The Danish race has not been here for more than 5,000 years

The Danish race has not been here for more than 5,000 years

Since the end of the last ice age 15,000 years ago, humans have inhabited what is now Denmark.

First came hunter-gatherers who hunted reindeer and ate the shellfish. But the story of how they later developed and became farmers — and then Vikings and modern humans — is ancient, say researchers who conducted a new study.

-The population has been completely replaced

The Danes have not been here for more than 5,000 years, says Eske Willerslev, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and head of the Lundbeck Foundation Center for Geogenetics.

According to researchers, Danes today are largely unrelated to the first people who settled in Denmark. The researchers concluded that Denmark's population was completely replaced twice during the Stone Age and replaced by immigrants.

In the new study, Willerslev and his colleagues analyzed DNA from 100 ancient skeletons from Denmark. Most of the skeletons belong to the Ertbol people, who were hunters and gatherers, and from the Funnel Beaker culture, who were early farmers. The funnel cup is an open vessel that was the most common ceramic form in the culture The Great Norwegian Encyclopedia.

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The Ertboll people of Denmark lived in the Late Stone Age, when the shift to agriculture occurred in northern Europe. they It is named after the village of Ertbol (Limfjord in Jutland).

Hunters and farmers were two different people, Anders Fischer, lead archaeological author of the study and former visiting professor at Kiel University, tells

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This study is one of four published in the journal Nature.

– Only now we have proven that

The findings have been discussed in research circles for several years, so archaeologists and historians were not completely shocked, but:

Humans came to northern Europe very late due to the Ice Age. As the ice retreated from the area we today call Denmark, humans slowly moved there. (Illustration: Caroline Higgins Overskov/

– Only now have we been able to prove it. So we didn't know that. “We now already have documentation of this,” Berit Valentin Eriksen, a professor at Schloss Gottorf University in Schleswig who was not involved in the study, tells

She believes there are still archaeologists who believe in the old story that the Danes are descended from their early Stone Age ancestors:

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“They probably have to swallow a lot now,” she says.

Brutal change

In the studies, researchers looked at two major population revolutions that occurred across Europe: the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. And the steppe people – the Yamnaya people – are taking over the farmers' areas.

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The two major revolutions have been well documented in Europe, but now the Danish part has been genetically confirmed.

“It's surprising how well it compares to the rest of Europe,” Matthias Jacobsson, a professor at the Department of Organismal Biology and Human Evolution at Uppsala University, tells

Danish archaeologists have wondered for decades whether the Ertboll people became farmers.

– We show for the first time that when farmers enter Denmark, a brutal change occurs. The hunters and fishermen of Ertebølle disappear completely. Christian Christiansen, co-author of the study and professor of archeology at the University of Gothenburg, says the two peoples do not marry or mix.

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The genome comes from somewhere else

DNA researchers have previously seen that the first farmers who came to Denmark had some hunter-gatherer DNA. Therefore, they assumed that the Ertbol people turned into farmers.

But the parts of the hunter-gatherer genome they carry clearly come from somewhere else.

This is what Mikkel Heide Scherup, a professor at the Center for Bioinformatics at Aarhus University who was not involved in the new study, told

He agrees that the debate about whether fishermen in Denmark at that time became farmers needs to end. Proof of this: Hunter-gatherers disappeared when farmers arrived. But the new study shows that farmers also disappeared later in history.

Extermination meetings

1,000 years later, the Yamnaya people entered Europe and took over what we today call Denmark.

The Yamnaya people originally came from the steppe regions surrounding Russia and Ukraine, but they traveled west and ended up as ancestors of the Danes and most Europeans.

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– The tall steppe people who owned horses were probably skilled in fighting and warfare. But they may also have encountered Europe where the plague struck and where regions were paralyzed. These studies certainly raise new speculation, says Mikkel Heide-Scherub.

But the question is, what on earth happened to the indigenous people who first lived in Denmark? Why did they disappear?

Since his youth, Anders Fischer has belonged to the antiquarian camp that believes in a peaceful transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. The Ertbol people probably learned agriculture only from the south.

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But this thought is completely far from him now.

Same fate as Native Americans?

– I think it's like in North America with the Indians, says Fisher.

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It is believed that a large part of the explanation for the disappearance of the Ertbol people is that farmers brought with them new diseases from which hunter-gatherers died. This also happened to ethnic Americans, who died in large numbers when Europeans brought new diseases.

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The second part of the explanation is believed to be that belligerent farmers forcibly removed the indigenous population – another parallel to the fate of ethnic Americans.

– When you look at the farming societies in Germany and Poland at that time, before it came to Denmark, they were very warlike. Fisher says villages filled with corpses in trenches reflect large-scale warfare and organized violence.

Escape to Norway?

Fisher believes that farmers faced the same thing when the steppe people (the Yemenis) came and took over Denmark at that time. The two revolutions occurred 1,000 years apart.

Archaeologist and study co-author Christian Christiansen doesn't quite agree with Anders Fischer. It is believed that hunter-gatherers fled to southern Norway, where arrowheads that may resemble ertebol arrows have been found.

– We can show that there would be more settlements in southern Norway at this time, Christiansen says.

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It is therefore suggested that hunter-gatherers sought north into Norway when farmers moved to Denmark.

– He should be able to see it if it is violently annihilated

The disagreement extends beyond the study's authors.

– I don't think they were violently exterminated. “We had to be able to see it,” says Berit Valentin Eriksen.

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They are compared to Neanderthals: we also do not know why they disappeared from Europe. But unlike Neanderthals who had children with Homo sapiens, this is not the case among hunter-gatherer societies in Denmark.

There is almost no trace of their DNA in the farmers' DNA. So it doesn't look like they have children together.

Eriksen would never guess what happened to the hunter-gatherers. But she is convinced that the disease played an important role.

Felix Rede, a professor of archeology at Aarhus University, was initially enthusiastic about the study. But he doesn't find it convincing what happened to the former hunter-gatherers. There are a fair number of samples before farmers arrive, so the conclusions are not strong, according to Reid.

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So few hunter-gatherers that it doesn't show up in the DNA?

Can researchers say that the Ertbol people did not mix with newly arrived farmers?

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Swedish professor Matthias Jacobsson believes that the simplest explanation for the disappearance of the Ertebol people is that they mixed with farmers, but we can no longer see DNA traces of that. Simply because there were too few to leave clear traces in the data set.

– I think this is an exaggeration. I think they are being accommodated. “If they got the disease, we would be able to see it on people or in the graves that were found,” Jacobson says.

The authors behind the study don't quite agree with that.

Anders Fischer estimates that the Ertbol civilization may have numbered as many as 50,000 people, but admits that the number may have been as low as 5,000 people.

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Morten Allentoft, a professor of genetics at Curtin University in Australia, believes there is very little hunter-gatherer DNA in the farmers, making it unlikely that they have had particularly high intermingling.

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There is evidence of hunter-gatherer DNA in farmers' genetic material, but it originates from elsewhere in Europe. Although we don't know exactly how many hunter-gatherers there were in Denmark, their DNA should have contained more farmer DNA if there was genetic mixing, Allentoft tells

A common European history

Berit Valentin Eriksen believes the study shows that Europeans have a common history in prehistoric times.

– The idea has been reinforced in me that this is our common history. There is no point in creating pockets in the research field. She says that Denmark is part of Europe, and they are part of us.

Denmark did not exist 6,000 years ago. That's why you find it difficult to talk about Danish culture. Even the scene looked completely different at the beginning of the Stone Age, when Denmark was linked to England.

Felix Rede also sees a challenge in talking about national narratives in archaeology.

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– When our students arrive completely fresh, they often refer to hunter-gatherers as “we.” I think it's interesting that students think this way. It's a bit of a strange assumption and a bit of a risk, Reed says.

Berit Valentin Eriksen believes archaeologists should look more outward in their research. She calls it unlimited archeology.


100 ancient genomes show recurring population shifts in Neolithic Denmark. Nature (2023). doi: 10.1038/s41586-023-06862-3

© Translated by Trine Andreasen . is reading Original status on here.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

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