It seems that native Americans made it to Iceland long before Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic the other way.
A study of mitochondrial DNA has shown that although most Icelanders are descended from neighboring populations in the British Isles and Scandinavia, some have a more exotic ancestor.
The newly-found lineage belongs to haplogroup C1, one of a handful involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. It was found in around 80 Icelanders.
It was at first assumed that this lineage was a recent arrival. But the team discovered that it could be traced back to four individuals living in Iceland in around 1700. With very little travel having taken place for centuries before that, the authors suggest that it could possibly have entered the Icelandic population as a result of the Viking voyages to the Americas that started in the 10th century.
The mitochondrial DNA – which is inherited through the female line – might well derive from a native American woman captured during these raids. It’s also possible that this native American population represents the ‘skraelings’ of the medieval Norse sagas, whos attacks forced Leif Ericsson to quit his settlement in Newfoundland.
The lineage, dubbed C1e, appears to belong to a new subgroup, and doesn’t correspond to any known American or Asian variants. The syudy’s author, Sigrídur Sunna Ebeneserdóttir of the University of Iceland, suggests that it could belong to a group now extinct in the Americas.