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’?