Ancient Otomi Tracked By Their DNA
January 31, 2013

Ancient DNA Helps Anthropologists Understand Fate Of Otomi Inhabitants

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Researchers are using DNA to help uncover what happened to the original Otomi inhabitants of the capital of a pre-Aztec Mexican state.

Jaime Mata-Míguez, an anthropology graduate student and lead author of the study, and colleagues used ancient DNA sampling (aDNA) to track the biological whereabouts of the Otomi people following the establishment of the Xaltocan into the Aztec empire.

The team believes that some original Otomies may have fled the town and their departure could've led to the reorganization of the original residents within Xaltocan. This study helps pinpoint whether the Otomies assimilated with the Aztecs, or abandoned the town.

According to historical documents, residents of Xaltocan fled in 1395 AD, and in 1435 AD, the Aztec ruler sent people to resettle the site. Mata-Míguez told redOrbit in an email that war is what led the original Otomies to leave.

"According to colonial documents, the original Otomies left Xaltocan after losing a war against a neighboring polity in 1395," Mata-Míguez told redOrbit.

Archaeologists have recently found human remains from before and after the Aztec conquest at Xaltocan, giving Mata-Míguez and colleagues an opportunity to examine this transition.

The researchers sampled mitochondrial aDNA from 25 bodies that were recovered from patios outside houses in Xaltocan. During their study, they found that the pre-conquest maternal aDNA did not match those of the post-conquest era.

Results from the study are in line with the theory that the Aztec conquest of Xaltocan had a genetic impact on the town.

Mata-Míguez believes that long-distance trade, population movement and the reorganization of many conquered populations caused by Aztec imperialism may have helped cause similar genetic shifts in other regions in Mexico.

When asked about how the team's research could be used in other areas, Mata-Míguez said: "Similar approaches can be taken to investigate the impact of historical events, including imperial conquest, colonization, and migration."

Mata-Míguez told redOrbit in an email that the biggest thing to take away from this study is that "it illustrates how ancient DNA can be used to better understand the genetic effects of the Aztec expansion."

Their research helped unveil new information about changes in the size, composition, and structure of past populations, which helps anthropologist understand the impact of historical events. The particular case being studied is valuable to researchers because it provides insights into the effects of Aztec imperialism on Mesoamerican populations.