Peruvian Scientists Use DNA To Trace Origins Of Inca Emperors

Researchers in Peru believe they have traced the origins of the Incas —the largest pre-Hispanic civilization in the Americas—through the DNA of the modern-day descendants of their emperors.

From their ancient capital Cusco, the Incas controlled a vast empire called Tahuantinsuyo, which extended from the west of present-day Argentina to the south of Colombia.

They ruled for more than two hundred years before being conquered by the invading Spanish in the 16th century.

The empire included the mountain-top citadel of Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction.

After becoming fascinated by the Inca culture, their organizational skills and their mastery of engineering, researchers Ricardo Fujita and Jose Sandoval of Lima’s University of San Martin de Porresit became interested in the genetic profile of their descendants.

They said the aim of the study, the first of its kind, was to reveal whether there was a unique Inca patriarch.

“It’s like a paternity test, not between father and son but among peoples,” Fujita told AFP.

The scientists wanted to verify two common legends about the origin of the Incas.

One attributes them to a couple from around Lake Titicaca, in Peru’s Puno region. The other identifies the first Incas as the Ayar brothers from the Pacaritambo mountain in the Cusco region.

DNA samples were taken from inhabitants of both places.

“After three years of tracking the genetic fingerprints of the descendants, we confirm that the two legends explaining the origin of the Inca civilization could be related,” said Fujita.

Genetic similarities

“They were compared with our genealogical base of more than 3,000 people to reconstruct the genealogical tree of all individuals,” said Fujita.

“We finally reduced this base to almost 200 people sharing genetic similarities close to the Inca nobility.”

The study released some preliminary results in April, in the review Molecular Genetics and Genomics.

“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 Sandoval.

But it also confirms that the two legends were linked.

“Probably the first migration came from the Puno region and was established in Pacaritambo for a few decades before heading to Cusco and founding Tahuantinsuyo,” he said.

But the work of the researchers does not stop there. Now they want to go further back in time.

For that, they have to test the DNA of ancient relics, such as mummies, “to form the most complete picture of the origin of the most important pre-Hispanic civilization,” said Fujita.

The task looks complicated because the Spanish Conquistadores, who arrived 1532, destroyed Inca mummies that families venerated, as they sought to convert people to Christianity.

The researchers are now looking for where the Incas’ most direct descendants are buried in order to trace their history.

The DNA analysis would add to archeological and anthropological research to understand the exact origin of the people.

“In this case, we use … genetics, the transmission of molecular features across the generations,” said Fujita.

Mysterious Head Of A Pharaoh Discovered By Swansea Egyptologist

Swansea University Egyptology lecturer Dr Ken Griffin has found a depiction of one of the most famous pharaoh’s in history Hatshepsut (one of only a handful of female pharaohs) on an object in the Egypt Centre stores, which had been chosen for an object handling session.

The opportunity to handle genuine Egyptian artefacts is provided by the Egypt Centre to students studying Egyptology at Swansea University. During a recent handling session for an Egyptian Art and Architecture module Dr Kenneth Griffin, from the University’s Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology, noticed that one of the objects chosen was much more interesting than initially thought.

Consisting of two irregularly shaped limestone fragments that have been glued together, the object had been kept in storage for over twenty years and was requested for the handling session based only on an old black and white photograph.

The front side depicts the head of a figure whose face is unfortunately missing, with the remains of a fan directly behind. Traces of hieroglyphs are also present above the head. The iconography of the piece indicates that it represents a ruler of Egypt, particularly with the presence of the uraeus (cobra) on the forehead of the figure. Who is this mysterious pharaoh and where did the fragment originate from?

A search of the Egypt Centre records provides no information on the original provenance or find spot of the object. What is known is that it came to Swansea in 1971 as part of the distribution of objects belonging to Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), the pharmaceutical entrepreneur based in London. The fragments are less than 5cm thick and had clearly been removed from the wall of a temple or tomb, as can be seen from the cut marks on the back.

Having visited Egypt on over fifty occasions, Dr Griffin quickly recognised the iconography as being similar to reliefs within the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri (Luxor), which was constructed during the height of the New Kingdom. In particular, the treatment of the hair, the fillet headband with twisted uraeus, and the decoration of the fan are all well-known at Deir el-Bahri.

Most importantly, the hieroglyphs above the head — part of a formulaic text attested elsewhere at the temple — use a feminine pronoun, a clear indication that the figure is female.

Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c.1478-1458 BC) and one of only a handful of women to have held this position. Early in her reign she was represented as a female wearing a long dress, but she gradually took on more masculine traits, including being depicted with a beard. The reign of Hatshepsut was one of peace and prosperity, which allowed her to construct monuments throughout Egypt. Her memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, built to celebrate and maintain her cult, is a masterpiece of Egyptian architecture.

Many fragments were taken from this site during the late nineteenth century, before the temple was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Egypt Exploration Society) between 1902-1909. Since 1961 the Polish Archaeological Mission to Egypt has been excavating, restoring, and recording the temple.

Yet the mystery of the precious find doesn’t end there. On the rear of the upper fragment, the head of a man with a short beard is depicted. Initially there was no explanation for this, but it is now clear that the upper fragment had been removed and recarved in more recent times in order to complete the face of the lower fragment. The replacement of the fragment below the figure would also explain the unusual cut of the upper fragment. This was probably done by an antiques dealer, auctioneer, or even the previous owner of the piece in order to increase its value and attractiveness. It was eventually decided at an unknown date to glue the fragments together in the original layout, which is how they now appear.

While Deir el-Bahri seems the most likely provenance for this artefact, further research is needed in order to confirm this and it may even be possible to one day determine the exact spot the fragments originated from.

Given the importance of the object, the head of Hatshepsut has now been placed on display in a prominent position within the House of Life at the Egypt Centre so that the relief can be appreciated by visitors to the Centre.

Dr Griffin said: “The Egypt Centre is a wonderful resource and is certainly one of the major factors in attracting students to study Egyptology at Swansea University.”

“The identification of the object as depicting Hatshepsut caused great excitement amongst the students. After all, it was only through conducting handling sessions for them that this discovery came to light.”

“While most of the students have never visited Egypt before, the handling sessions help to bring Egypt to them.”

Scientists Discover Hidden Chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Scientists say they have found a hidden chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, in what would be the first such discovery in the structure since the 19th century and one likely to spark a new surge of interest in the pharaohs.

In an article published in the journal Nature on Thursday, an international team said the 30-meter void deep within the pyramid is situated above the structure’s Grand Gallery, and has a similar cross-section.

The purpose of the space is unclear, and it’s not yet known whether it was built with a function in mind or if it’s merely a gap in the pyramid’s architecture. Some experts say such empty spaces have been known for years.

“This is a premier,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyramids project and president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute. “It could be composed of one or several structures… maybe it could be another Grand Gallery. It could be a chamber, it could be a lot of things.”

The scientists made the discovery using cosmic-ray imaging, recording the behavior of subatomic particles called muons that penetrate the rock similar to X-rays, only much deeper. Their paper was peer-reviewed before appearing in Nature, an international, interdisciplinary journal of science, and its results confirmed by other teams of scientists.

Chances of the space containing treasure or burial chambers are almost nil, said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, but the discovery helps shed light on building techniques.

“The pyramid’s burial chamber and sarcophagus have already been discovered, so this new area was more likely kept empty above the Grand Gallery to reduce the weight of stone pressing down on its ceiling,” he said, adding that similar designs have been found in other pyramids.

Egypt’s former antiquities minister and famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who has been testing scanning methods and heads the government’s oversight panel for the new techniques, said that the area in question has been known of for years and thus does not constitute a discovery. He has long downplayed the usefulness of scans of ancient sites.

“The Great Pyramid is full of voids. We have to be careful how results are presented to the public,” he said, adding that one problem facing the international team is that it did not have an Egyptologist as a member. He said the chamber was likely empty space builders used to construct the rooms below.

“In order to construct the Grand Gallery, you had to have a hollow, or a big void in order to access it—you cannot build it without such a space,” he said. “Large voids exist between the stones and may have been left as construction gaps.”

The pyramid is also known as Khufu’s Pyramid for its builder, a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C. Visitors to the pyramid, on the outskirts of Cairo, can walk, hunched over, up a long tunnel to reach the Grand Gallery. The space announced by the scanning team does not appear to be connected to any known internal passages.

Scientists involved in the scanning called the find a “breakthrough” that highlighted the usefulness of modern particle physics in archaeology.

“It was hidden, I think, since the construction of the pyramid,” Tayoubi added.

The Great Pyramid, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, has captivated visitors since it was built as a royal burial chamber some 4,500 years ago. Experts are still divided over how it and other pyramids were constructed, so even relatively minor discoveries generate great interest.

Late last year, thermal scanning identified a major anomaly in the Great Pyramid with three adjacent stones at its base which registered higher temperatures than others.

Speculation that King Tutankhamun’s tomb contains additional antechambers stoked interest in recent years, before scans by ground-penetrating radar and other tools came up empty, raising doubts about the claim.

The muon scan is accomplished by planting special plates inside and around the pyramid to collect data on the particles, which rain down from the earth’s atmosphere. They pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces, allowing scientists to study their trajectories and discern what is stone and what is not. Several plates were used to triangulate the void discovered in the Great Pyramid.

While the technology can detect large open spaces, it cannot discern what is inside, so it’s unclear if the empty space contains any objects. Tayoubi said the team plans now to work with others to come up with hypotheses about the area.

“The good news is that the void is there, and it’s very big,” he said.

How Neanderthals Influenced Human Genetics at the Crossroads

When the ancestors of modern humans migrated out of Africa, they passed through the Middle East and Turkey before heading deeper into Asia and Europe.

Here, at this important crossroads, it’s thought that they encountered and had sexual rendezvous with a different hominid species: the Neanderthals. Genomic evidence shows that this ancient interbreeding occurred, and Western Asia is the most likely spot where it happened.

A new study explores the legacy of these interspecies trysts, with a focus on Western Asia, where the first relations may have occurred. The research, published on Oct. 13 in Genome Biology and Evolution, analyzes the genetic material of people living in the region today, identifying DNA sequences inherited from Neanderthals.

“As far as human history goes, this area was the stepping stone for the peopling of all of Eurasia,” says Omer Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “This is where humans first settled when they left Africa. It may be where they first met Neanderthals. From the standpoint of genetics, it’s a very interesting region.”

The study focused on Western Asia. As part of the project, scientists analyzed 16 genomes belonging to people of Turkish descent.

“Within these genomes, the areas where we see relatively common Neanderthal introgression are in genes related to metabolism and immune system responses,” says Recep Ozgur Taskent, the study’s first author and a UB PhD candidate in biological sciences. “Broadly speaking, these are functions that can have an impact on health.”

For example, one DNA sequence that originated from Neanderthals includes a genetic variant linked to celiac disease. Another includes a variant tied to a lowered risk for malaria.

The bottom line? The relations that our ancestors had with Neanderthals tens of thousands of years ago may continue to exert an influence on our well-being today, Gokcumen says.

He led the study with Taskent and Mehmet Somel, PhD, from the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. Co-authors included Nursen Duha Alioglu and Evrim Fer from the Middle East Technical University, and Handan Melike Donertas from the Middle East Technical University and European Bioinformatics Institute.

Early contact with Neanderthals, but relatively little Neanderthal DNA

In addition to exploring the specific functions of genetic material that the Turkish population inherited from Neanderthals, the study also examined the Neanderthals’ influence on human populations in Western Asia more broadly.

The region is thought to be where modern humans first interbred with their Neanderthal kin. And yet, research has shown that people living in this area today have relatively little Neanderthal DNA compared to people in other parts of the world.

The new study supports this finding. The research team analyzed genomic data from dozens of Western Asian individuals, and observed that, on average, with a few exceptions, these populations carry less Neanderthal DNA than Europeans, Central Asians and East Asians.

The differences in Neanderthal ancestry between Western Asian and other populations may be due to the region’s unique position in human history, Taskent says.

Tens of thousands of years ago, when modern humans first left Africa to populate the rest of the world, Western Asia was the first stopping point — the only land-based route for accessing the rest of Eurasia.

People who live in Europe, Central Asia and East Asia today may be descended from human populations that treated Western Asia as a waystation: These human populations lived there temporarily, mating with the region’s Neanderthals before moving on to other destinations.

In contrast, the ancestors of present-day Western Asians had a deeper connection to the region: They settled in Western Asia instead of just passing through. These ancient humans had contact with Neanderthals, too, but two factors may have diluted the Neanderthals’ influence.

The first was a constant influx of genetic material from ancient Africans, who had no Neanderthal DNA and who continued to pass through Western Asia for thousands of years as human societies grew in Europe and Asia. The second was the hypothesized presence of a “basal Eurasian” population — a population of Western Asians that never interbred with Neanderthals.

“Both of these factors may have helped to limit the amount of Neanderthal DNA that was retained by human populations in the region,” Taskent says.

In Egypt, Archaeologists Find Part Of 4,000-Year-Old Statue

Egypt says archaeologists have discovered the head of a wooden statue, likely belonging to a female regent who ruled the country more than 4,000 years ago.

Wednesday’s statement by the Antiquities Ministry says the artifact was found in the district of Saqqara, near the ancient Pyramids of Giza. It says the part of the statue is in poor condition and will have to undergo restoration

The uncovered head is believed to depict Ankhesenpepi II, the mother of King Pepi II of the 6th dynasty who ascended to the throne at the age of six. She ruled Egypt as regent during the early years of his reign.

Earlier in October, archaeologists at the same dig uncovered part of an obelisk made of pink granite that belongs to the same dynasty.

1,000 Year Old Petroglyph of Solar Eclipse Found at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Researchers believe they have discovered a rock carving in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon that represents a total eclipse that occurred more than 900 years ago. The engraving, known as a petroglyph, shows a circle with curved, intricate swirling emissions issuing from it. Around the circle, believed to depict the Sun, human figures can be seen in different positions and engaged in different activities.

University of Colorado Boulder Professor J. McKim Malville has said the circle shown in the rock art represents the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as its corona, with the tangled, looped protrusions on its edges dating it to a total eclipse that occurred in the region on July 11, 1097.

Malville made the observation Wednesday to mark the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21 that will be visible across a large swathe of the U.S.

“To me it looks like a circular feature with curved tangles and structures,” Malville said. “If one looks at a drawing by a German astronomer of the 1860 total solar eclipse during high solar activity, rays and loops similar to those depicted in the Chaco petroglyph are visible.”

Malville, who is attached to Boulder’s astrophysical and planetary sciences department, and José Vaquero of the University of Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain were able to date the carving on the basis of the loops that they believed to be a coronal mass ejections (CME). These CMEs are eruptions that can blow billions of tons of plasma from the Sun at several million miles per hour during active solar periods.

“It turns out the Sun was in a period of very high solar activity at that time, consistent with an active corona and CMEs,” the pair said in their 2014 paper on the rock art in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry.

The two used several sources to assess the activity of the Sun around the time of the 1097 eclipse. The data they gathered included information ancient tree rings from which they could detect the activity of cosmic rays. They also used records of naked-eye observations of sunspots, which go back several thousand years in China. A third method involved looking at historical data compiled by northern Europeans on the annual number of so-called “auroral nights,” when the northern lights were visible, an indication of intense solar activity.

The free-standing rock hosting the possible eclipse petroglyph, known as Piedra del Sol, also has a large spiral petroglyph on its east side that marks Sunrise 15 to 17 days before the June solstice. A triangular shadow cast by a large rock on the horizon crosses the center of the spiral at that time. It may have been used to start a countdown to the summer solstice and related festivities.

The rock carving was first discovered in 1992 by Malville and then-Fort Lewis Professor James Judge and was carved by early Pueblo people. Chaco Canyon, a centre of Pueblo culture in the Southwest a thousand years ago, is believed by archeologists to have been populated by several thousand people and held political sway over an area twice the size of Ohio.

The Ancient Indus Civilization in India Adaptation to Climate Change

New research methods and technologies are able to shed light on climate patterns that took place thousands of years ago, giving us a new perspective on how cultures of the time coped with variable and changing environments.

A new article in the February issue of Current Anthropology explores the dynamics of adaptation and resilience in the face of a diverse and varied environmental context, using the case study of South Asia’s Indus Civilization (c.3000-1300 BC). Integrating research carried out as part of the Land, Water and Settlement project—part of an ongoing collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Banaras Hindu University—that worked in northwest India between 2007 and 2014, the article looks at how Indus populations in north-west India interacted with their environment, and considers how that environment changed during periods of climate change.

Lead author, Dr. Cameron Petrie of the Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge notes that “for most ancient complex societies, water was a critical factor, and the availability of water and the way that it was managed and used provide critical insight into human adaptation and the resilience of subsistence practices”.

Most early complex societies developed in regions where the climatic parameters faced by ancient subsistence farmers were varied, but not especially diverse. The Indus Civilization developed in a specific environmental context, where the winter and summer rainfall systems overlapped. There is now evidence to show that this region was subject to climate change during the period when the Indus Civilization was at its height (c.2500-1900 BC). The Indus Civilization therefore provides a unique opportunity to understand how an ancient society coped with diverse and varied ecologies and change in the fundamental and underlying environmental parameters.

In the early Holocene, the Indus Civilization was situated in proximity to Kotla Dahar, a deep lake, implying regular and consistent rainfall input to offset evaporation, which given its location, would have been primarily monsoonal. The lake showed evidence for two dramatic decreases in monsoon rainfall and a progressive lowering of the lake level. The second of these shows Kotla Dahar becoming completely ephemeral ca. 2200-2000 BC as a result of an abrupt weakening of the monsoon, and the weakening of the monsoon is visible in speleothem records in Oman and northeast India. The proximity of the Kotla Dahar record to the area occupied by Indus populations shows that climate must be formally considered as a contributing parameter in the process of Indus deurbanization, at least in the context of the plains of northwest India.

It has long been hypothesized that there was variation in the subsistence practices used by Indus populations and this fits with the theme of coping with diverse environments. Petrie comments that “we argue that rather than being forced to intensify or diversify subsistence practices in response to climatic change, we have evidence for the use of millet, rice, and tropical pulses in the pre-urban and urban phases of the Indus Civilization. This evidence suggests that local Indus populations were already well adapted to living in varied and variable environmental conditions before the development of urban centers. It is also possible that these adaptations were beneficial when these populations were faced with changes to the local environment that were probably beyond the range of variation that they typically encountered”.