The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

A Palaeogenetic Investigation into the pre-Columbian Population History of Central Andean South America


1Department of Zoology and Anthropology, Georg-August-University Goettingen, 2Department of Anthropology, Yale University, 3Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, 4School of Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Flinders University, 5Departmento de Humanidades, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 6Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois, Chicago, 7Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri, Columbia

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The population history of Central Andean South America has been largely inferred from the genetic analysis of present-day indigenous populations. However, genetic information about the genetic structure and population dispersals throughout the pre-Columbian period are likely to be obscured by recent historical demographic events, such as admixture and bottlenecks after the arrival of Europeans. Ancient DNA studies can give accurate estimates of pre-Columbian population history in real-time, although to date the number of such studies is low and as a result the temporal and geographic representation remains uneven.

Here, we present a study investigating changes in the patterns of genetic diversity by analyzing mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from human skeletal remains from several archaeological sites in the Central Andean area and contrasting them with episodes of cultural and environmental change. The dates of the sites range from the Archaic Period to the Late Horizon to allow for a diachronic analysis. Data is compared using a range of population genetics and demographic modeling approaches.

Our analyses show that population discontinuities coincide with episodes of cultural and environmental change in the Central Andean prehistory. Moreover, while populations from different geographic regions seem genetically distinct during early periods, we observe a process of homogenization in the Central Andes starting with the advent of the first Highland Empires in the Middle Horizon.

This study also highlights the limits of PCR-based ancient DNA analyses and the necessity to analyze genomic data employing Next Generation Sequencing technologies to further decipher the population history of South America.

This research is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, Grant Number: FE1161/1-1)

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