Stories We Tell Ourselves

The lecturer on Iceland: Past and Present talked briefly about whether Icelanders were descended from Vikings.

His position? It sorta depends on how you define “Viking”:

  • As dreaded warriors? Rapists and plunderers? Kidnappers? Then, no, not at all. Those guys did not colonize Iceland.
  • As any and all seafaring peoples from present-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, including peaceable farmers? Then, yes, for sure.

All right then, on to our next stop: the National Museum of Iceland.

And what’s this? Two analyses (DNA analysis of the human remains in ancient graves, and mitochondrial analysis of present-day Icelanders) show that about 80% of the original male colonists were from the Scandinavian countries.

And about 60% of the original female colonists were from the British Isles. Taken to Iceland, no doubt, by peaceable farmers.


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10 Responses to Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Your heading “the stories we tell ourselves” is most provocative of thought. Pondering this question needs to take place here in Canada as well as in Iceland.

    Are we a nation of people always welcoming of others with open arms?
    Are we a nation that has robbed its indigenous people of not only their land but also their culture?

    Take your pick. How do you define what it means to be Canadian?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Good questions. I think that being willing to ask might matter more than the answer we come up with. And accepting that our answers are likely self-serving will help us take them with a grain of salt.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    We tell ourselves what we want to hear. I like to believe that my missionary grandparents were models of racial tolerance, but they probably weren’t.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Maybe they were models of tolerance for their day. I sometimes wonder if we swing from uncritical delight in ourselves to harshly judgmental attitudes about our forebears.

  3. John Whitman says:

    History, accepted facts and other lore are usually written or developed by the winners – and it has always been thus, no matter how much some people might wish otherwise at a later date.

    I guess it is also hard to refute DNA testing.

    • Jim Taylor says:

      The question, John, is not so much the DNA test as who does it. The CBC carried a story recently about an organization, in Quebec, I think, that provided authentic-looking Indigenous Membership cards, so that the card holders could flash it at a cash register and get out of paying sales tax. Applicants proved that they had Indigenous blood by taking a DNA test. The CBC chose three people who had all come from places like Russia and Africa, in this generation, so there was no possibility of them genuinely having Indigenous blood. But all three came back with 20% Indigenous! Someone was cooking the books…
      Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – Yes, but don’t we wish we could sometimes!

      • John Whitman says:

        Isabel – Me personally, no. What happened in the past happened in the past. Get over it and move on is my belief.

        I can’t change the past and I don’t feel any guilt over the “sins” of the past as judged by today’s standards.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        John – Well, that might be one of the few areas on which you’d agree with Trudeau Pere. 🙂 He was a “do justice in our time rather than apologize for the past” kind of guy, or so I hear.

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