Using DNA to Help Solve the Riddle of Ancient Germanic Migration

By Berigsen, Ulf | Mankind Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Using DNA to Help Solve the Riddle of Ancient Germanic Migration


Berigsen, Ulf, Mankind Quarterly


The author shows how improved techniques for the use of DNA in archaeological research can now be used to investigate the legendary and linguistic evidence that suggests southern Scandinavia as the original homeland of the Goths, Vandals and other Germanic peoples who played such a major role in the Folkwandering period of European history.

Key Words: UNA research; Germanic Folkwandering; Scandinavian history; Scania; Gotland; Bornholm; Jutland; Goths; Vandals; Jutes; Langobards.

Introduction:

Migration from South Scandinavia

The migration of the Goths from South Scandinavia, perhaps the most prominent of the East Germanic peoples, is described in Getica (25-27) by Jordanes as a coming forth from Scandza, a hive of races or a womb of nations, under their king Berig. When landing on the Polish coast at the mouth of the River Vistula, they named the place Gothiscandza. Jordanes states that they sailed in three ships, one of which was manned by Gepids, and the two other by Goths. But this may represent a distortion of the historical fact, since this would represent very small numbers of migrants.

The general view has been that both the Gepids and the Goths came from the provinces of Vastergotland and Ostergotland in the southern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and/or the Island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea.

The tribal designation of the gotar (the inhabitants of the Gotaland region of southern Sweden) is closely related to the designations Goth (gutans) and Old Swedish gitiar (Gotlanders) as well as to the names Vastergotland, Ostergotland and Gotland). However, archaelogical research in south Scandinavia and northern Poland has so far failed to establish clear links between Gauts and Gotlanders on the one hand and continental Goths on the other.

There were also other possible migrations from South Scandinavia. Vendsyssel, the northern area of the Jutland peninsula, has been regarded as original home of the Vandals, who are believed to have given their name to Andalusia before founding a kingdom in North Africa during the Fifth Century AD. According to the History of the Langobards by Paul the Deacon, the Lombards originated in "Scadinavia," which has been interpreted as Skane Province (Scania) in southernmost Sweden. Furthermore, the Burgundians have been thought to originate on the island of Bornholm (earlier named Burgundarholm) in the Baltic. The elusive Eruli (in this case the Eastern Eruli) joined the Goths in the Black Sea area in attacking Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean in the Third Century AD (The World Crisis of the Third Century AD). Some of these returned to Scandinavia to settle near the remaining Gauts, according to the historian Procopius. There arc further examples of migration out of Scandinavia, but those mentioned above are the most prominent.

In the 1990s, Nordgren, a Swedish scholar, in his book The Well Spying of the Goths, expressed the view that the names of the Gothic peoples are theophoric and seem originally to have been linked to the creator-god, Gaut. Gothic ethnicity could thus have been founded on a common cult with its religious origin in southern and southwestern Scandinavia, an area also embracing Jutland.

DNA studies have provided convincing evidence of the history and origin of diverse peoples, notably of the Jewish diaspora, and could well be utilized to test the validity of the presumed links between Scandinavia and Goths, Vandals, and Langobards.

Recent Developments in Molecular Biology

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the master molecule of a cell. It can, among other things, trace human migrations. The use of DNA in archaeology is only a decade old. Swedish researcher Svante Paabo of the University of Munich has called it the greatest archaeological excavation of all time.

The first ancient DNA was isolated and duplicated in 1984 from a quagga, an extinct zebra, in a museum collection in Germany. …

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