An ancient Inca wall at the city of Machu Picchu. Shutterstock.

Ancient DNA reveals that some inhabitants of Machu Picchu came from far away

The outcome was revealing — the individuals hailed from all corners of South America, with some tracing their roots to Amazonia.


Deciphering the residents of the ‘Lost City of the Incas’ at its zenith, a recent study in Science Advances has traced the origins of Machu Picchu’s buried workers using ancient DNA. The study, for the first time, determines the ancestral roots of these laborers within the enigmatic Inca Empire. The ancient DNA revealed that some inhabitants of Machu Picchu came from far away.

Exploring the Lost Inca Empire

Leading this breakthrough research is Jason Nesbitt, an associate professor of archaeology at Tulane University School of Liberal Arts. The team performed genetic testing on the inhabitants of Machu Picchu, shedding light on the diverse backgrounds of those who lived and toiled there.

Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in Peru’s Cusco region, stands as one of the most celebrated archaeological marvels worldwide. Each year, it draws throngs of curious visitors. The site was an integral part of the royal estate during the reign of the Inca Empire.

A Mosaic of Social Classes

Much like other royal estates, Machu Picchu was a bustling hub for various social strata, including royalty, elites, attendants, and laborers. Many of these individuals resided at the estate all year long. Although not all were local to the area, the study confirms the diverse origins of these inhabitants for the first time through DNA evidence.


Rather than focusing on elites, Nesbitt’s study illuminates the lives of the lower-status population. “We’re delving into the lives of the retainer population through these burials,” he explains.

Methodology and Findings

The methodology mirrors modern genetic ancestry kits. DNA from 34 individuals interred at Machu Picchu was compared to samples from across the Inca Empire and even modern genomes from South America to gauge possible kinship.

The outcome was revealing — the individuals hailed from all corners of the Inca Empire, with some tracing their roots to Amazonia. Interestingly, very few shared DNA, indicating they had arrived at Machu Picchu independently rather than as part of a family or community.

Implications of the Study

While genetics doesn’t equate to ethnicity, Nesbitt highlights the distinct origins within different parts of the Inca Empire. This research complements other studies at Machu Picchu and supports historical documentation and archaeological artifacts associated with the burials.


This study forms part of a broader shift in archaeology, merging traditional techniques with cutting-edge technologies and scientific analyses. This integrative approach presents a more comprehensive view of the past, driving new discoveries.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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