to believe that there was a population of people from the British Isles.

Celtic grave markers that dot the islands, Celtic place-names, historical accounts and DNA evidence from people living on the island today are some of the other clues.

The Isle of the Blessed is said to have been found by St Brendan and his men from 512 to 530. In 825 AD, the Irish monk Dicuil wrote that some northern islands had been occupied by the same people for at least 100 years.

There is no conclusive proof that these accounts refer to the Faroes. There are disagreements over other lines of evidence.

Some scholars think that Celtic place names aren't a sign of pre-Norse settlers. The Celts could have traveled with the Norse on their boats because of the extensive contact between the Vikings and populations in Britain and Ireland by the 9th Century AD.

Most of the paternal ancestry of people who live on the islands today comes from the Nordics, while most of the maternal ancestry comes from British or Irish people. Vikings transporting non-native women on their voyages has been seen as a hallmark of this pattern of Celtic women having children with Scandinavian males.

The image is from the same source.

The authors point out that the proportion of British or Irish ancestry in the Faroes is much higher than in Iceland.

It's thought the sail was adopted in Scandinavia between 750 and 800 AD, which is late compared to other parts of Europe. It is unlikely that they could have reached the Faroes by the early 6th Century.

The Vikings arrived on the Faroes at a time when Dr D'Andrea and his colleagues were trying to understand the climate. The site of an ancient Viking locale on Eysturoy is where they had been using a boat to extract the cores from the lake.

They found signs that large numbers of sheep had arrived, most likely some time between 512 and 499, but possibly as early as 370. A layer of ash deposited from a volcano helped them date it.

The Sandoy island of the Faroese had previously been found to be home to between 300 and 500 years of grains.

The new study has produced convincing and exciting evidence of earlier occupations, according to Kevin Edwards, a co-author of the paper.

He asked if there was similar evidence to be found in Iceland, where similar arguments are made for a pre-Norse presence.

The journal Communications Earth and Environment has published the findings.

There are livestock.
There is a country called the Faroe Islands.
There are sheep.