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Study Traces Genetic Ancestry Of Inca Emperors, Sheds Light On Origin Legends

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Peruvian scientists reveal the origins of the royal Incas through genetic testing of their descendants. Can their findings confirm either of the two legends surrounding the royals’ supposed origins?

Inca Royals Origin Legends

At the height of their power, the Inca Empire ruled Tawantinsuyu, a region that spanned from southern Colombia to central Chile. It was the largest pre-Columbian empire in South America until shortly after the arrival of the Europeans in 1531, when the empire ended. Unfortunately, along with the empire’s downfall was the possibility of learning of the origins of Inca nobility, for most of the royals’ mummies were destroyed by the Spanish invaders.

There are two legends regarding the origins of the empire’s royals. The first and older one states that the royals came from a cave in the Pacarictampu district in the Province of Paruro, whereas the other one suggests that the royals came from Lake Titicaca, where they originated along with the sun at Isla del Sol.

First-Of-Its-Kind DNA Study

A team of researchers now believe that they have found the true origins of the Inca royals, and they did so by tracing their lineage through DNA. For even if the empire had already fallen, their descendants lived on.

To conduct the first-of-its-kind study, researchers analyzed the DNA of 18 individuals who, according to registries, belong to the patrilineal-line Inca rulers. Researchers say that in a way, what they did was like a paternity test but for peoples and not between a father and a son. Specifically, researchers focused on the Y chromosome because in the Inca empire, power was passed from father to son.

Legends Confirmed

After three years of analyzing the DNA and tracking the so-called “genetic fingerprints” of the descendants, researchers found that the royals of the Inca empire actually supports both of the legends regarding their origins.

“The conclusion we came to is that the Tahuantinsuyo nobility is descended from two lines, one in the region of Lake Titicaca, the other around the mountain of Pacaritambo in Cusco. That confirms the legends,” said Jose Sandoval, first author and geneticist at the University of San Martin de Porres.

The findings could also mean that the two legends are linked to each other, possibly as a result of a series of migrations: first to Pacaritambo and then to Cusco.

So what’s next? Researchers now aim to form a more complete picture of the Inca empire, hopefully by testing the DNA of ancient artifacts and relics such as mummies, though as mentioned, this would be rather difficult, as most of the mummies in the region were burned. Still, they believe that such information could provide data that could help people better understand the origin of the ancient civilization.

The study is published in the journal Molecular Genetics and Genomics.

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