Viking History

DNA test puts Viking experts on horns of a dilemma, Aug. 31, 2005

For more than 500 years, historians have believed that the last Viking king, Sven Estridsen, was laid to rest with his mother, Estrid, after his death in 1074.

The funereal tribute was appropriate, given that Sven carried his mother’s name in honour of her royal lineage — she was the daughter of Sven Forkbeard, a legendary Viking chieftain who also fathered King Canute of England.

But a test on the pulp of molars extracted from skeletons in the tomb at Roskilde Cathedral, on the island of Sjaelland, shows that the two sets of remains are unrelated, the British weekly New Scientist reports in next Saturday’s issue.

Jorgen Dissing, at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Copenhagen, tested the samples for mitochondrial DNA, a component of cells that is exclusively handed down through the maternal line.

But the samples from the male skeleton did not match those from the female one, thus proving that the buried “Estrid” was not Sven Estridsen’s mum.

In addition, the teeth and bones suggest that the woman was around 35 when she died, whereas historical records say that the king’s mother died aged around 75.

Dissing believes that the entombed female may have been one of the king’s daughters-in-law, coincidentally also called Estrid.


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