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Wednesday, February 27, 2019 at 4:30pm
Goldwin Smith Hall, G22
232 East Ave, Central Campus
The Real Lagertha and the Anatolian Farmers: Two Stories of Ancient DNA
The publication of a paper in The Journal of Physical Anthropology in September 2017 caused a storm in international news- and social media. The paper had the title ”A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics”, and described a female skeleton in a warrior’s grave in Birka, an Iron Age town and UNESCO World Heritage Site near Stockholm, Sweden. News stories with titles like “DNA Proves Viking Warriors Were Women” and images with captions like “The Real Lagertha” were shared, got wings, and flew around the world in a matter of days. The author of the paper has barely slept since.
Visualised as network maps, the routes of popular meaning-making around aDNA results assume the form of complex webs involving a wide range of actors – archaeologists, authors of popular science and history, bloggers, communication officers, editors, historians, journalists, lab scientists, museum staff, photographers, and scientific journal editors – operating in a heterogeneous media landscape. Analyses of the communication in the public domain relating to aDNA have demonstrated a great complexity in the processes through which aDNA data are translated into meaningful cultural and historical narratives, and moreover translated from narrative to narrative, image to image, along these routes. These analyses challenge simplified general assumptions of science communication in terms of a one-way dissemination of facts. They show that popular meaning-making around aDNA research attracts signs and narratives from such disparate contexts as earlier historical research, film and other fiction, and political movements.
Exemplifying with two stories based on aDNA research published by a Swedish research team in 2016 and 2017 – “The Real Lagertha” and “The Anatolian Farmers” – this talk will demonstrate the complexity of meaning-making around aDNA, and elaborate on its possible ethical and political consequences.