Winter - 2013 Swede1

Published on January 8th, 2013


Never Marry a Swede

By Tor G. Jakobsen, NTNU

Swedish people are often portayed as kind, beautiful, and tolerant. Despite this, there is one good reason why you should never marry a Swede, unless you want your children to have blonde hair and the character of Attila the Hun.

Well, research shows Swedes and Norwegians have, unlike the rest of Europe, a large share of their genes from the Hunnic invaders of the early middle ages. The evidence is supported both by the archeology and DNA-studies of the current population of southern Scandinavia.

Also, studies by Swedish Professor Åke Daun show that foreigners perceive Swedes as being cold heartless people with a sluggish mind. These are traits that can be attributed to their Attila-genes.


The Great Migrations and the Huns

In the period of the Völkerwanderung several tribes emigrated from southern Scandinavia, due to factors like overpopulation and worsening of the climate. Groups like the Goths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Langobards, Heruli, and Burgunds migrated southwards. Following the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, these tribes laid the foundations for several new kingdoms in Europe.

However, another group joined in on the Völkerwanderung, namely the Huns. A nomadic people from beyond the Volga, they contributed to the downfall of the West Roman Empire, and both fought and allied themselves with the Scandinavian tribes. They were led by their ruler Attila, and the tribe gave its name to present-day Hungary.


DNA-studies – The Mysterious Haplogroup Q

By investigating a man’s Y-chromosome one can determine which haplogroup he belongs to. The markers one looks at (denoted with a letter) tells us which “tribe” your father’s father’s father’s father came from. As previously explored in the article “Who Are We? – Uncovering the Mystery of the Origin of Europeans” I identified the four haplogroups I1, I2a (the original Mesolothic Europeans), R1a, and R1b (the Indo-European invaders) as the true European groups.

Yet, there are other haplogroups present in Europe, such as the Asian N1c1, which is dominant in Finland, and is also found in the Baltics and northern Scandinavia. This marker is easy to explain, as it goes hand in hand with the Uralic languages of the Finns, Estonians, and Samis.

The presence of haplogroup Q in Scandinavia, on the other hand, has been a mystery to scientists. On a world basis, this is the dominant haplogroup among North- and South-American Indians. The red stars on the map show where there is a large presence (more than four percent) of this haplogroup in Europe. When viewing the map, one question naturally springs to mind: Why is there such a heavy presence of this group in southern Scandinavia (and not in Germany, Britain, France, and other countries)?

Several theories emerged. One is that it is from the Sami people coming from the north, however this is easy to dismiss, as haplogroup Q has no correlation with the presence of the Sami/Finn haplogroup N1c1. A more original theory was that it came to the shores of Norway through Eskimos crossing the North Sea in kayaks. This was clearly not a reasonable explanation, as the chance of enough Eskimos surviving such a trip in order to make a significant impact on the Scandinavian gene pool is very slim.

However, one theory seems highly plausible. Haplogroup Q came with the Hunnic invaders from the East. This makes sense with the presence on the steppes (the Huns were a horse-steppe people) as well as in Hungary (where most Huns settled after all the fighting) and in some parts of Slovakia (close to Hungary).

So, how did they come to Scandinavia? Well, it is well known that the Huns often allied themselves with the previously described Scandinavian tribes. The way this was done was that the Huns established themselves as the elite, while the Scandinavians were soldiers. A large group of Huns could very well be amongst the Goths and/or Heruli going back to Scandinavia at the end of the Migration Period. The same explanation can be attributed to the red star marked in southwest France, where a portion of the Huns probably settled together with the Burgunds (as this is also the territory of the first Burgund kingdom).

In present day Scandinavia, more than four percent of men in southeast Sweden and large parts of eastern Norway carry the Hunnic genetic marker, in the rest of southern Sweden and Norway the percentage stands at between three and four percent. This can be considered a significant share of the population, especially when juxtaposed with other parts of Europe.


The Archeology

Facial masks from the period of the Great Migrations show faces with marked Asian features, like this one from Lunde in Telemark, Norway.

According to Professor of Archeology at the University of Oslo, Lotte Hedeager, the old Norwegian (and also Swedish) ruling class consisted of Huns. She argues that a new and strong social order was established with the arrival of the Huns, something that enabled them to resist the victorious Christian countries to the south.

Hedeager goes even further, stating that Attila could very well have been the same person as the Viking god Odin, hijacking the position of the already established Woden. The writings of the Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson partly support this theory, as he wrote that the Gods (who were called Æsir) came from the area around the Don river in Russia. This link has previously been explored by the famous Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, with his archeological expedition to Azov in Russia. Also, many of the names given in the Nordic sagas are parallel to the names of Hunnic kings, like Halfdan (Huldin), Roar (Ruga), Ottar (Ottar), and Adils (Attila).



It may be a surprise to many, but it seems like southern Scandinavia has a larger presence of non-European genes than many other parts of Europe. Both DNA- and archeological evidence point to this, more spesific; the presence of haplogroup Q as well as a change in burial traditions in Sweden and Norway. Also, Atle, which is derived from Attila, is a common name in present day Scandinavia.

Following this, our poster boy from my previous article may not be as European as one might expect. Behind those innocent eyes hides the ruthlessness of the Hunnic invaders, who, under their leader Attila, contributed to the end of classical antiquity and led Europe into the dark ages.


Further reading:

Hedeager, Lotte (2011). Iron Age Myth and Materiality. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.

Jakobsen, Tor G. (2012) “Who Are We? Uncovering the Mystery of the Origin of Europeans” Popular Social Science 1(1).


*Cover photo by Ulrich Berkner, viking helmet photo by Elana Pleskevich




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21 Responses to Never Marry a Swede

  1. evonski says:

    Have there been extensive testing of the Q sub-clades, or is this theory upheld based on Q alone with no regard to its sub-caldes?

  2. tor.g-redaktor says:

    Dear Evonski,

    The answer is yes, the sub-clade in question is Q1a3* and is not the same sub-clade as is present in the Americas.

    Tor Georg

  3. evonski says:

    Thank you for the reply.

    So you are saying Q1a3* is found in all these European locations? and do you have an estimation for the age of this particular sub-clade versus the original/main Q?

    You might be interested in this Project page that has a much wider geographic spread, but whom are not all Q1a3*:

    As a Norwegian whom has tested my DNA via, i can confirm that Norwegians carry allot of both Q1a3 and Q1a3*, and that its also found in Iceland ect.

    • Jennifer says:

      I just received my 23andMe DNA results. My paternal grandmother is Swedish (she and her family immigrated to the US when she was 4). Their family hailed from the FAR Northern region of Sweden (above arctic circle). I presently have my ancestry on that side traced back to the 1600′s and they are still in Sweden.
      According to my results, I am 100% European, with 70% Northwestern European, but was surprised to see that I had a low percentage of Scandinavian, 3.9%, and Finnish was 14%. Can I find that in my raw data? As I am female, the test results only provided my Maternal Haplotype (H). Must I get a paternal family member (the Scandinavian side) to take the test to acquire this information?

  4. tor.g-redaktor says:

    Dear Evonski,

    Thank you for the link. You are absolutely correct. The presence in Iceland is smaller than in Norway, the reason is that Icelanders are descents of people from Western and Middle Norway (as well as some Celts), while the Hunnic marker is more pronounced in Eastern Norway. The same markers are also found in the places shown on the map (see article).

    Tor Georg

  5. Pål Johnsen says:

    It is incorrect that frequency of hg Q is lower in iceland than in Norway. The opposite is true. The frequency in Iceland is 5-7% (ref “Estimating Scandinavian and Gaelic Ancestry in the Male Settlers of Iceland” Helgason et al (see the haplotypes) whereas the Q-haplotypes from “Geographical heterogeneity of Y-chromosomal lineages in Norway” Dupuy et al amounts to just under 2%. Clearly this is due to a massive founder effect in Icelandic Q. Furthermore there is no evidence that Huns were mostly Hg Q or even that they had any Q at all. What is clear is that Scandinavian Q is not the result of massive immigration during the dark ages. Exactly when it got here is difficult to establish. It has two sources and they both expanded about 2,000 years ago.

    • tor.g-redaktor says:

      Dear Pål,

      Thank you for your input. Regarding presence of hg Q in Iceand I am not saying any of us are righ or wrong. To determine that we would need a larger sample than that of Helgason at al.’s study, which is just of 181 Icelanders (which implies a very large margin of error), and other studies have not confirmed this founding. If here is a large presence, it would be correct, as you point out, to attribute this to a founder effect (e,g., a single man of high statu that got many grandchildren).

      As for the other point raised, it is true that no one can know which hg the Huns belonged to. However we do know some things:

      a) A related haplogroup s found in Siberia close to the proposed area of origin of the Huns.
      b) The hg is present in two other areas of Europe, Hungary (Slovakia is traditionally Hungary) and the old Burgundy
      c) The plains of Hungary was the core Hunnic area in Europe.
      d) The battle of Worms and the slaughter of the Burgundians
      e) The Huns intermarried th Goths
      f) Goths returned to Sweden
      e) Genetically (according to Sforza) Sweden and Norway is one country

      Tor Georg

      • Pål Johnsen says:

        Tor Georg,

        95% error rates should be +/-3 so 3-9% Q on Iceland, compared to 1,5-2,5% in Norway (Dupuy-dataset). Clearly there is a greater frequency of Q on Iceland than in Norway as a whole. I should point out that in both cases I am only talking about predicted Q. No scientific study has actually tested for any Q-snp in Norway yet. You will have to take my word that they are indeed Q (I assure you that they are). I also have the STR from “Icelandic population data for the 10 autosomal STR loci in the AMPFlSTR(R)SGM Plusk system and the12 Y-STR loci in the PowerPlex (R) Y-system” Andreassen et al. Like the Helgason study there is about 6% (predicted) Q in that sample.

        It is possible that some regions in Norway have a similar frequency of Q to Iceland (I would suggest Møre og Romsdal most Q in the Norway project come from this region), but not Norway as a whole.

        with regards to your 7 points:
        A) It is true that hg Q is found in Siberia. Although I should think central Asia would be a better proxy for Huns than Siberia (of course there are some Qs in Central Asia as well). At any rate; there are a whole host of other haplogroups there as well. Many of these have much better matches in terms of STR with Europeans than do hg Q.

        B) I am unfamiliar with any study showing Q in Hungary or Slovakia. Do you have the references? I know “Haplogroup distribution of Hungarian population and the largest minority group” Volgyi et al found no Q in a sample of 119 Hungarians. Even if some Qs were found in Central/eastern Europe (and some are), it would only be interesting if they were similar to Norwegian/Swedish Qs.

        I don’t see how the last 5 points does anything to prove the proposed Hun / Q connection.The theory is very similar to the theory suggest by David Faux 10 years ago, and I don’t see the evidence has gotten any stronger in those 10 years (in fact I’d say the theory has been debunked). see

        • tor.g-redaktor says:

          Dear Pål,

          Thanks again for your input. It is a very interesting finding from Helgason and colleagues, and I am not arguing that there could be a founder effect. It would be very interesting to see results from for example the National Geographic, as the samples would be large both for Iceland and Norway.

          With regard to the European presence it is briefly mentioned by Karafet et al. (2008), and very detailed results for the whole Slovakian population is presented in Petrejcikova et al. (2010) article “The genetic structure of the Slovak population revealed by Y-chromosome polymorphisms” in Anthropological Science. Here Q is found in 1.2 % out of a sample of 250. Important to notice that this is for Slovakia as a whole, and not specifically the bordering mountain regions close to Hungary (that are more sparsely populated).

          Regarding my last points, some might say Q arrived from other sources, like Gengis Khan and the Mongols (I assume we agree that it cannot be Sami, Finn, or Eskimo). However, there is no history of Mongols reaching Scandinavia (and indirectly Iceland). But there are very strong circumstantial evidence that the Huns had a major impact on southern Sweden (and thus also Norway): archeology, history, and the sagas (Volsung, Niebelung, Edda etc.).

          That said, I believe you have enlightened us in Popular Social Science, and we appreciate your comments.

          Tor Georg

          • Pål Johnsen says:

            The paper didn’t test for SNP. They only used Whit Atheys predictor. It is possible that the predicted haplotypes are indeed Q, however they are not close to any of the two Norwegian/Swedish Q-clusters.

            Personally I am certain that the two “Scandinavian” Q-clusters had nothing to do with Mongols (or the Mongol invasion of Europe). They are obviously far to old for this. Similarly we can exclude Eskimos. Q is too diverse (in Scandinavia), too widespread, and far too different from Eskimo Q. I would argue the same for a connection to dark age Europe, where Q is very rare anyway. It is possible that some Huns were Q, but I seriously doubt that they were all Q (or even mostly Q), and I doubt that the Qs they did carry would be closely related to “Scandinavian” Q

            As for a Finno-Ugric connection; I would be skeptical to this as well. N-Tat-c is very dominant among Finno-Ugric-speakers, and its frequency-gradient is very sharp in Fennoscandia. Its also very young with close cousins in Russia, presumably reflecting a “late” spread of Finno-Ugric-peoples.

            I think Q would have entered Scandinavia earlier. Dienekes has pointed out that Hunter-gatherers examined by Malmstrøm appear to have a “Siberian” affinity autosomally. This is also true for modern day Scandinavians, not just Finns. For my own part the roughly 2% “Siberian” appears to be evenly spread out across my genome, suggesting an ancient admixture event. Given the strangeness of Scandinavian Q-haplotype a long period of isolation seems likely. I wonder if Hg Q and the possible “Siberian” autosomal in Scandinavian could be correlated. Maybe there was a movement from Siberia to Fennoscandia just before the beginning of the Neolithic times?

  6. tor.g-redaktor says:

    Dear Pål,

    Thanks again, your input is of the sort of input we wish to receive. I believe you have a very interesting explanation (though I am not agreeing). You are saying that basically we are talking about of population of mostly haplogroup I, and also some Q, that have been isolated in Scandianvia (and therefore is not found together with the Finno-Ugrigs. I like your hypothesis.

    Tor Georg

  7. Pål Johnsen says:

    It is possible that hg I was the dominant hg before the neolithic. However I think most Hg I in Scandinavia today would have entered with the spread of Germanic speakers. Most Scandinavian Hg I are either M253+ or M223+ and they all have very close relatives in Germany. This is certainly what prof. Ken Nordtvedt thinks, and I don’t think anyone is in a better position to speculate than him (see his homepage: )

  8. Gales Miller says:

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    • tor.g-redaktor says:

      Hi, thank you for your comment. You are of course welcome to quote our articles.

  9. Mimi says:

    Funny, Swedish always sounds somewhat arabic to my ears (like a mixture of German and Turkish) and Swedes who speak English express a heavy arabic accent, absolutely different from other “Western” Eurpean English speakers. Their whole intonation is completely different from other European languages like Dutch or English and even Spanish does not sound that strange (although Irish is also a case of its own). Surprising that genetics now prove my personal impression…

  10. Thanks for the auspicious writeup. It in reality was once
    a enjoyment account it. Look complicated to far brought agreeable from you!
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  11. Ustitvouhta says:

    There are worlds in Swedish that can be found in Turkish yet today! The most interesting that struck me is the Swedish word “Tjock” – that means a fat person. In Turkish the same word with the same pronounciation is used to describe something as very or much (about the same significance)! There are other words like Tack or Tackar (Tesekkur in Turkish) etc. So the theories might not be all wrong. Another striking thing with Swedes is that many of us are quite flat faced compared to other Europeans and often carry epicantic eyefolds. I can take us even further east. Köl in Korean means honey and “Kola” in Sweden looks the same way and is sticky and sweet. Bada means ocean in Korean and Poll (pollen) bee etc…

  12. Reader says:

    IMO, the Y hapolotype Q in Iceland and Norway (not Sweden, Demark or Finland, from what I’ve read) is probably back migration from Greenland, where the female Icelandic settlers married Inuit after their men were killed in blood feuds.

  13. Reader says:

    Actually, I should have said members of the Dorset culture, not Inuit. I don’t think any Y DNA results have been obtained from Dorset skeletons, but their mitrochondrial DNA is D2, as opposed to A for the modern Inuit, who are considered the descedents of the people of the Thule culture. According to Inuit oral traditions, their Thule ancestors drive the Dorset and European settler communities out of Greenland when both groups were teetering as a result of worsening climatic conditions, and archeology seems to support this. If the European settlers were evacuated to Iceland and Norway, the Thule may have gone with them, especially if there had been some degree of intermarriage between them. Just a theory.

  14. Høyer says:

    My Y-haplogourp according to “23 and me” is Q1a3*, according to “Genographic 2.0″ is Q-F2761 (or M-346).

    The oldest Høyer ancestor, on my direct paternal lineage, that I can trace back is Ole Høyer, born probably in Trøndelag region around 1650-1700s. His son Oluf Høyer was born around 1723 in Inderøy (Inderøen), Nord-Trøndelag, Norway. He was a præst in Sparbu, Norway.

    I can’t go back any further, thus I don’t know where more ancestral Høyer came from, but I probably carry the same haplotype as my ancestor 8 generations back in Trøndelag region.

  15. Tomislav says:

    Huns were not a single tribe but rather a tribal alliance that was growing and by the time they reached roman frontier, was assembled mostly of non-asian population (archeological analysis of skeletons from graves in Pannonian basin show that around 20% were of asiatic origin).

    Moreover, Huns were not the only responsible for great migrations period since there were migration attempts before (not as big as this one though).
    They acted as a trigger to move more tribes before and alongside them on the boundaries of a Roman Empire that was already experiencing large scale internal crisis, and by the time it ways in many ways already a feudal society. Huns actually compromised Gothic state that was slowly rising on the banks of Black Sea (Crimea region and western Ukraine) and that led to separation of Gothic nation (which was also probably a tribal alliance influenced by Goths) after one part sought protection on roman territory, and another part was conquered (or made an alliance) with Huns.
    Their sphere of influence was vast and expanded through most of the Middle and Eastern Europe. However, they didn t last long…not long after Attila s death they were absorbed into other nations, mostly germanic tribes such as Goths and Gepids, who were already residing in Pannonian basin.
    So it is not unusual that they left small traces of genetic material around Europe..same with Sweden..percentage of markers found in certain areas of Sweden maybe higher than somewhere else in Europe, but still quite small to determine overall population heritage..

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