DNA tests may answer Machu Picchu questions

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Machu Picchu is a traveler’s dream destination. Standing 8,000 feet above sea level, the ancient Incan monument is one of Peru’s most beautiful locations. However, although archeologists estimate it was built in the 15th century, they have no idea what Machu Picchu was intended to be—palace, temple, settlement, resting plot for the dead?

The building, which goes up the side of a mountain, is a technical marvel because the huge stones used to build Machu Picchu are fitted together without mortar, yet you cannot fit a piece of paper between the blocks. There are also steeped terraces that not only provided spaces for planting but also guarded against flooding.

Using ancient DNA gathered from 170 individuals who are buried at the Peruvian site, Dr. Brenda Bradley, associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University, and a team of researchers have been analyzing the genomes of the skeletal remains to try to understand who the residents were and from where they came. Back in 1911, Hiram Bingham studied the “lost city of the Incas,” (so-called because the Incans abandoned the site in the 16th century). He dug up many bones and relics, which were housed at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven until 2012. They were then moved to the Peru-Yale University International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture. Before the bones were transferred Dr. Bradley and her team got a chance to get DNA samples.

Dr. Bradley plans to use the latest methods to sequence the DNA samples.

Machu Picchu

“With ancient human DNA, you always have to worry about contamination,” Dr. Bradley said to  the website Phys.Org. “If you replicate the experiment in a different lab with different researchers, and you find the same results, that is the gold standard.”

Most researchers believe the giant building was a royal retreat, a Camp David of sorts for visiting dignitaries and guests. This is where Emperor Pachacuti would have held court for meetings. Archeologists say the building shows that people were often crafts specialists brought in from other areas of the empire.

The genetic analysis will look at what the relationship were between the people there, and whether they were of the same ancestral lineal

“One thing that makes Machu Picchu so interesting is the idea that actually the population buried there doesn’t reflect just a local population,” Dr. Lars Fehren-Schmitz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, told Phys.org.

Machu Picchu was a pre-Spanish conquest building and shows the amazing abilities of the Incans, who did not rely on European methods of building.

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