The horses and sheep of the Vikings: archaeogenomics of domesticates in the North Atlantic

Icelandic ram. Photo: Albina Hulda Palsdottir

About the project

Although the modern Nordic livestock breeds are genetically well characterized, many questions regarding their origin and breed formation remain unanswered. Our project will add a critical historical dimension to previous research, determining the origin of the horse and sheep breeds and reveal migration patterns in the North Atlantic. Our analysis will enhance understanding of how the rapid settlement of the North Atlantic in the Viking Age followed by a thousand years of isolation shaped population structure and genetic diversity.

Applying state-of-the-art genomic tools, such as high throughput sequencing, to the study of ancient DNA, modern genetic datasets and the unique collections of animal bones from Viking Age archaeological excavations in the North Atlantic will give a long-term view of the development of Nordic livestock. The project will solidify a budding interdisciplinary network of Nordic researchers and train Icelandic scientists in ancient DNA methods, high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics analyses, all of which are important tools for modern-day evolutionary, ecological and archaeological research.

The project falls into the new and rapidly developing field of conservation archaeogenomics as it addresses major questions regarding the adaptability of livestock breeds to changes in climate and agricultural practice, an issue no less important for societies today than it was during the settlement of the North Atlantic.

Principal investigator: Dr Jón Hallsteinn Hallsson (Agricultural University of Iceland)

Co-applicants: Sanne Boessenkool (CEES, UiO), Albína Hulda Pálsdóttir (CEES, UiO; Agricultural University of Iceland), Juha Kantanen (Natural Resources Institute Finland)


This project is funded by the Iceland Research Fund.




Start:  2016 End: 2020


Published Mar. 1, 2018 10:15 AM - Last modified Mar. 21, 2018 11:33 PM