Politica – I am not as Neanderthal as you may have thought...


Several months ago, one of my interns, Emily Auvinen and I took the plunge to have our DNA tested in the Genographic Project sponsored by National Geographic. I've posted the essence of my statistical report in the image above.

Originally Emily and I thought that interesting some folks in this form of genetic research might yield some interesting results worth discussing at our next SIETAR Congress in Dublin. This was motivated by the awareness that DNA testing is one way of showing how we are all part of one large human family despite our tribal rivalries. my assumption was that this might be a useful tool in the cultural competence learning cycle, but the process and the results leave me questioning that.

Why? First of all, National Geographic was totally unresponsive to our inquiry about potential group use. They, of course, are only one provider of this kind of service and we haven't tested others. Secondly, there has been considerable criticism about the accuracy of this kind of work and I don't know enough about this kind of science to be critical. Thirdly, the significant cost and the time it took to get results seem discouraging for our projected project as well as any convenient use in training and consulting. Finally, at least in my case, the analysis of the results held neither surprises nor deep insights about my origins, which I suppose is neither good nor bad.

To pick up on the last point, my ancestors, I knew that origins were largely from Eastern and Central Europe with some Western European mix. Nor did I find it surprising that a touch of the Jewish diaspora showed up in Central and Eastern Europe. Lastly, there was a malady in the family on my mother's side which was more common in Arab populations. While specific countries are mentioned in many DNA analyses, it is important to remember that national borders as they have been arbitrarily defined and have shifted over history are not necessarily ethnic boundaries. For example, my paternal grandmother was a Donauschwabin, a German woman whose ancestors were part of the resettlement of the Pannonian plain toward the close of the 17th century. Her ancestors' migration was part of a Habsburg strategy for repopulating those areas devastated by war with the invading Ottoman Turks. A distant cousin of mine on her side of the family did genealogical research and traced her ancestral origins back to the 1600s in the area of Stuttgart.

I am certainly open to others' experiences, insights or suggestions in this regard, and would love to hear from readers who may have had their DNA tested either with National Geographic or a different supplier.

A final note. For those of you who have the impression that my behavior is sometimes "Neanderthal", the evidence shows that I am less Neanderthal than the greater part of the population. So there! On the other hand, since it is a part of my genetic heritage, I would like to stand up in defense of my vanished Neanderthal ancestors, whose name has been bandied about to describe those whose behavior may be lewd, crude, or rude. In the name of political correctness, I beg you not to demean my ancestors and yours by applying the racist label, "Neanderthal" to any undesirable dude of your acquaintance!

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