DNA Test Can Trace Your Ancestral Origins Back 1,000 Years

By Carl Engelking | May 2, 2014 2:55 pm


Most of us can broadly trace our ancestral roots to a country or general region on the planet. But a new DNA test can locate where your relatives lived over 1,000 years ago, and in some cases, even pinpoint the specific village or island your ancestors came from.

The new DNA test was over 80 percent successful in tracing people from around the world back to their ancestral origins. Such knowledge could help improve personalized medicine, forensic science and research pertaining to ancestral origins of different human populations.

Retracing Our Past

Eran Elhaik of the University of Sheffield and Tatiana Tatarinova from the University of Southern California invented the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) test, which works by scanning a person’s DNA for parts that were formed as a result of two ancestors from disparate populations having children: for example, a Viking and Briton falling in love after Vikings invaded Britain in the 11th century.

Once a mixed DNA signature is detected, it is compared with reference data from people around the world that haven’t moved for hundreds of years. Finally, a computer program calculates how close to these populations a person’s ancestors lived and pinpoints a location.

Elhaik applied the GPS test to roughly 600 individuals from around the world—including regions as far-flung as Kuwait, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Peru. The GPS correctly assigned 83 percent of the individuals to their ancestral country, and 50 percent of them within 62 miles of their point of origin. Elhaik and his team published findings regarding the test’s efficacy this week in Nature Communications.

Where Are You From?

If you are interested in tracing your DNA back to its origin, you’ll need to provide a saliva sample, pay about $100 to have your DNA read, and pay an additional $35 to have your ancestral home identified. You can begin your quest by visiting Prosapia Genetics online.


Photo credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: genetics
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Longmire

    This technology teaches the curious of there past now but in 5 years or so the Social Revolutions begin.

  • Joey Santini

    Wow my ancestors were traced backto a place called La La Land.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Michael Keener

      never never land..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Robert Lensch

    What would keep the test from being 100% successful? Individuals whose ancestors moved so often that there were too many markers to sort out?

    • jezeuskrishna

      The island effect, gene flow is static on an island nation. Professor Bryan Sykes discovered this like 20 years ago, the remains of a human called “chedar man” were found and dna tested it was discovered that his direct descendant was living 2 miles away from his grave, after 8000 years.

  • Kristen Beck

    “for example, a Viking and Briton falling in love after Vikings invaded Britain in the 11th century.” Falling in love is one way to put it

    • virginia662

      my Aunty Sienna recently got a year old Jaguar
      only from working off a home computer… Recommended Reading C­a­s­h­D­u­t­i­e­s­.­ℂ­o­m

    • Tom Servo

      given that I’m blonde, blue eyed, a bit over 6 feet tall, and that all of the ancestors I know about came out of central England and Scotland, it’s s a pretty safe bet that I had a Viking or two jump into the familial bed, as it were, back in the day.

      • RaePooletik321

        before I saw the draft which was of $5004 , I did not
        believe that…my… sister had been truly receiving money part-time from there
        pretty old laptop. . there mums best friend has done this for under six months
        and resantly repayed the mortgage on their condo and got a brand new Aston
        Martin DB5 . read this post here F­i­s­c­a­l­p­o­s­t­.­C­O­M­

        • Kevin O’connor

          She’s a whore…

      • GameTime

        I don’t know that the Vikings at that time were necessarily all blue-eyed, blonde. My Viking ancestor, Rollo, who did invade Europe, and stayed, was a big man, brown-eyed, and brown-haired.

        • Tom Servo

          Rollo? my anglo-saxon ancestors popped in to say “Norman Swine!!!”

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ablelawrence Able Lawrence

      I dont think love was involved, at least in the beginnings. Once Vikings have defeated the Britons and the surviving women had little choice I guess

    • eivindh

      Rape didn’t have a prominent place in viking culture. That’s only Christian and Saxon propaganda.

  • MomOnEarth

    Which DNA? Mitochondrial and Y? With these, if you just go back as far as great, great grandparents, that leaves 14 lines unstudied. A thousand years? … Well, work it out.

    • jezeuskrishna

      How would they map every part of the family tree when the only samples they’re collecting around the world are for the sex chromosomes? it’ll be possible one day when advanced dna testing is cheaper but for now 1 or two chromosomes is the best we have and it’s okay in terms of tracing part of your ancestry. Alleles can be lost through random selection since you only give half of them and sex chromosomes are very easy to trace because it’s impossible to break a chromosome lineage at any point, if your father has R1a1a, his father has r1a1a, go back like 5000 years and it’ll look different but it’s still the same lineage it’s just that certain mutations haven’t occurred yet. It makes it simpler, people just like being able to say “i’m this” or that instead of being like, well my 2nd allele is from korea and my 3rd is from france and…. you know what i mean.

  • Tim C.

    Raped by a viking… or kidnapped, and forced into marriage would be a better guess… Are you writing these articles for intelligent adults? It doesn’t sound like it.

    • Ben

      I believe the the author is correct. Not every interaction in those Times was based upon Raping and Pillaging.However the majority of those Genetic Mixings probably did arise from such events.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Longmire

        1 in 200 men are directly descended from Genghis Khan never mind all of his army. The Vikings didn’t muddy the water the mongols did.

        • jezeuskrishna

          His was also a muslm and most of his men were, mass murdered more people than anyone in history. It all fell apart after he invaded europe and mass murdered 70 million people.

      • Tom Servo

        You can’t blame great-great-grandma for wanting to hook up with a REAL man, even if he was a bit rough around the edges. Especially after he’d killed every other man in the village, After all, what’s a girl to do?

    • Hosni

      The sentence about Vikings in Britain began with two qualifying words that make it clear to adult readers that the relationship was hypothetical. Those two words were “for example.”

      • Tim C.

        Then a more representative example would be more appropriate, don’t you think?

  • Chris

    I came from Gilligan’ s Island….haha

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Stephen Denlinger

    My fore-bearers are from all over Europe, numerous countries, Scotland, England, France, Sweden, Spain, Italy, etc. Tracing them back 1,000 years would result in hundreds (or even thousands) or ancestral homes/villages. I’m guessing that probably 25% of all marriages over the past 1,000 years were between people from different villages/regions/countries. How can the Geographic Population Structure (GPS) test trace it back to one point of origin? I’m clearly missing something.

    • http://www.linkedin.com/in/ablelawrence Able Lawrence

      Absolutely! 1000 years means at least fifty generations and that means 2^50 ancestors. They might be referring to the direct paternal or maternal line.

    • jezeuskrishna

      They are using a bit of hype by saying they can trace your ancestry to one village within the last 1000 years but they can find exactly where your fathers fathers fathers fathers fathers fathers fathers fathers father lived or likewise on your mothers side, what they can’t do is tell you where your mother’s father’s mother’s lineage lived or where your fathers mothers fathers linage lived.

  • Don Burton

    So what good does “pinpointing” one set of ancestors do? Does it pick up on my Scot, Welsh, German, or English ancestor? Or maybe Elizabeth Warren’s and my common Cherokee ancestor?

    • jezeuskrishna

      you can test you paternal and maternal line, that’s it. you fathers fathers ect and your mothers mothers.

      • PulSamsara

        and do those two lines actually ‘carry more weight’ in our traits ? or are they just the traceable 2 of millions – but holding no more genetic sway than any others… ?? (actually – been wondering about this.. my guess is no more weight than any of the others – but I haven’t brushed up on my genetics)

        • jezeuskrishna

          Yes the sex chromosomes(x and y) have more genes in them than any other chromosome(alleles) individually(y has more genes than x) but together they only account for 25% of our genes. It is useful in genealogy though, last names are passed down on the male side only in most cultures which makes finding female linage more practical with DNA testing, female linages are usually more static as well meaning that they don’t move around as much, male linages move around more because men are always conquering and slaughtering each other while their women stay at home and they rape the women of the countries they conquer and kill the men so using the X chromosome is very useful for tracing long term exact locations of an ancestor.

          • Herne Webber

            Just some corrections. The X has considerably more genes than the Y, not the reverse. Our two sex chromosomes do *not* “account for 25% of our genes.” The “female line” is traced via the mtDNA, NOT the X chromosome. While the X *does* have a unique pattern of inheritance, every girl gets one from her dad, and then when she makes eggs, usually those Xs have multiple crossover-events, making them just as much a potential jumble as the autosomal chromosomes. The X is only unique compared to the autosomes, because it takes the X longer to get chopped and blended, since guys only have the tips of their sex chromosomes touch and exchange parts of the end of the long arm. The guy’s X that he passes to his daughters is mostly what his mother gave him, with perhaps a tiny piece of one of his male-line female relative’s X at its tip. The region that defines the Y lineage never gets the chance to recombine.

            As to what the three different kinds of inheritance (Y, mt, and autosomal) tell us:

            1) The Y is defined by its terminal mutation. For instance, mine is an E, with the terminal mutation V22, giving the *current* ISOGG definition as E1b1b1a1b2 (arising between 17 and 30kya). We can tell based on tested mutation rates roughly when various male lines had a mutation arise within them, and with enough information, we can even tell sometimes where they came from, and why they moved. The V13s, for instance, my Y-cousins, popped up not in Africa, but the Middle East, a couple-few thousand years after my V22, then it went to SE Europe with the migration of the farming cultures, expanding greatly in the area of Croatia. They’ve been there for several thousand years now, so they look European, because their autosomal DNA has been continually blended over the millenia, to the end that much of the African or Middle Eastern was lost. As a funny aside, Hitler was an E-line (probably the V13).

            2) The mt DNA is gathered from a separate organelle within the cell, thus it is only able to be passed down within the large egg. The sperm has a few for its own power, but they are in the tail, and the VAST majority of them never make it inside the egg. As the cell’s metabolism, mitochondria have a feedback/regulatory relationship with the nuclear DNA. Mutations in mt happen at their own rate, different from nuclear DNA, but also able to be estimated as to when new mutational lines originate. Using me again as an example, my H6a1a arose within the Corded Ware culture somewhere in Poland or Germany during the Bronze Age, among those pre-Teutonic people from the western Eurasian steppes. One of its precursors, HV0, arose in Mesopotamia thousands of years before. See, when we find people with newer or older versions, putting together places with data, we can retrace migrations, and then match them to known (Pre-)Historical events.

            3) The most interesting is the autosomal. Though yes, we can tell today whether someone is Norwegian or not, because there is enough variability to do so, that does NOT validate the idea of “races.” The tiny amount of variability BETWEEN continents contrasts to the ginormous variability WITHIN continents, so while one’s *skin, hair, eyes and slight bone structure* might allow one to LOOK more like a Norwegian, one’s liver genes might look more like a Nigerian’s, one’s lungs more like a Chinese, and one’s immune system like a Neanderthal! The overall intra-continental versus inter-continental *similarity* is why people say ‘race is a social construct,’ while ancestry companies confuse people by telling them they can tell them where their people are from based on their differences, as though those differences are somehow important. They are not; they merely tell you where your people came from, and how long they inbred there before blending with another group. Given this, you CAN tell where your people came from, because clusters of similar mutations or arrangements of Ancestral genes might appear more commonly in one group than another.

            As to whether or not Elizabeth Warren is your relative (Don Burton), you would have to have her tested as well, see if you have segments in common, and then compare your family trees to try to triangulate your Most Recent Common Ancestor (MRCA). My most distant relative is from a 17th century New England marriage, between a Rice and a Frost. I am descended from one son, while my relative is from their other two sons. Genealogically, she is my double-11th cousin, once removed. But I have assloads of roughly 3rd to 5th cousins on dad’s side who can’t triangulate with me, because of the paucity of my dad’s and usually their family trees. The more people who get tested, the closer I will come to knowing who my paternal bio-gf was.

  • Nick

    I love that. A Viking and a Briton “falling in love”.

    In the 11th century, that was called raping and then there was the subsequent pillaging.

    You are Discover. Why do you prefer to dumb down your audience? Maybe in this day of “Check your privilege” you might want to also mention that the majority of humanity were serfs (i.e., slaves) up until the democratic revolutions in Europe and America. But you would prefer to use a euphemism to describe how genes were mixed after the vikings invaded to actually teaching… Because it might ruin the liberal miseducation agenda.

    • bigjack

      Really, in the 11th century, who was “falling in love” anyway ? Between the raping and pillaging, even amongst elites, marriages were arranged. There was never any choice in the matter, especially for women, of any class.

    • jezeuskrishna

      Stockholm syndrome and it’s not like they just invaded, they lived there for quite a while, look at York or the viking kingdom of Dublin which lasted hundreds of years.

  • bigjack

    Interesting but crude. That pretty much describes me when you get right down to it.

  • semperfitillidie

    The test only traces DNA not emotions, so how anyone can tell if the ancestors were “in love” or not is a real mystery? Besides, back in those day most marriages were arranged and love had nothing to do with it and in the case of the Britons and Viking, a power over sort of “relationship” was far from loving!

  • PulSamsara

    “…a Viking and Briton falling in love after Vikings invaded Britain in the 11th century”

    or … there IS another possible scenario here… hmmm… no… probable.



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