(AFP) – Sep 30, 2008
PARIS (AFP) — The mouse could help lift the veil on how the Norwegian Vikings established a seafaring kingdom that ranged from the tip of Scotland and Iceland to Greenland and Newfoundland, scientists said on Tuesday.
Researchers led by Jeremy Searle of the University of York, northern England, found the common house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus) evolved into different strains after it spread into western Europe from the Middle East during the Iron Age, some 3,000 years ago.
Because mice colonise homes and hitch a ride in cargo, the differentiated strains are also a useful historical pointer, showing where humans ventured and where they settled, they argue.
In a study published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the team looked at mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) -- genetic material handed down by the maternal line -- found in preserved tissues from 310 mice found in 96 locations in Britain.
On the British mainland, the mice shared the same genetic heritage and bore a similarity with mice found in Germany, they discovered.
But mice found in the Orkney Islands, off the northern coast of Scotland, though, were of "Viking" vintage, with kinship to mice found in Norway.
The finding fits with historical evidence that Orkney was a key centre within the Norwegian Viking kingdom of the 11th and 12th century, founded on sophisticated ships that could travel long distances and carry substantial cargo.
"MtDNA studies on house mice have the potential to reveal novel aspects of human history," says the study.
Mice remains could not only explain cultural associations and movements within the long-expired Viking kingdom, but also shed light on human migrations elsewhere, it adds.
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