The study included samples from the 15th-century Incan site of Machu Picchu. (Photo by Andrea Schell)

UCSC | May 07, 2020 | Stephanie Dutchen

An international research team has conducted the first in-depth, wide-scale study of the genomic history of ancient civilizations in the central Andes mountains and coast before European contact.

The findings, published online May 7 in Cell, reveal early genetic distinctions between groups in nearby regions, population mixing within and beyond the Andes, surprising genetic continuity amid cultural upheaval, and ancestral cosmopolitanism among some of the region’s most well-known ancient civilizations.

Led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Santa Cruz, the team analyzed genome-wide data from 89 individuals who lived between 500 and 9,000 years ago. Of these, 64 genomes, ranging from 500 to 4,500 years old, were newly sequenced—more than doubling the number of ancient individuals with genome-wide data from South America.

The analysis included representatives of iconic civilizations in the Andes from whom no genome-wide data had been reported before, including the Moche, Nasca, Wari, Tiwanaku and Inca.

“This was a fascinating and unique project,” said Nathan Nakatsuka, first author of the paper and an MD/PhD student in the lab of David Reich in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS.

“It represents the first detailed study of Andean population history informed by pre-Colonial genomes with wide-ranging temporal and geographic coverage,” said Lars Fehren-Schmitz, associate professor at UC Santa Cruz and co-senior author of the paper with Reich.

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