Saturday, 17 April 2021

Viking DNA and the dangers of genetic ancestry tests

Just to be clear, these aren’t real Vikings (TM Productions Limited)

Anna Källén, associate professor of archaeology and researcher in heritage studies, Stockholm University; and Daniel Strand, PhD in history of ideas at Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism, Uppsala University 

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 per cent 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 per cent Ashkenazi Jewish’, ’27 per cent British’ or ‘4 per cent western Asian’?

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Tuesday, 6 April 2021

To Save Norway’s Stave Churches, Conservators Had to Relearn a Lost Art

For more than 800 years, the stave church of Borgund, Norway, has towered over the surrounding village. Conservators face a constant struggle to protect the historic wooden building from the elements. HÅKON LI

TO STEP INTO ONE OF Scandinavia’s surviving stave churches is to enter the past. Shadows shift and tell stories in the elaborate carvings of intertwined beasts that are hallmarks of the churches’ unique architecture. Sounds reverberate off the timber as if traveling across centuries. The air feels dense with the tang of hewn wood, peat smoke, and pine tar.

As early as the 11th century, builders began erecting these churches all over the region. Much of Europe was raising massive cathedrals of stone during this period, but the Scandinavians knew wood best. While each house of worship was unique, all of them had staves, or load-bearing corner posts joined to vertical wall planks with a tongue-and-groove method.

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