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Science & Technology

Genetic tests - do you really have viking DNA ?

April 13, 2021 | Comment icon 25 comments

How much Viking blood is in your veins ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Wolfmann
Genetic ancestry tests are very popular these days - but just how accurate and meaningful are the results ?
Anna Kallen of Stockholm University and Daniel Strand of Uppsala University take a look at the trend of genetic ancestry testing and whether or not the results are quite what they seem.

A middle-aged white man raises his sword to the skies and roars to the gods. The results of his genetic ancestry test have just arrived in his suburban mailbox. His eyes fill with tears as he learns that he is "0.012% Viking". These are the scenes from a video advertisement for the TV-series Vikings.

This man is certainly not the only one yearning for a genetic test to confirm his Viking ancestry. A plethora of companies around the world market DNA-tests that promise to provide scientific facts about your identity. These companies often claim to provide a complete view of your ancestry, even though they in reality only compare your DNA with other customers in their database.

According to recent estimates, over 26 million people from across the world have purchased a genetic ancestry test. In the wake of this hype, researchers have begun to investigate how the tests affect our perceptions of ourselves. How do people make sense of a test result stating that they are, for instance, "35% Ashkenazi Jewish", "27% British" or "4% western Asian"?

Some researchers have concluded that such tests make customers believe that humanity can be divided into biological races, and that customers see the tests as a way of discovering their "true" identities. Other researchers have argued that people use their test results selectively, "picking and choosing" the genetic data they find compatible with their personal desires and aspirations. From this perspective, taking a genetic ancestry test involves some level of creative interpretation.

What it means to have "Viking DNA"

In our new study, we carried out interviews with people from the US, the UK and Sweden who had purchased genetic ancestry tests to see if they were related to Vikings. Since the test results did not include the term "Viking", most of them pointed to the category "Scandinavia" in their ethnic charts as proof of having Viking ancestry.

Almost all of the people in our study saw their results as scientific confirmation of either "being related to Vikings" or of actually "being a Viking". As a man from the US put it, the results "began to confirm or at least lay the basis for the person that I am." In a similar way, a woman from Sweden said that her test allowed her to "know who I am and what my origins are".
However, what the tests actually proved was based on creative interpretation. In this sense, several of our interviewees took images of "the Viking" fostered in popular culture and political propaganda, and used them to make sense of their own lives.

For example, people with experiences of violence and abuse used their "Viking genes" as explanation - describing Vikings as warriors and berserkers. "Knowing that I am descended from Vikings," a man from the US said, "has made it clearer to me why there might be a genetic preponderance of violence and explosive anger in my family."

In a similar way, interviewees who considered themselves to be restless described the Vikings as explorers and naval engineers. A woman from the US said, "I have to see new lands," adding that it was due to "the Viking" in her.

It seems then that the use of genetic ancestry tests can facilitate a kind of "genetic determinism", in which a person's life is the natural result of their genome. From this perspective, humans appear to not have much control over their lives.

Anna Kallen, Associate Professor of Archaeology and Researcher in Heritage Studies, Stockholm University and Daniel Strand, Ph.D. in History of Ideas at Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

Read the original article.

The Conversation

Source: The Conversation | Comments (25)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #16 Posted by Eldorado 9 months ago
GENERATIONS BACK††††††††††††††††††††† NUMBER OF INDIVIDUALS 18th great-grandparents†† ††† †††††††††††† 1,048,576 19th great-grandparents†† ††† †††††††††††† 2,097,152 20th great-grandparents† ††† ††††††††††††† 4,194,304 21st great-grandparents† ††† ††††††††††††† 8,388,608
Comment icon #17 Posted by docyabut2 9 months ago
To me we are all†from the Vikings and the†Neanderthals:)
Comment icon #18 Posted by docyabut2 9 months ago
my grandson`s is†a †drummer†of this†Viking †video::) † †
Comment icon #19 Posted by llegendary 9 months ago
My DNA tells me my level of social justice that I'm deserved.
Comment icon #20 Posted by Raptor Witness 9 months ago
My paternal DNA test suggested an escape from the vicinity of Serbia from the Mongol invaders to far Western Europe. My maternal DNA test suggested a reunification with the Mongol†horde,†which drove out the paternal.
Comment icon #21 Posted by Xeno-Fish 9 months ago
I got that Neanderthal pride.
Comment icon #22 Posted by HollyDolly 9 months ago
I haven't bothered with any of this. Mom was hungarian, dad german. I'm sure† maybe her side had encounters with the Mongols, and definetly the Ottoman turks who went around eastern Europe in Hungary, Romania, the balkans terrorizing the locals. Plus a few other groups thrown in for good meseaure††I look more like momma's side of the family, and have had people, usually russian† or polish americans think i'm russian, I guess because of my facial features. Dad's side is german, but there might be† some latvian,(grandma was baltic german) dutch and who knows what else. His father's family came f... [More]
Comment icon #23 Posted by glorybebe 9 months ago
I am a huge mixture.† †I have been wondering about my ancestors for curiosity sake.† I know where each of our grandparents came from, but in the Scottish was traced back to any degree.† My Swedish grandpa would only say were were Canadian.† The Ukrainian side had some Asian mix, would like to know what.† Pretty sure there is Jewish background somewhere, but no one knows for sure.
Comment icon #24 Posted by Desertrat56 9 months ago
If people knew a little bit more about history it would be easier to interpret, also, companies differ in the amount of detail. † For example one of my cousins had her DNA test with 23 & Me and with Ancestry and she got different results, 23 & Me seemed to be more detailed. As for history, the east africans traded with the british isle, people bringing back wives and their entourages both directions. †And there is also the fact that 4 siblings can get different genetic traits from both parents so that on a DNA chart one sibling might appear to share more DNA with a cousin than another ... [More]
Comment icon #25 Posted by Desertrat56 9 months ago
23 & Me tells you what percentage of neanderthal dna you have and how high or low you rank in the database, for example I have more neaderthal dna than 97% of the people who belong to 23 & Me. ††† Probably why I am so smart. ††

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