Lancashire's history in the ninth and tenth centuries is very
murky, and it is generally assumed that the region around Liverpool
was part of the Scandinavian kingdom of York.
Now a genetic study of men living in the area may be able to
back up that assumption, claiming that the Liverpool area was once a
major Viking settlement.
The research was carried out by Professor Stephen Harding of the
University of Nottingham and a team from the University of Leicester
led by Professor Mark Jobling.
They picked up on Viking ancestry in Liverpool's present inhabitants
by focusing on people whose surnames were recorded in the area
before the city's population underwent a huge expansion during the
Among men with local, pre-industrial surnames, half were found
to have Norse ancestry. The find backs up historical evidence from
place name studies, and archaeological finds of Viking treasure,
which suggests significant numbers of Norwegian Vikings settled in
the north-west in the tenth century, while the Scandinavian kingdom
of York (presumably) ruled the region.
"[The genetics] is very exciting because it ties in with the
other evidence from the area," said Professor Stephen Harding.
The team used historical documents, including a tax register
from Henry VIII's court in the sixteenth century, to identify
surnames which are common in the region. They then recruited 77 male
volunteers with local surnames, and looked for a genetic signature
of Viking ancestry on the Y chromosome. They report in Molecular
Biology and Evolution that a Y chromosome type, R1a, which is common
in Norway, is also very common among men with these local surnames.
In around AD 900 longboats from Norway sailed down the River
Mersey. The 'Vikings' who arrived founded or occupied many
settlements in the area, which can be seen in local place names,
such as Aigburth, Thingwall, Formby, Crosby, Toxteth, and Croxteth.
The biggest of the Viking settlements was probably in West Derby -
the name roughly meaning Wild Deer Park.
The city of Liverpool itself began as a tidal pool next to the
Mersey which was probably called the 'lifer pol', meaning muddy
Although there may have been a hamlet in the area (and on the
above evidence, a hamlet which probably consisted of a large number
of Viking descendants), the town of Liverpool was not founded until
King John needed a port from which to easily reach his newly
conquered lands in Ireland in 1207.