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Ancient DNA reveals kinship burial patterns of a pre-Columbian Andean community

Mateusz Baca1*, Karolina Doan2, Maciej Sobczyk1, Anna Stankovic23 and Piotr Węgleński34

Author affiliations

1 Center for Precolumbian Studies, University of Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, 00-927, Warsaw, Poland

2 Institute of Genetics and Biotechnology, Department of Biology, University of Warsaw, Pawińskiego 5A, 02–106, Warsaw, Poland

3 Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics, Polish Academy of Science, Pawińskiego 5A, 02-106, Warsaw, Poland

4 Centre of New Technologies, University of Warsaw, Miecznikowa 1, 02-096, Warsaw, Poland

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Citation and License

BMC Genetics 2012, 13:30  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-13-30

Published: 23 April 2012



A detailed genetic study of the pre-Columbian population inhabiting the Tompullo 2 archaeological site (department Arequipa, Peru) was undertaken to resolve the kin relationships between individuals buried in six different chullpas. Kin relationships were an important factor shaping the social organization in the pre-Columbian Andean communities, centering on the ayllu, a group of relatives that shared a common land and responsibilities. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether this Andean model of a social organization had an influence on mortuary practices, in particular to determine whether chullpas served as family graves.


The remains of forty-one individuals were analyzed with both uniparental (mtDNA, Y–chromosome) and biparental (autosomal microsatellites) markers. Reproducible HVRI sequences, autosomal and Y chromosomal STR profiles were obtained for 24, 16 and 11 individuals, respectively. Mitochondrial DNA diversity was comparable to that of ancient and contemporary Andean populations. The Tompullo 2 population exhibited the closest relationship with the modern population from the same region. A kinship analysis revealed complex pattern of relations within and between the graves. However mean relatedness coefficients regarding the pairs of individuals buried in the same grave were significantly higher than those regarding pairs buried in different graves. The Y chromosome profiles of 11 males suggest that only members of one male line were buried in the same grave.


Genetic investigation of the population that inhabited Tompullo 2 site shows continuity between pre-Columbian and modern Native Amerindian populations inhabiting the Arequipa region. This suggests that no major demographic processes have influenced the mitochondrial DNA diversity of these populations during the past five hundred years. The kinship analysis involving uni- and biparental markers suggests that the community that inhabited the Tompullo 2 site was organized into extended family groups that were buried in different graves. This finding is in congruence with known models of social organization of Andean communities.