Evaluation of DNA preservation in human remains from Maucallacta site (Peru)

The Maucallacta is archeological site located in Arequipa Department in south-central Peru at 3,700 m a.s.l. This architectural complex consists of remains of over 200 stone buildings and tombs and present crucial settlements in Cuntisuyu, one of the four parts of the Inca Empire.  It was probably the main religious and administrative center related to the cult of Coropuna volcano, described as deity and an oracle in pre-Columbian times.

In the last 12 years, an intensive archeological investigations were performed on this location. It was found that buildings were either permanently inhabited or just during religious pilgrims. Some of them originated probably from the pre-Inca times such as the big ceremonial platform, uncommon in the Andes.  However, there were also characteristic elements of Inca sites like ushnu, stone platforms used in ceremonies and extremely large kallanka, narrow building providing accommodation for pilgrims who arrived to Maucallacta during religious festivals. Funeral structures were located in four main groups and were either tomba or chullpa graves. In the biggest grave, chullpa I, remains of the at least 50 individuals were excavated. Archeological evidence undoubtedly indicate that Maucallacta was place of great political, religious, economic and administrative significance.

In this project we will try to evaluate DNA preservation in bones and teeth excavated at this site. About 30 individuals from the three chullpas at the Maucallacta site will be analyzed. We will use state of the art in ancient DNA analyses, such as target enrichment and highthroughput sequencing on Illumina platforms. DNA will be extracted using the protocol which allow recovering of the small fragments of DNA (~60bp) and these extracts will be converted directly into the sequencing libraries. The percentage of endogenous DNA will be assessed by shallow shotgun sequencing. Mitochondrial DNA will be obtained using target enrichment capture. Selected samples with highest percent of endogenous DNA will be enriched by WGE (whole-genome enrichment). In case of male individuals we plan to perform target enrichment of Y-chromosome SNPs. We will determine set of SNPs which will be used to asses genetic relationships between analyzed individuals and to reconstruct genetic structure of population inhabited Maucallacta site.

In pre-Columbian Andean cultures the basic sociopolitical unit was ayullu, a group of relatives that shared a common land and responsibilities. Archeological investigations revealed that in this ayulla-societies chullpa was the important place where ancestors were buried. Ancestors worship was common in pre-Columbian cultures and probably part of their everyday life. Origin from the same ancestors was fundamental for ayullu formation. In this project we will combine genetic and archeological data to find out whether chullpas represent family graves. The previous genetic studies of pre-Columbian Andean populations indicate its patrilocal and patrilineal social organization. We will try to find answer whether large ceremonial and religious site like Maucallacta possessed the same mortuary practices as a small, isolated settlements.

We believe that genetic analysis which we will perform in this project will provide information unobtainable by archaeological and anthropological analyses and will help to better understand history of Inka civilization.