A recently published study has found that ‘ancient migrations of Vikings left a lasting legacy in the modern [Irish] population’. Until now, it was believed that the Irish Golden Age, thought to have much cultural and economic growth during the fifth and sixth centuries, was followed by a period of stability and consolidation, along with a steadily increasing population, despite disruptions caused by Viking raids during the ninth century.
However, novel analysis of archaeological records reaches different conclusions: its findings reveal that the Irish population had in fact been in a significant state of decline for nearly two centuries prior to the arrival of the Vikings. The Irish population actually numbered around three million in the late 7th century – this number was never stable, being ‘fated to tip into a long slow decline for centuries afterwards’. Crucially, this decline set in at least a century before the Vikings began raiding Irish shores, which suggests they cannot be blamed for the downturn. Further, recent genetic evidence has revealed that living Irish people share a small yet significant amount of their DNA with Scandinavians, demonstrating that Vikings may have actually brought to Ireland ‘fresh blood at a time when the existing population was stifled’.
Using cutting-edge techniques borrowed from data science, archaeologists and other academics are now able to reconstruct past population levels, updating records. By integrating large volumes of archaeological ‘big data’, patterns which were previously hidden can be unveiled. Making use of data comprising 10,000 radiocarbon dates of human activity in Ireland, and by using software which can find a mathematical pattern explaining the data, this novel study was able to estimate such population records.
Students applying for Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic, and those planning to apply for Archaeology, can consider how recent technological innovations, such as the emergence of ‘big data’ in data science, can aid researchers in unearthing fresh perspectives on past population groups, including ‘how culture, economy and religion emerge via relations in economic and social networks’.