Mummies in the Americas Belong to a Vanished Civilization

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 4, 2016 5:06 pm
12336665294_115e30645a_b

The remains of a young girl called “La Doncella” who was discovered frozen in the Andes, likely sacrificed. Her DNA was among the samples used in the study. (Credit: Pedro Groover/Flickr)

In a comprehensive study, researchers have mapped the spread of indigenous settlers throughout the Americas, from their first steps off of the Bering Land Bridge some 16,000 years ago to their sudden disappearance in the 15th century. That’s when Spanish and Portuguese explorers all but wiped them from the face of the Earth.

Drawing the Map

To accomplish their task, researchers from the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide enlisted the help of 92 mummies and skeletons ranging in age from 500 to 8,600 years old. By sequencing mitochondrial DNA from these specimens, the researchers were able to construct a rough timeline of population dispersion in the Americas. They found that a small group of indigenous settlers first reached the continent from Siberia and moved down the Pacific Coast around the year 14,000 B.C. These groups spread throughout the Americas relatively quickly, the researchers say, reaching the southern part of Chile roughly 1,500 years after they entered what is now Alaska.

Using a computer model, the scientists traced back differences in the mummies’ DNA to see where various mutations occurred. If a mutation stayed around for a long time, they could assume that particular specimen belonged to a distinct group, where interbreeding would not cause it to disappear. Compiling a list of these unique mutations and cross-referencing with geographic information gave them a rough idea when and where various populations split off. The team published their research Friday in the journal Science Advances.

Because the original group of inhabitants was so small, the scientists started off with a relatively limited gene pool, making it easy to track subsequent mutations. Additionally, working with a large sample of specimens allowed them to track populations over a period of thousands of years.

Entire Civilization Destroyed

The indigenous people would go on to become great civilizations like the Aztecs, Inca and Maya, as well as countless other small tribes. The arrival of the first European explorers, however, brought new diseases such as smallpox, typhus and the flu, which they had never been exposed to. After the epidemics had finished their deadly rampage, the number of indigenous people was reduced to a mere handful. Those who survived were quickly absorbed into European bloodlines.

The drastic decline of indigenous populations following the arrival of the conquistadores was well documented, but never empirically proven. Now, peering back in time with the help of genetics and statistics, the researchers were able to definitively show the unprecedented decimation in South and Central America.

It didn’t take much detail to identify the sudden disappearance of almost all genetic lineages in the 1400s, however. The native people had been separated from Europeans for thousands of years, producing marked changes in their DNA. The sudden switch was immediately noticeable. The researchers compared the DNA of indigenous people today to that of the ancient mummies and found no evidence that the two populations were related. They did not analyze DNA from Native Americans in North America, however, who were largely unaffected by European settlers at that time.

“Surprisingly, none of the genetic lineages we found in almost 100 ancient humans were present, or showed evidence of descendants, in today’s indigenous populations,” says joint lead author Dr Bastien Llamas, Senior Research Associate with ACAD, in a press release.

In other words, the populations of South and Central America were essentially destroyed and replaced around 600 years ago.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
ADVERTISEMENT
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    great civilizations like the Aztecs, Inca and Maya” Ah, fellas – two wheels on a shaft as vehicles and lathes, ferrous metallurgy…the good sense to kill Spanish psychotic invaders and their butterball priests on sight. A great civilization knows when somebody is reaching out to touch them, then effectively touches back. 30 million indigenes were killed by their manners and religion. The first Roosevelt sacrificed others, the second sacrificed America. Teddy good enough, Franklin very bad. America is now sliding down the razor blade of destiny.

    (Give them credit for indigo intercalcated within palygorskite clay. Europe did not manufacture a decent deep blue pigment until the mid-1800s. Even then, ultramarine polysulfur radical anions in Zeolite A are quickly destroyed by acid and sunshine.)

    • glasper9

      Wrong. While I accept Cortez was nothing more than a pirate, he immediately picked up allies among the nations the Aztec empire had genocided, such as the Tlaxcalans. The Aztec civilisation had one of the worst human rights record in history. At the reconsecration of the main temple at Tenochtitlan in 1487, 20,000 captives were slaughted. Subject nations of the Aztecs were plundered for slaves and sacrificial victims at a frightening rate. Huge numbers of Indians opposed the Aztec empire and viewed the coming of the Europeans with relief.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        Huge numbers of Indians opposed the Aztec empire and viewed the coming of the Europeans with relief.” I don’t argue with that, I simply ask “how did that work out for them?” The singular human mandate is: “REPRODUCE” Anybody who pauses for quality will be smothered in hostile flesh. v=FzbWXgM0ygU

        Civilization creates population beyond economic berths. Women die in childbirth. Testosterone-fired males gather to seize their own destiny. Cures include huge infantry engagements to mere slaughter, vast famines, concentration camps, prisons.

        The US’ kinder gentler approach, echoed in the Middle East, is to gorge dissident elements with value and give the achieving ones Potemkin village jobs. Add drugs and absence of law enforcement. This obtains Al Qaeda through IS/ISIL/ISIS, Inner Cities, and Corruptions of Colour White House and downward.

        Earth is hugely overpopulated. As with past Vanished Civilizations, the plural of “laughter” is always “slaughter,” plus some bunting, medals, and promises of advancement in this life and whatever (and perhaps an occasional decorative mummy).

        • Chuquicamata

          The funny thing is that you don’t know who reproduced successfully before you do the counting, or, in other words,

          “the evolutionary fitness of the Coelacanth has been dismal for at least 300 million years now”

      • Radical Republican

        A bit of misinformation there buddy. The Aztecs/Mexica were imperialists but the opposing tribes weren’t welcoming the Europeans with open arms as saviors. They wanted to be left alone by the Aztecs and Europeans. The diseases that the Europeans brought started to kill these opposing tribes to a point they couldn’t fight them off anymore. So as a result, they then were forced to “ally” with them and fight off the Aztecs.

  • John M

    What this article failed to mention is the biological warfare that took place. Europeans gave indigenous people ‘smallpox blankets’ as gifts. It’s not far off from the BS wars we’re engaged in throughout the Middle East, or the regime change we engage in throughout South America. Hillary Clinton was part of the plot to overthrow the democratically elected leader in Honduras, which resulted in 1000s of murdered protesters. Our legacy is one of rapacious colonialism and imperialism.

    • glasper9

      It didn’t mention it because there is no evidence of biological warfare. The “handing out smallpox blankets” are not sourced to any credible source. In fact the introduced diseases such as smallpox raced far ahead of Europeans and became pandemics when Europeans stil had nothing more than a foothold on the continent.

    • dazy Juno

      There’s only one example of smallpox-laden blankets being given to a single population who were holed up in a fort (Siege of Fort Pitt) to wipe them out merely being discussed by a general at the time. No evidence exists of widespread biological warfare being used against Native Americans. And please explain how anything like this is going on in the Middle-East?

      • John M

        There are a number of online sources discussing smallpox blankets and you’re right, the evidence is conflicting. Regarding the Middle East, I am simply saying that our nation’s policy of imperialism, driven by corporate greed has always haunted us. The vanished civilization mentioned in this article is just one example of imperial genocide. We’re in the Middle East so that we can spend tax dollars on weapons for both sides (e.g., the Pentagon supplied weapons to guys who are fighting a group with weapons supplied by the CIA) and enrich the people behind the Military Industrial Complex, all while we take their oil, or get them to put it on the market for petrodollars.

      • Erich Sutton

        dazy Juno,your naivete’ is pretentious……there are plenty of politically motivated liars that will deny complicity in criminally and morally deviant behavior. The U.S. Government steadfastly denied the use of white phosphorus munitions in Falluja Iraq over and over until enough indignation produced adequate evidence to the contrary. The American Government deliberately employed weapons outlawed by the Geneva Convention and horribly burned thousands of women and children to death and the Pentagon was quite comfortable lying about it. That’s just for starters, the very fact that we attacked a country that never attacked us and never had the ability to even if they had wanted to (which they did not) puts your attempt at psychological manipulation by insinuating our noble innocence to rout. There are volumes out there documenting past U.S. applications of immoral and illegal tactics against our chosen “enemy of the month” don’t act like a goody two shoes sap, people are awakening to our transgressions, such as torturing people to death to preserve democracy, now there’s an oxymoron for you! Western science is not an island, it is all paid for and directed by politically motivated factions and is therefore corruptible and unreliable. How many years were people told cigarette smoking was actually good for one? It goes much deeper than this, wake up!

    • Erich Sutton

      That is part of the questionability of DNA ‘science’, read my comment above. There are so many variability’s involved every so called ‘fact’ or discovery attributed to the application of this technology should be challenged and examined closely. Science and scientist have been proven wrong on many occasions throughout modern history, any discipline is only as reliable as its practitioners and their beliefs which ultimately influence their interpretations of data.

  • Chuquicamata

    Empirically this is not true. You can even distinguish between, for example, Chilean, Bolivian, Mexican and United States “Indios”, they look slightly different. So, some survived.

    • alldayevrryday

      I think you misunderstood the article. These specific Native people and their kin are completely decimated and destroyed. There are no more of this branch of Native people.

  • David Nassau

    That’s not possible. You only have to look at the people of the Andes to know that they are not Europeans. I think the writer missed something.

    • glasper9

      I agree. If genetic studies can trace markers in Ashkenazi jews, who have interbred with non-Jewish, non-semitic Europeans for long enough to be physicially indistinguishable to them, then it should be possible to find markers in todays Mixtec population to ancient Mixtec, for example. I don’t buy this study. Moreover, we have extensive evidence that the “indigenous” cultures and people continued until the present day.

      (Of course virtually no “indigenous” culture of the Americas is actually indigenous, nearly all peoples “displaced” some group of peoples that preceeded them.)

      • Chuquicamata

        Many tribes didn’t mummify their dead at all. So if this study is correct, it could show that those who did, didn’t survive. For example, in the moist regions of Patagonia or the Amazon, mummies wouldn’t last very long anyway. There is also a chance that the more exposed cultures like the Inca were extinguished faster than more remote ones, who knows.

      • anthro101

        I think it is simply stating that some groups were significantly different than other indigenous groups of the time, but ultimately left no genetic lineage to oth er surviving indegenouse groups. It’s not saying indegenouse cultures and people haven’t continued to this day.

        They were able to distinguish different groups by common mutations. So for example an indigenous group, let’s call it group A, may have dispersed into to group A1 and A2 and those two groups lived I relative isolation that certain mutations became present and we’re unique to each I dividual group. Group A1 survived the Conquistadors but group A2 did not. Group A1 could have then had other mutations and mixing with European bloodlines to become group A3 and so forth. Each subsequent lineage can be traced to the original group A, but group A2 completely died out not leaving any trace of their unique genetic lineage.

    • paul2081

      The Mestizos (mixed blood) live in Lima, the indigenous Inca’s live in the countryside as farmers. 2 large groups in Peru few in Chile..

    • anthro101

      It’s simply saying that some indegenouse groups did not survive to modern time. Of course people from the Andes and Europeans do not look the same. Nevertheless majority of indegenouse groups did get absorbed, it isn’t to say that some small groups were not left intact, but at this point very few groups are pure indigenous. Read the book 1491 great book

      • Radical Republican

        Exactly, since they didn’t test North American tribes I wonder if there are any pure bloods out there left. There has to be a couple at least. But eventually, I am guessing there will be none left.

      • jim jim

        I am still waiting for the outrage for the Neanderthal Peoples who where wiped out in Europe. Or is that different because this issue makes free money today?

      • Erich Sutton

        1491 is an excellent book, I agree, I read it cover to cover in two days, couldn’t put it down. There is however much more being implied by this article than meets the eye of most readers, David Nassau raises a very important point, that the writer glosses over the very political nature of his declarative piece of propaganda. This article is meant to sound as if it is the authoritive conclusion on world racial distribution, that this is the whole issue wrapped up in a nut shell, which it is not. Please read differing points of view above and below. Thank you.

    • Erich Sutton

      You are correct, he missed a lot! Your instincts are correct in challenging this zealous statement/story regarding racial linages and the invincibility of DNA ‘science’ ! Please read my statements above and below in regards to this propaganda. Thank you.

  • zbecktx

    Am I the only one troubled by Discover showing a dead woman’s body online for entertainment? I understand she’s thousands of years deceased, but if you didn’t know that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell just by the photo. It seems disrespectful, especially considering she was “likely sacrificed” i.e., murdered. I can understand the value to society of the scientific inquiry; but I don’t see how featuring a photo of her hunched body furthers the research. This was someone’s daughter, a long, long time ago. She’s deserving of basic human respect and decency, especially now, if we are to consider ourselves more “civilized” than the people who killed her.

    • tazbuckfaster

      It’s a mummified corpse, you muppet.

      • zbecktx

        How old does a mummified corpse have to be for me to display a picture of it online? You wouldn’t mind if I dug up your grandparents during a “scientific expedition?”

    • Mike Hill

      It’s not entertainment, it’s education.

    • OWilson

      A cry in the wilderness of a coarsened culture.

      If it were an early African American interment, or a North American Indian the response would be a little different.

      You just have to learn more about this “political correctness”, is all :)

      (Thanks to the moderator for the edit)

  • IApiskie

    It would be interesting to see someone do a study someday to see if any Native American genes show up in Europe, particularly in Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula. I have been surprised at how many Native Americans there were that we know of who were taken captive and brought to those areas, often in an attempt to sell them there as slaves. Many of them were taken even before the Pilgrims arrived in North America.

  • Carlos sehhk

    really what about indigenous people in the Amazon, Andes, and Central America that outnumbered and isolated themselves from the Europeans that we’re settling the entire north and south american contients

  • R.V. Gad

    The targeted sample pool was intestinally limited to an ancient group that practiced the t6ype of burial that created mummies, which is to see that this group did not survive to the present time, while not investigating any other group or region. the entire theory and this article story is full of holes that can’t be characterized as definitive except to say the mummies are from a single tribe that isn’t known to exist today.

  • Erich Sutton

    The academic assuredness regarding genealogies and racial lineages is overblown at best. These kind of public proclamations must be taken with reservation. DNA technology is a relatively recent science with many accomplishments such as sending many innocent people to prison and quite probably some to unjust deaths. DNA forensics is far from infallible and is heavily influenced by political bias. Science has its true believers as fanatics infiltrate all so called disciplines and religious/political systems. Until political and religious influence is completely removed from DNA ‘science’ it is wide open to question, there is no such thing as an exact science!

  • http://nytimes.com/ manny

    How tragic and shameful are conquest . Really a damn shame.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

D-brief

Briefing you on the must-know news and trending topics in science and technology today.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+