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Image Gallery: Aztec Conquest Reshaped Ancient People

Ancient city's collapse


(Image credit: Lisa Overholtzer, Wichita State University)

New DNA analysis of the bones from 25 individuals in Xaltocan suggest that the population changed after the Aztec conquest.

Ghost town?


(Image credit: Lisa Overholtzer, Wichita State University)

Colonial records from the 1500s onward suggested that the Otomi people fled the city-state of Xaltocan in 1395 and that it was completely abandoned until 1435, when the Aztecs conquered the city.

Continuous Occupation


(Image credit: Lisa Overholtzer, Wichita State University)

But when Lisa Overholtzer and her colleagues excavated the site, they found evidence for continuous occupation, belying the tales found in historic documents. To understand how the people changed after the Aztec conquest, the team analyzed bones and teeth from 25 skeletons buried under two patios in the ancient city.

Genetic shift


(Image credit: Lisa Overholtzer, Wichita State University)

Using mitochondrial DNA, traces people's maternal lineage, the team found a sharp change in the people occupying those houses before and after the occupation

Changing people


(Image credit: Lisa Overholtzer, Wichita State University)

The skeletons, which spanned the period before and after the conquest, suggest that at least some of the Otomi people fled after the fall of the city, or that they radically reorganized themselves in the region.

Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.