Genomic insights into Inca expansions and the spread of Quechua languages

Quechua is the largest surviving language family of the native Americas, by number of speakers.  This was long seen as a legacy of the Inca empire spreading one form of Quechua as its official language.  Linguistic analysis sets the first phases of Quechua dispersal far earlier, however, among predecessor cultures a millennium or so before the Incas;  and Quechua continued spreading even after the Spanish conquest.

This project has two main objectives.  Firstly, to help tease apart which parts of the Quechua family, in which regions of the Andes, were or were not spread by the Incas.  Secondly, to work out whether those Inca-era expansions were primarily demographic or cultural.  Did Quechua spread by mass movements of people resettled under Inca imperial policies, or by local populations remaining, but learning Quechua once incorporated into the Inca empire?

Inca pottery from northern Peru.

To test this, we collect and analyse genetic data from modern populations, which are then compared with ancient DNA from skeletal remains, to reveal the magnitude of any migrations and the level of admixture with local populations.  Our genetic sampling and analysis is explicitly informed, targeted and interpreted in the light of the corresponding linguistic, archaeological, historical and social contexts.

We focus initially on the genetically understudied regions of northern Peru and Ecuador, home to a diverse range of isolated regional forms of Quechua.  These have always been difficult to place in the traditional family tree structure of Quechua, so we hope also to contribute to this linguistic (re)classification.


Nakatsuka, Nathan, Iosif Lazaridis, Chiara Barbieri, Pontus Skoglund, Nadin Rohland, Swapan Mallick, Cosimo Posth, Kelly Harkins-Kinkaid, Matthew Ferry, Éadaoin Harney, Megan Michel, Kristin Stewardson, Jannine Novak-Forst, José M. Capriles, Marta Alfonso Durruty, Karina Aranda Álvarez, David Beresford-Jones, Richard Burger, Lauren Cadwallader, Ricardo Fujita, Johny Isla, George Lau, Carlos Lémuz Aguirre, Steven LeBlanc, Sergio Calla Maldonado, Frank Meddens, Pablo G. Messineo, Brendan J. Culleton, Thomas K. Harper, Jeffrey Quilter, Gustavo Politis, Kurt Rademaker, Markus Reindel, Mario Rivera, Lucy Salazar, José R. Sandoval, Calogero M. Santoro, Nahuel Scheifler, Vivien Standen, Maria Ines Barreto, Isabel Flores Espinoza, Elsa Tomasto-Cagigao, Guido Valverde, Douglas J. Kennett, Alan Cooper, Johannes Krause, Wolfgang Haak, Bastien Llamas, David Reich & Lars Fehren-Schmitz. 2020. A Paleogenomic Reconstruction of the Deep Population History of the Andes. Cell.

Barbieri, Chiara, Rodrigo Barquera, Leonardo Arias, José R. Sandoval, Oscar Acosta, Camilo Zurita, Abraham Aguilar-Campos, Ana M. Tito-Álvarez, Ricardo Serrano-Osuna, Russell D. Gray, Fabrizio Mafessoni, Paul Heggarty, Kentaro K. Shimizu, Ricardo Fujita, Mark Stoneking, Irina Pugach & Lars Fehren-Schmitz. 2019. The Current Genomic Landscape of Western South America: Andes, Amazonia, and Pacific Coast. Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Barbieri, Chiara, José R. Sandoval, Jairo Valqui, Aviva Shimelman, Stefan Ziemendorff, Roland Schröder, Maria Geppert, Lutz Roewer, Russell Gray, Mark Stoneking, Ricardo Fujita & Paul Heggarty. 2017. Enclaves of genetic diversity resisted Inca impacts on population history. Scientific Reports 7 (1): p.17411.

Barbieri, Chiara, Paul Heggarty, Daniele Yang Yao, Gianmarco Ferri, Sara de Fanti, Stefania Sarno, Graziella Ciani, Alessio Boattini, Donata Luiselli & Davide Pettener. 2014. Between Andes and Amazon: The genetic profile of the Arawak-speaking Yanesha. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 155 (4): p.600-9.

Barbieri, Chiara, Paul Heggarty, Loredana Castrì, Davide Pettener & Donata Luiselli. 2011. Mitochondrial DNA variability in the Titicaca basin:  matches and mismatches with linguistics and ethnohistory. American Journal of Human Biology 23: p.89-99.

Go to Editor View