DNA from Viking-era burials around Europe—like this one of a woman in Varnhem, Sweden—revealed individual histories and identities.

VÄSTERGÖTLANDS MUSEUM

It was a Viking saga written in genes. In 2008, construction work on an isolated Estonian beach near the town of Salme uncovered the skeletons of more than 40 powerfully built men. They were buried around 750 C.E. in two ships with Viking-style weapons and treasure—apparently the aftermath of a raid gone wrong. DNA from the bones has now added a poignant detail: Four of the men, buried shoulder to shoulder holding their swords, were brothers.

The new data come from a massive effort to sequence the DNA of Vikings across

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