Saturday, July 07, 2012

DNA USA, by Bryan Sykes

Disappointing.  But I learned some useful things, and reflecting on why the book was disappointing was a vault-launch to other speculations.  Let me tell you the good stuff first, because I liked Sykes's Saxons, Vikings, and Celts and want to preserve your affection for him as much as possible before I record him being such an ass on his American road trip.

First, there's Ancestry Painting, as left. This is a service provided by 23andMe, one of the better-known companies that will map your chromosomes for a few hundred bucks, whether for health or ancestry reasons. I'm getting a more complete one for free from BGI as part of an IQ study, but we will likely purchase some of these tests in the future and snag various relatives who have mDNA or Y-haplogroup lines in danger of going out of our reach.

We won't be purchasing any of these paintings, however. The light green represents African genes, the orange are Asian (in the US, often Native American), and the blue are European.  The odds of mine being anything but uninterrupted blue are small.  It would be interesting only if any green or orange showed up.*  Because of the color choice, these paintings look best if you've got a fair bit of African in the mix.

Sykes caught me up on the genetic research contribution to the Amerind origin controversies, such as Kennewick Man and the really fascinating find in Peru that suggests a minor, but distinct, Polynesian addition to the generally Siberian origin.  It was also mildly interesting to read his observations of how various Americans greeted the testimony of their chromosomes, as some are ambivalent or even hostile to the results.  That was all fun.  But his views of Americans come so thoroughly, and unexaminedly, from a combination of movie-watching plus social-science academic-class bias as to be irritating - rather like an American tourist recording breathlessly that the English really do have those accents, and his pleasure in ordering tea, or fish-and-chips, at their restaurants.  More on this in the next post.

*It is true that a maximum of 14% of my genealogy is unknown, and that 1) black people did settle in southern Nova Scotia after the Revolution, 2) MicMacs remained there, and 3) scattered Native Americans remained in central Massachusetts, where the biggest gaps of my unknown ancestors are. But in each case, the actually towns and history make any fun colors unlikely.  If a touch of orange showed up, a Finno-Uralic explanation is as likely as Penacook.

1 comment:

karrde said...

Such genealogical-DNA research might be interesting for me.

On my father's side of the family, a large percentage of my genealogy is known. The family name is known to have entered Boston in the 1630s. However, my mother's side of the genealogy hasn't been researched much before the 1870s...

Which means ~50% of my genealogy may be unknown.