A thorough study, a collaboration between scientists and institutes from Europe, the USA, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, including geneticists, linguists and anthropologists, has shed new light on the population history of South America. The study, which involved working closely with local populations in numerous regions, was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution.
The results confirmed the impact of large, complex societies already known from archaeological evidence, but also revealed previously unknown migrations and connections across vast distances, including in Amazonia, an area that has not been as deeply studied archaeologically. Genetic studies have played a fundamental role in understanding the population history of the American continent. By reconciling genetic evidence with the archaeological record and with paleoclimatic data, scientists have been able to pinpoint the time and scale of the earliest migrations, possible routes through the continent, the subsequent formation of population structure, and preferential routes of population migration and contact.
Yet the picture is necessarily superficial because of the lack of representative data from all the diverse regions of the continent. One recurrent simplification relies on the contrast between the Andes, site of the famous large complex societies of the Wari, Tiahuanaco and Inca who built a vast network of roads, and Amazonia, where people apparently have been living in small isolated groups.
We therefore visited diverse regions of South America, collecting new samples from rural populations with different cultural backgrounds. In our analysis, we focused on signals of contact and shared ancestry, trying to find exceptions to the current paradigm on the diversity of the continent," explains Chiara Barbieri, a geneticist from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena now working at the University of Zurich, and lead author of the study.
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