Aztec Conquest Altered Genetics among Early Mexico Inhabitants, New DNA Study Shows

AUSTIN, Texas — For centuries, the fate of the original Otomí inhabitants of Xaltocan, the capital of a pre-Aztec Mexican city-state, has remained unknown. Researchers have long wondered whether they assimilated with the Aztecs or abandoned the town altogether.

According to new anthropological research from The University of Texas at Austin, Wichita State University and Washington State University, the answers may lie in DNA. Following this line of evidence, the researchers theorize that some original Otomies, possibly elite rulers, may have fled the town. Their exodus may have led to the reorganization of the original residents within Xaltocan, or to the influx of new residents, who may have intermarried with the Otomí population.

Using ancient DNA (aDNA) sampling, Jaime Mata-Míguez, an anthropology graduate student and lead author of the study, tracked the biological comings and goings of the Otomí people following the incorporation of Xaltocan into the Aztec empire. Read more.

The DNA of Aztec conquest

The decline of one group of Mexico’s Otomí people is an anthropological cold case. In the fifteenth century, the population of the city state of Xaltocan all but vanished, replaced by the growing Aztec culture. But the ultimate fate of the Otomí in the region is known only as an outline pieced together from conflicting historical documents and archaeological evidence. A genetic study recording the biological comings-and-goings of the Otomí now deepens the mystery.

In the fifteenth century, what is now Mexico was made up of warring city states with separate cultural identities. In 1428, several of these city states joined together to form the Triple Alliance, which spread and became the Aztec empire. Xaltocan in central Mexico was among the city states that were assimilated. But the fine details of what happened there are unknown. Read more.

Elizabeth Brumfiel, 1945-2012

Elizabeth Brumfiel, a past president of the American Anthropological Association, was a widely recognized scholar in the field of feminist archaeology.

She spent more than 20 years studying Aztec culture in the Mexican village of Xaltocan, examining not only the functional and economic significance of ancient relics, but what scholars learned about changing gender roles and relations in society.

In 2007, the town presented her with the Eagle Warrior Prize — named after the highest warrior class in Aztec society — for her dedication to the Xaltocan community.

The next year, she was lead curator for “The Aztec World,” an exhibit at the Field Museum that traced the history of the last of the great Mexican civilizations through nearly 300 artifacts.

“She is one of those rare people who lived her life the way that she said that she would want to,” said Cynthia Robin, a friend and colleague.

Mrs. Brumfiel, 66, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, died ofcancer Sunday, Jan. 1, at the Skokie branch of the Midwest Hospice & Palliative CareCenter, said her husband of 45 years, Vincent. Read more.