The Secret History of the Vikings

New DNA-driven research reveals untold stories—and stirs controversy.


More than a thousand years ago, the Vikings arrived on the world stage as swiftly as their longships cut through the waves. They raided and traded, conquered and colonized. They left their mark on four continents — not just at archaeological sites, but also in the flora and fauna, the languages and local populations.

The Viking Age did not last long — it’s generally defined as beginning in the late eighth century and ending in most areas by the early 12th century — but the explorers still capture our imagination today.

“The Vikings epitomized the freedom and strength we like in our heroes,” says Judith Jesch, professor of Viking studies at the University of Nottingham. “They were enterprising and bold; they were certainly violent, but so was everyone else at the time — and still are.”

But despite their well-documented spirit of adventure, warrior culture and innovative shipbuilding, the Vikings still have their secrets. Questions remain about how they lived, where they traveled and who they really were.

Now, like ship captains setting sail to untouched shores, scientists are exploring a new age of Viking research. On this adventure, DNA is their map.