Researchers have determined many of the dead buried in caves at Machu Picchu belonged to the class of South Americans known as yanacona, essentially loyal male servants to Incan kings. It seems Machu Picchu was a royal estate, and the kings brought their servants from a wide geographic area to maintain and operate the site.
The new findings ~ which tend to support some earlier conjecture regarding the mysterious Peruvian-mountaintop site's purpose and population ~ derived from analysis of nearly 200 skeletons found in three caves.
About half of the skeletons recently analyzed were from women. Researchers believe they were wives of the male servants and perhaps women who were selected by Incan royalty as weavers, brewers and wives in arranged marriages.
These and several other conclusions derived from chemical analysis of the bones, showing that the yanacona came from areas east or southeast of Machu Picchu and some from along the South American coast, while others had previously lived in locales high in the Andes.
“This would have made for an interesting dynamic in the Machu Picchu population, as its members may have had little in common besides their service to the Inca elite,” says anthropologist Bethany Turner of Georgia State University. Her group analyzed oxygen, strontium and lead isotopes in 74 of the skeletons. Wide variations in the isotopic composition of these substances suggest that individuals at Machu Picchu grew up in a variety of geological contexts with distinct water sources and available foods.
Most researchers believe the royal retainers’ duties included performing agricultural work on royal estates, attending to nobles on expeditions and military campaigns, conducting administrative work and even serving as provincial officials. While the servants were buried at Machu Picchu, the kings were buried in the nearby Incan capital of Cuzco.
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