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Unveiling the Ancient Secrets: DNA Analysis Identifies Inca Child Mummy’s Mysterious Palaeo-Indian Connection

He was found frozen and half-covered in soil on the rocky slopes of the highest mountain in the Americas but now the identity of the Inca child mummy has been partially revealed.

A team of forensic geneticists and archaeologists has sequenced some of the youngster’s DNA using a tiny fragment of lung taken from his mummified body.

He is said to have belonged to a family that originated far to the north in the Peruvian Andes and was also a member of a rare genetic sub-group of Palaeo-Indians not been previously identified.

The perfectly preserved seven-year-old boy was sacrificed by Inca priests 500 years ago to honour their gods in a ritual known as capacocha.

The mitochondrial DNA examined by the scientists is passed down only through the maternal line of a family and so it suggests the child, his mother, or her ancestors, migrated more than 1,000 miles south through the Andes to what is now Argentina.

They found the mummy also belonged to a rare genetic sub-group of Palaeo-Indians who had not been previously identified.

It is thought this group first arose around 14,300 years ago in Peru and few people carrying these mitochondrial genes remain living today.

Those that do, live in Peru and Bolivia.

However, the researchers also found a similar genetic profile, or halotype, in the remains of an individual from the ancient Wari Empire, which existed in Peru around 1100AD.

Dr Alberto Gómez-Carballa, a forensic geneticist who was the lead author of the work at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, told MailOnline the mummified child could have been part of a ritual sacrifice pilgrimage.

He said: ‘This mummy was found at the southernmost edge of the territories occupied by the Incas.

‘It is known that the Incas organized pilgrimages of more than 1300 km for sacrifice rituals.

‘We here add evidence supporting an Inca origin of this mummy, with a genetic profile that fits well with the variation existing in the core of the Inca civilization, in Peru.

‘Our data also suggest that the lineage of the mummy is nearly extinct in contemporary populations but it was probably much frequent at that time.’

The mummified remains of the body were discovered in 1985 by a group of mountaineers at around 17,388ft (5,300 metres) on the southwestern ridge of Cerro Aconcagua mountain in the Argentinean province of Mendoza.

The boy is thought to have been a victim of a ritual called capacocha, where children of great beauty and health were sacrificed by drugging them and taking them into the mountains to freeze to death.

The extreme cold and dry conditions on the highest mountain in the Andes, however, caused the body of the youngster to be mummified and preserved.

His body was excavated by archaeologists and was found to be wrapped in various textiles and surrounded by six statuettes.

Several similar mummies have been found in other sites around the Andes where the dry atmosphere helps to prevent bacteria from decomposing the bodies.

By taking a small sample of the preserved lung tissue from the Aconcagua mummy, researchers were able to isolate DNA from tiny organelles found inside the cells called mitochondria.

Unlike other forms of DNA, which are passed on by both parents to their children, the mitochondrial DNA comes only from the mother’s side as it exists in the egg, but not sperm cells.

The researchers found the young boy belonged to a unique South American halotype they named C1bi, where the ‘i’ stands for Inca.

By comparing it to a database of more than 28,000 other mitochondrial genomes worldwide they were able to match it to just a small number from South America.

Most of these tended to be found in the Peruvian Andes, suggesting this was where the halotype first emerged around 14,300 years ago.

The Inca was one of the largest civilisations to have emerged in South America before the invasion of the Spanish.

At its peak it consisted of around 12 million people and lasted for around 300 years.

The new findings suggest there was considerable amount of movement of the Inca citizens in the empire and the maternal ancestors of the boy found on Aconcagua had originally lived more than 1,300 miles to the north.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Dr Gómez-Carballa and his colleagues, added: ‘Overall, the results suggest that the profile of the mummy represents a very rare sub-clade that arose 14,300 years ago and could have been more frequent in the past.

‘The haplotype found in the Inca child from the Cerro Aconcagua, interpreted in the light of present-day variation in South America and together with the different archaeological and anthropological findings, supports the existence of demographic movements along the Pacific coastline during the Inca period.’