for National Geographic News
An ancient Dane with Arabian genes is part of a DNA study that suggests Scandinavians of 2,000 years ago were more genetically diverse than today.
Researchers say the Iron Age man may have been a soldier serving on the Roman Empire's northern frontier or a descendant of female slaves transported from the Middle East.
The Roman Empire at the time stretched as far as the Middle East, while Roman legions were based as far north as the River Elbe in northern Germany.
The study analyzed 18 well-preserved bodies from two burial sites dating from 0 to A.D. 400 in eastern Denmark. The sites were originally excavated some 20 years ago.
Mitochondrial DNA, which provides a genetic record of an individual's maternal ancestry, was taken from teeth by a team led by Linea Melchior of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.
One skeleton had a type of DNA signature—known as a haplogroup—closely associated with the Arabian Peninsula, according to Melchior.
"It's especially found among some Bedouin tribes, but it has also been found in the southern part of Europe," the researcher said.
Iron Age Grave
The skeleton came from Bøgebjerggård, an Iron Age site on the southern part of the island of Sjælland (Zealand).
(See a map of Denmark.)
The bodies likely belonged to poor farmers, the team said.
Other unusual haplogroups were identified, including one representing a prehistoric European lineage which today is found in only about 2 percent of Danes, Melchior said.
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