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 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. The study, published in American Journal of Physical Anthropology, is the first to provide genetic evidence for the anthropological cold case.
Learning more about changes in the size, composition, and structure of past populations helps anthropologists understand the impact of historical events, including imperial conquest, colonization, and migration, Mata-Míguez says.
The case of Xaltocan is extremely valuable because it provides insight into the effects of Aztec imperialism on Mesoamerican populations.
Mata-Míguez suggests that long-distance trade, population movement and the reorganization of many conquered populations caused by Aztec imperialism could have caused similar genetic shifts in other regions of Mexico as well.