Results of reasearch on the origin of the settlers of the North Atlantic islands

Reykjavik 2. february, 2001 – For the last three years, deCODE genetics and Oxford University have been collaborating on one of the biggest research projects ever on the origins of a whole nation. The team, lead by Mr. Agnar Helgason is now publishing it´s third paper on the subject in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

According to the study, which was based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, only 37% of the female settlers of Iceland orginated from the Nordic countries but 62% from the British Isles. Mitochondrial DNA is only inherited from mother to child and therefor most Icelanders can trace the genotypes of their mitochondria the females, back to the settlers who came to Iceland in the ninth and tenth century. the genotypes of 467 Icelanders was compared to genotypes of 1019 people from Scotland and Ireland. The study was also aimed at retrieving knowledge on the origin of populations of other North Atlantic islands. The main results are that genotypes of Nordic origins have a frequency of 35% at Orkney islands but only 11% on Southern island and 12% on the Scottish island of Skye.

The first results from this study was published in American Journal of Human Genetics early last year. That article described research done on mitochondrial DNA which showed that more than half of the female settlers of Iceland had their ancestral roots in the British Isles.

The second milestone was published in the same journal last September. The genotypes of maleY chromosomes were compared in Icelanders, Skandinavians and inhabitants of the British Isles. The Y chromosome only exists in males and therefor most Icelandic males can trace the ancestry of their Y chromosome genotypes back to the male founders. Those results showed that 80% of the male settlers originated from Norway and other Scandinavian countries, but only 19% to the British Isles.

Taken together these results suggest that the settlers of Iceland were by and largly Nordic males and british women.

In addition to Agnar Helgason, Kari Stefansson , Sigrun Sigurdardottir and Jeff Gulcher worked on the research at deCODE genetics. It was done in collaboration between deCODE and Hprofessor Ryk Ward from Oxford University and in parts in collaboration with ,professor Bryan Sykes from Oxford University and Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin. The study was a part of Helgason’s PhD. study at Oxford University. He is now working at deCODE genetics in anthropology and genetics.

The article was published on the Internet today and an abstract can be seen at