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Vikings or Celts – who is responsible for the red hair gene?

Why does Ireland have such a high percentage of red haired people compared to the rest of the Western world?

It is a question that has intrigued historians and scientists for many years. The fact that Ireland, along with Scotland and Wales are the only three countries in Europe in which over 10% of the population have red hair suggests that the gene may come from the peoples’ Celtic origins.Does the red-head gene come from the Celts or the Vikings?

However, another popular theory is that the gene was actually brought to the Irish and British Isles by the Vikings in the 8th-11th centuries.

Professor Donna Heddle is director of the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Nordic Studies. She believes that the Vikings who are often depicted in paintings and movies as having blond hair were actually red heads.

She said: “The perception that the Norse were blond is nothing more than a prevalent myth. Genetically speaking, the chances of them having blond hair weren’t that likely. The chances are that they would have had red hair. Interestingly, if you look at where red hair occurs in the world you can almost map it to Viking trading routes.

“The only other density of red hair which compares to Scotland and Ireland is in Scandinavia. It becomes a cultural marker of the Norse and of the Vikings.

“If you look at where the red haired patterning is in Ireland, in particular, it is very much around the areas where Vikings settled.

“Research has shown that 60 per cent of the DNA of modern males on the Orkney Islands, where there is a particularly high proportion of redheads, is Norwegian. That evidence backs up the idea of the clear genetic influence.”

However, the senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, Dr Jim Wilson isn’t convinced that the red hair gene came from the Vikings. He believes it is more likely that the gene came from Celts and pre dates the Vikings.

He said: “There are redheads in Scandinavia and there doubtless were redheaded Vikings. Redheadedness is a north and western European trait, but the pattern of redheads in the British Isles is more consistent with the ancient indigenous Celtic inhabitants who were here before the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons. The Vikings maybe brought a few red-hair genetic variants over with them, but the majority of redheads were already here.”

Red hair is caused by V60L allele – ‘the ginger gene’. Some experts say it developed up to 50,000 years ago when humans left Africa and arrived in Europe.

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The days were shorter and colder which meant that people had less time in the sun and absorbed less Vitamin D.

During this time fair skinned ginger people thrived as they were able to absorb Vitamin D at a faster rate than people with darker skin and hair.

Ginger HairGinger and awesome

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5 thoughts on “Vikings or Celts – who is responsible for the red hair gene?

  1. Vicki Orr schalk

    Genetics show that blondes are actually the dilute outcome of red heads . just as brunettes are dilute of black hair people. Then all the other colorings come from mixes of those genes. So where ever red heads were there likely were blondes as well. Redheads were just the dominant gene. That’s why redheads and blondes are usually both fair skinned people no matter where they are from. We have many redheads in our family as well as some blondes. Black haired and brunette but also those who married and had parents brunette and blonde had blonde and brunette children. My husband mom was blonde her husband his father a Monahan was black haired. Husband was light blonde. But when older had red in sideburns and beard before shaving. I am golden blonde married my husband a blonde now dark blonde and my daughter was bright dark strawberry blonde..over years it turned more blonde. My son was dark haired at birth turning light blonde and now dark brown as adult.

    14/05/2016 at 1:16 am
  2. Seán Ó Riain

    If this were true, there would be a far higher proportion on red heads in Scandinavia than in Ireland and Scotland. Is there?

    13/05/2016 at 11:42 pm
  3. Mike York

    I visited the Perm region in Russia as a chaperone for a group of American 10 to 12 year old folk dancers on a cultural exchange in 1996. I am a redhead of Scottish and Swedish descent. I was surprised by the number of redheads I saw in the Perm region. In fact, many people who came to see our kids perform would come up to me and speak to me in Russian assuming that because of my red hair I was a local guide for the group.

    30/12/2015 at 6:16 pm
  4. Tim Sullivan

    If it were from the Vikings wouldn there be a large population of red heads in Russia?

    17/06/2015 at 5:46 pm

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