In this article, I’m going to review Living DNA’s ancestry test with the main focus on the accuracy of the assigned ancestral populations and how these populations are defined. As I only have access to my own results this analysis will have to be limited to the ancestral populations assigned to myself: Germanic (Northeast, South and Northwest Germanic), Baltic and Etruscan.
Firstly, we’re going to take a look at my overall results (updated on the 31st of January 2020):
Living DNA assigns different modern populations to your test results based on comparing your DNA to that of thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of people, who have taken the test before. These people, together with yourself, define the different regions that can be assigned to you. For example, if you’re from Surrey, England and all of your ancestors (or at least for the last two generations) came from this region then you’d be a pretty good example of what the average “native” of Surrey looks like genetically.
In the case of the British Isles Living DNA has actually achieved this differentiation of regions on a very small and very precise level by doing just that and they were planning to do the same thing with Germany, but haven’t been able to do so yet. What they have done, however, is to divide the German and Dutch (and to a smaller degree Danish and Gutnish) populations up into three distinct groups: Northwest Germanic, Northeast Germanic and South Germanic. But back to the example.
Analysis of Attributed Admixtures
Whilst people of unmixed descent are ideal for creating reference populations, very few of us actually are these days, which quite obviously was the case with myself as well. Here is where the problems start, however: Although I am of mixed Germanic descent (out of my eight Great Grandparents three were Swabian, two were Bergisch, two were Prussian and one was Silesian), there was no Tuscan or Italian in my family, which I know of. The 15.1 % Baltic admixture is understandable if you take into consideration, that two of my Great-Grandparents were from Northeastern Prussia, which up to the late Middle Ages was still inhabited by a mix of Germans, who themselves were to a degree descendant of the native Baltic or Old Prussians, and the native Latvians. This part of Prussia was only fully Germanized within the following centuries. The Old Prussian language survived all the way into the 18th century. Living DNA themselves recognize the fact that even today the admixture typical for the Baltic was influenced by early German settlers: “Germans migrated and settled in the region in large numbers from the 12th century. Influences from this migration can be seen in the different branches of Christianity within the region, such as the Lutheran Church that is dominant across Latvia and Estonia.” (Living DNA results platform, https://my.livingdna.com/ancestry/recent/f01a4721-3214-11ea-9bc6-0242ac130003, 23/04/2020).
But Italian, specifically Tuscan remains inexplicable. Living DNA suggests a link between the ancient Etruscans and modern Tuscany, although to what degree modern Tuscans are the descendants of Ancient Etruscans is debatable. Tuscany was probably by a considerable degree settled by Latin Romans after the subjugation of the Etruscans by Rome and possibly by Celts from Cisalpine Gaul (roughly modern-day northern Italy) as well. If this is true then this might explain the Tuscan admixture: The region of Swabia, were three of my Great Grandparents are from, was first settled by Celts and/or possibly Rhaetians, a people possibly related to the Etruscans, and consecutively by the Romans and then by the Alamanni/Suebi, which is where the region got its name from. If we assume that at least a few Celts, Rhaetians and Romans remained in the area after the Germanic Alamanni/Suebi arrived, then this could explain the assigned Tuscan ancestry at least partially. Twelve per cent, however, seems to high a value.
The next proposed modern reference population is the South Germanic admixture which spans from northern Belgium in the west, over southern Switzerland in the south, all the way to western Czechia in the East. Whilst I can, to a degree, accept the proposed Northwest and Northeast Germanic reference populations, based on the regions histories, postulating that people from Belgium are genetically very similar to people from western Czechia seems far-fetched. Belgium and Czechia had very little to do with each other historically apart from the fact that they were both part of the Holy Roman Empire at one point.
Flanders is inhabited by Dutch (Flemish) speakers and was so for much of its history. Before the Flemish, the Belgian tribes, possibly Celticized Germans according to Caesar, inhabited the area and gave Belgium its name. Additionally, Belgium was part of the Roman Empire some time and has probably seen some migration from other parts of the Empire as well. Bohemia, on the other hand, was inhabited first by Celts, then by Germans and eventually by Slavs with close cultural and political ties to the German lands of the Middle Ages.
Whilst both regions were settled by Celts first, they were occupied by completely different Germanic peoples thereafter and in the case of Czechia by Slavs as well. So taking the ethnolinguistic history of both regions into account, it would make more sense to include Flanders in the Northwest Germanic admixture block and add a completely new region for Bohemia.
Whilst Living DNA has definitely improved their results by adding new, more differentiated reference populations there is still room for improvement. Altogether, the results were somewhere between 80 and 90 per cent accurate, which is a good enough score for me, especially if they keep improving their results as they have done in the past.
If you would like to take a DNA test with LivingDNA yourself you can do so here.
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