Mummified boy’s DNA unveils new but ancient maternal lineage

500-year-old mummified Incan boy

MUMMY’S MOMMIES  A mitochondrial genome extracted from the lung (inset) of this mummified Incan boy indicates that he belonged to a previously unknown line of maternal ancestors that arose in South America approximately 14,300 years ago.

Gόmez-Carballa et al./ Scientific Reports 2015 

DNA from an Incan boy’s mummified body indicates he came from a previously unknown line of maternal ancestors that originated about 14,300 years ago in Peru.

A group led by geneticist Antonio Salas of Universidade de Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, deciphered the mitochondrial genome of the ritually sacrificed child, who lived about 500 years ago during the Inca’s heyday. Mitochondrial DNA is almost always inherited from the mother.

Salas and his colleagues probed DNA from the Incan mummy and from modern populations, looking for sets of variations that tend to be inherited together. The analysis revealed that the ancient boy belonged to a maternal line also found among a few living Peruvians and Bolivians, as well as in a member of Peru’s Wari empire, Salas and his colleagues report November 12 in Scientific Reports. Wari society flourished between 600 and 1000.

Bruce Bower

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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