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Ancient DNA reveals diverse community in Inca Empire

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A recent study published in Science Advances, has used ancient DNA to uncover the origins of workers who were buried more than 500 years ago within the Inca Empire, specifically at the site of Machu Picchu.

Led by Jason Nesbitt, an associate professor of archaeology at Tulane University School of Liberal Arts, the researchers conducted genetic testing on individuals interred at Machu Picchu to gain deeper insights into the lives and identities of its inhabitants.

Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Cusco region of Peru once served as a royal estate for the Inca Empire. Machu Picchu also hosted elite members of Inca society and their attendants and workers, many of whom resided within the estate throughout the year.

Contrary to assumptions, this study, bolstered by DNA evidence, has finally confirmed the diverse backgrounds of these residents. As Nesbitt puts it, the findings provide crucial insights into the lives of the “retainer population” and are a window into the world of lower-status individuals rather than just focusing on elites and royalty.

The DNA analysis conducted in this study operates similarly to contemporary genetic ancestry kits. By comparing the DNA of 34 individuals buried at Machu Picchu with that of people from various regions within the Inca Empire and some modern genomes from South America, the researchers aimed to determine the level of genetic relatedness among them.

The results of the DNA analysis unveiled that these individuals hailed from different parts of the Inca Empire, with some originating from as far as Amazonia. Interestingly, there was minimal shared DNA among them, suggesting that they were brought to Machu Picchu individually, rather than being part of familial or community groups. This finding provides valuable insights into the diverse origins of the people who once inhabited this extraordinary site.

According to Nesbitt: “Now, of course, genetics doesn’t translate into ethnicity or anything like that,” said Nesbitt of the results, “but that shows that they have distinct origins within different parts of the Inca Empire. The study does really reinforce a lot of other types of research that have been done at Machu Picchu and other Inca sites.”

The DNA analysis supports historical documentation and archaeological studies of the artifacts found associated with the burials.

This study is part of a larger movement in archaeology to combine traditional archaeological techniques with new technologies and scientific analyses. This combination of fields leads to a more complete understanding of the discoveries made.

Tulane University

https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adg3377

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Inside the tomb of the First Emperor

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The tomb of the First Emperor, also known as the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, is the burial complex and mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the founder of the Qin Dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China.

According to the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian (a historian from the Han period), Qin Shi Huang was born in 259 BC in Handan, the capital of Zhao.

He was given the name of Ying Zheng or Zhao Zheng – Zheng being his month of birth “Zhengyue”, the first month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

Around 246 – 247 BC, the 13-year-old Ying Zheng succeeded his father to the throne of Qin and reigned for 36 years as Qin Shi Huang until his death in 210 BC.

Qin Shi Huang’s reign brought about the unification of China and an end to the Warring States period in 221 BC. He constructed a series of walls to connect fortifications along the empire’s northern frontier (the precursor to the Great Wall of China) and built a national road system and the Lingqu Canal.

Although some historians see Qin Shi Huang’s rule as one of tyranny, he did enact several major economic and political reforms to standardise the Chinese states incorporated into his Empire and worked to completely abolish the feudal system of loose alliances and federations.

During his life, Qin Shi Huang became obsessed with immortality and sought the elixir of life. He sent ships in search of Penglai mountain on an inhabited island, where an ancient magician known as Anqi Sheng was said to reside. Qin mythology believed that immortals resided on the mountain and knew the secret to everlasting life.

It was this obsession with immortality that would be Qin Shi Huang’s downfall, as many historians propose that he died from prolonged poisoning due to regular consumption of an elixir containing mercury. Mercury exposure would undoubtedly cause a decline in function of the central nervous system and result in severe brain and liver damage.

Qin Shi Huang was buried in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, a large complex commissioned when he first became emperor. The mausoleum is located in present-day Lintong District in the city of Xi’an, and was constructed over 38 years using 700,000 workmen (based on historical text).

The structure of the mausoleum is situated beneath a 76-metre-tall hillock (mound) shaped like a truncated pyramid, however, due to soil erosion the pyramid now stands at 47 metres tall. The base of the pyramid measures 515 x 485 metres and covers an area of just under one square mile.

Excavations around the complex have discovered around 7,000 (estimates suggest up to 8,000) statues of terracotta warriors, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians, and around 100 wooden battle chariots placed to serve the emperor in his afterlife.

Archaeologists have steered clear of excavating the tomb beneath the hillock due to concerns of the irreparable damage that would be caused to the structure, and the accelerated degradation of the tomb contents when exposed to contaminants such as air pollutants, temperature oscillations, changes in humidity, bacteria and fungus.

This is evidenced with the terracotta warriors, as when they were first excavated, the painted surface present on some examples began to flake and fade within seconds of exposure to the dry air of Xi’an’s climate.

What is known about the tomb interior comes again from the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian, who describes how workmen constructed palaces and scenic towers for a hundred officials within the interior of the hillock. They poured bronze to cast the emperors outer coffin and filled the tomb with rare artefacts and treasures from across China.

Using non-invasive techniques such as geo radar and gravimetre investigations, archaeologists have determined that the “palace” measures 140 × 110 × 30 m3, while the central coffin chamber measures 80 × 50 × 15 m3.

Most interestingly, is Sima Qian’s account of Mercury being used in the tomb to simulate the hundred rivers, the Yangtze, Yellow River, and the great sea, which sat below a representation of the heavenly constellations.

In 2016, a study using lidar mapping was conducted around the mausoleum to detect traces of mercury concentrations. The study found elevated concentrations up to 27 ng/m3, significantly higher than the typical general pollutant level in the area which was found to be around 5–10 ng/m3.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) continues to follow a process of research and evaluations to develop a protection plan before any long-term excavations can take place in the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

Header Image Credit : Alamy (Under Copyright)

Sources :

Zhao, G., Zhang, W., Duan, Z. et al. Mercury as a Geophysical Tracer Gas – Emissions from the Emperor Qin Tomb in Xi´an Studied by Laser Radar. Sci Rep 10, 10414 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-67305-x

An Integrated Geophysical and Archaeological Investigation of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum https://doi.org/10.2113/JEEG11.2.73

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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Megathrust earthquakes possible cause of Teōtīhuacān decline

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A new study, published in the journal Science Direct, suggests that a series of megathrust earthquakes led to the decline and possible abandonment of Teōtīhuacān.

Named by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs as Teōtīhuacān, and loosely translated as “birthplace of the gods”, Teōtīhuacān is an ancient Mesoamerican city located in the Teōtīhuacān Valley of the Free and Sovereign State of Mexico, in present-day Mexico.

The development of Teōtīhuacān can be identified by four distinct consecutive phases, known as Teōtīhuacān I, II, III, and IV.

It was during phase II (AD 100 to 350) that the city population rapidly grew into a metropolis and saw the construction of monuments such as the Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest ancient pyramid after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza), the Pyramid of the Moon, the Avenue of the Dead, and the Ciudadela with the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (also known as Temple of the Quetzalcoatl).

An analysis of several pyramids within the city has revealed evidence of Earthquake Archaeological Effects (EAEs), potentially linked to seismic loading. The study has focused on the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Old temple and New temple), and the Sun and the Moon pyramids, in which visible EAE’s can be observed.

According to the researchers, the EAE’s are likely caused by megathrust earthquakes, for which five destructive ancient earthquakes have been estimated to have struck Teōtīhuacān between the Tzacualli – Miccaotli (AD 100–150), and Metepec (AD 600 ± 50) stages, by matching EAEs and archaeological dates.

Based on the spatial pattern of the EAEs and the orientation of the dipping broken corners (DBC) or chip marks, it is theorised that a series of seismic shocks struct the city from the SW to the NE, indicating a possible origin of a seismic source in the Middle American Trench caused by repetitive megathrust earthquakes.

At least, two strong destructive earthquakes (Intensity VIII-IX) affected Teōtīhuacān in antiquity that impacted the development of the architectural styles. The first one occurred between the years AD 1–150 (Miccaotli phase), and the second one occurred in AD 455 ± 50 (Late Xolalpan-Early Metepec phase).

This was followed by three further damaging earthquakes, for which the latter two occurred around AD 650 before the abandonment of the city the following century.

“This proposal does not conflict with other existing theories for the Teotihuacan abrupt collapse, considering that the sudden overlapping of natural disasters like earthquakes could increase internal warfare (uprising), and civil unrest,” said the study authors.

Header Image Credit : Shutterstock

Sources : Science Direct | Teotihuacan ancient culture affected by megathrust earthquakes during the early Epiclassic Period (Mexico). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2024.104528.

This content was originally published on www.heritagedaily.com – © 2023 – HeritageDaily

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