60% of Icelandic
Women are of Scots descent
From an article by Iain Fleming in The
Mail on Sunday, March 4, 2001
TWO of Icelands most famous personalities, rock singer Bjork and
TV presenter Magnus Magnusson, may be Scottish, research has found.
Advances in DNA testing have shown the majority of Icelandic women are
of Scottish descent, rather than Scandinavian, which could explain why
the Icelandic pop pixie has felt drawn to the Highlands and
Islands, where shes shown interest in buying land. Research among
1,600 people in the Western and Northern Isles, as well as in
Scandinavia and Iceland, by Oxford University academics has shown that
nearly two thirds of the women who originally settled in Iceland came
It had been thought the majority of settlers in Iceland, where the
worlds first republic was established in the ninth century, were
Vikings. But the Oxford findings point to them being Vikings who had
previously settled in Scotland before moving on, or Icelandic Vikings
who raided Scotland and took women back.
Headed by Professor Brian Sykes, the researchers studied a genetic
code passed from mothers to their children and were able to put together
ancient family trees. And their detective work, published in the
American Journal of Human Genetics, found that Viking women made up 35
per cent of the female ancestors of the inhabitants of Orkney and 12 per
cent of those living on the Western Isles and on Skye. But it was in
Iceland where the surprisingly high figure of more than 60 per cent of
Scottish origin came from. Bjork, the diminutive singer, has made no
secret of her passion for the majestic solitude of the Highlands and
Islands and three years ago tried to buy her own island near the village
of Ardfern in Argyll.
Last year, she visited Fingals Cave on the uninhabited Hebridean
isle of Staffa, a natural haven for wildlife and birds. including the
puffins favoured as a dinner delicacy by her and many of her fellow
Magnus Magnusson, the son of an Icelandic consul-general in
Edinburgh, was born in Iceland but has lived in Scotland since he was
The former Mastermind presenter welcomed the findings.
He said: It has altered quite substantially the perception that
Icelanders have about their ethnic background.
The old idea was that they were all wonderful, pure-bred,
nobly-born Norwegians fleeing from injustice and oppression who went to
Iceland to set up the first republic in the world. What is clear that
there were two ways of immigration. The first one seems to have been
direct from Norway to Iceland, but the second wave was 30 years later
and came from a group of Norsemen who had settled in Scotland and
Ireland and intermarried with Gaelic-speaking people.
What this excellent research from Oxford is suggesting is that a
very large percentage of the original settlement stock was of women from
Celtic stock. I am delighted because I have being banging on about the
shared heritage for long enough.
Mr Magnusson, a broadcaster, historian and author, as well as a
former chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, said all Icelanders are
obsessed with genealogy and most can trace their family back to at least
the sixteenth century. He added: I have been able to trace mine
family back to 874AD.
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