Thursday, 18 March 2021

The 'Black' Viking of York

The eye and nasal cavity shapes of the Roman-era Ivory Bangle Lady from York indicate she may have had some black ancestry too... 

A skeleton found in a coffin in North Yorkshire in 1989 and labelled as SK 3379 was identified as an adult male based on shape of the skull and the pelvis. It was dated to the 10th/11th century so this is regarded as a pre-Norman conquest body. He was quite twisted, with deformity of the spine and shoulder alignment, and with two crushed vertebrae as well as evidence of joint disease in the spine. He also had five abscesses in his gap-toothed mouth. An analysis of skull morphology led researchers in 2015 to conclude that he “may have been of African or mixed ancestry and may have migrated to York or descended from those that did”

Craniometry is actually a pretty good way of identifying race, however it isn’t always perfect, as some skulls, like this one, are a bit ambiguous and it gets much harder when it comes to mixed race individuals. A simple DNA test would make the race of the man who this skull belonged to very clear but no such test has been done - something that also holds true for every other allegedly black skeleton from ancient Britain; eg. Beachy head lady and Ivory Bangle Lady. Yet as with these two, the usual suspects have declared this a black person, and not only that, have started to say it is racist to say anything else!

One explanation for why a black man would be living in Anglo-Danish Yorkshire was suggested by Keefe & Holst with reference to an eleventh-century Fragmentary Annals of Ireland that describes a Viking raid on Morocco in the 860s. Any readers who are knowledgeable about human diversity and DNA will know that Moroccans aren’t really Sub Saharan Africans. Although some of them do have SSA admixture these days, we would expect to see far less (if any) of such admixture 1000 years ago, before the North African Muslims really got stuck into their centuries of black (and white) slave trading. A recent genetic analysis of skeletons from a Moorish cemetery in Al-Andalus showed that none of the early Moors had ANY black ancestry at all until the 10-16th century and then only two samples have black ancestry, and both of them are less than half black! Looking at the table below you can see that Iberian ancestry is more common than SSA (black) ancestry. Analysis of cranial morphology wouldn’t be accurate enough to identify the ancestry of such mixed individuals - which is why autosomal DNA analysis is so helpful.

So maybe Vikings went to Iberia or Morocco and kidnapped a Moroccan, possibly (though statistically unlikely) one who had some black ancestry, and then took him back to Yorkshire where he lived a hard life of back breaking labour. This is unlikely but possible, and even if true, it wouldn’t make him a “black Viking” just a mixed race labourer in Yorkshire. He was put on display at the Jorvik Centre in York where he was described as an ‘Arab’ and this is apparently a colonialist decision according to Paul Ramirez, who describes himself as a “Decolonial heritage specialist” who comes from the “occupied land” of Nicaragua but who lives in York where he works at the Humanities research centre of the university.


I suggest that rather than paying a grievance monger to whine about how an untested skeleton is represented in a museum, that the University of York instead pay for an aDNA analysis of said skeleton, which I understand the Reich lab are able to do for about $100, and thus end the debate once and for all. But perhaps they won’t like the results?

Watch an interview with a co-author of a paper on Viking DNA who questions "woke" interpretations.

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