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From Spiegel:

DNA Shows Genetic Diversity

Find Refutes Scandinavian Racial Purity Myth

New research has revealed that Scandinavians are much more genetically diverse than previously thought. A study looking at 2,000-year-old skeletons in Denmark found DNA from all over the world, refuting myths of racial purity.


By Charles Hawley

June 12, 2008 02:51 PM 

New research has found that Scandinavian racial purity is a myth.

Jørgen Dissing

New research has found that Scandinavian racial purity is a myth.
It's an assumption that many a European racist has held for years: The tall, blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian is the perfect example of a pure race. Ergo, argue many on the far right, immigrants should not be allowed as they may introduce impurities into that racial perfection.

Indeed, many pseudo-scientists spent many years trying to prove that position in the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- an attempt promoted to national policy in Nazi Germany.

Now, though, scientists in Denmark have dug up evidence that there is no such thing as a pure Scandinavian race. Indeed, the Danes of old, say scientists at the University of Copenhagen responsible for the study, show just as much genetic diversity as people do today.

"This thought of a blond, blue-eyed race moving to northern Europe and becoming what Scandinavians are today is completely wrong. The whole idea of race is a funny discussion," Linea Melchior, the lead scientist on the study, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "There is nothing to support this idea of a pure Nordic race that can be somehow diluted by immigrants. I hope this study can contribute to toning down that rhetoric."

Melchior's study focused on analyzing the mitochondrial DNA of skeletons found in 1,600 to 2,000 year old Iron Age grave sites south of Copenhagen. Because of the way mitochondrial DNA reproduces and is passed down, certain types correspond with different groups of people in different geographical regions. Melchior's team found that the DNA of the 56 bodies studied was much more varied than one would expect were ancient Danes isolated from other peoples.

The research team also found the remains of a man whose genetic characteristics indicate that he was likely of Arab origin. Because he was buried together with the others, the study -- published earlier this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology -- concludes that he was treated much the same as locals. Melchior notes that, in a separate study, a colleague of hers found a man of Siberian origin likewise buried together with locals, indicating that outsiders were absorbed by ancient Danish communities.

"It is a naïve thought that people were very isolated in the past and that traveling and multiculturalism is a more modern development," Melchior says. "This research refutes that idea. We find a great degree of diversity."

Another feature of Melchior's findings supports her conclusion that ancient Danes and other Iron Age populations traveled much more than assumed until now. None of the 18 sets of remains analyzed appeared to be maternally related and there were no big family graves, meaning that Iron Age Scandinavians likely didn't grow up, live and die in the same village they were born in.

Melchior, who carried out the study as part of her Ph.D. work, hopes to be able to analyze more grave sites in Denmark and elsewhere in Scandinavia to broaden her findings. But, she says, she expects that further analysis would find the same degree of genetic diversity as she found.

"We found a broad array of mitochondrial DNA types just as you do in Eastern Europe," she says. "It suggests that Denmark and Scandinavia are the product of people from all over the world."


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