By studying the genetics of modern-day descendants from the ancient Inca nobility, researchers have been able to piece together the origin of the Inca Empire.
While today we use the term Inca to refer to all people who were ruled under the empire – from southern Colombia to central Chile – in its strictest sense it actually refers to just the ruling class at the time, who numbered perhaps as many as 40,000 people out of the entire 10 million. In the native language of Quechua, the empire is known as Tawantinsuyu.
Despite their clear prowess in conquering and ruling such an enormous area, and by many accounts it was the largest empire anywhere in the world during the 16th century, they amazingly lacked a system of writing. This means that while we have a whole wealth of architecture and cultural artifacts to study, piecing together the history of the Inca and the people they ruled is a little trickier.
There are two foundation myths about the origin of the Inca, passed down for generations. The first tells of how Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the children of the Sun God, came to found the Inca Empire in Cusco valley after traveling over 500 kilometers (311 miles) from Lake Titicaca. The second talks of how the four Ayar brothers, along with four sisters, emerged from a cave in the Paccarictambo hills 50 kilometers (32 miles) south of Cusco with only one brother, Manco, making it to the valley.
The researchers wanted to use genetics to try and tease out whether there is any truth in either of these origin stories. “A unique patrilineal cluster would be expected in the first case. In the second case, two or more patrilineal patterns will be evident,” said geneticist Ricardo Fujita, co-author of this latest research published in Molecular Genetics and Genomics.