Uros people of Peru and Bolivia found to have distinctive genetic ancestries (9/19/2013)
|This image shows the community gathering on one of the Uros Islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca. - Eduardo Rubiano|
New genetic research led by the Genographic Project consortium shows a distinctive ancestry for the Uros populations of Peru and Bolivia that
predates the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and may date back to the earliest settlement
of the Altiplano, or high plain, of the central Andes some 3,700 years ago. Despite the fact that
the Uros today share many lineages with the surrounding Andean populations, they have
maintained their own divergent genetic ancestry.
WHO ARE THE UROS?: The Uros are a self-identified ethnic group, about 2,000 of
whom live in Peru, many of them on artificial floating islands on Lake Titicaca. Another 2,600
individuals live beside lakes and rivers of Bolivia. According to some anthropologists, the Uros
are descendants of the first settlers of the Altiplano - the Andean plateau - yet their origin has
been subjected to considerable academic debate. Those from Peru have long claimed to
descend from the ancient Urus (Uruquilla speakers), using their differentiated ethnic identity to
assert rights and prerogatives for their use of Titicaca's natural resources. The Uros have
historically been the target of discrimination by the pre-Inca, Inca and the Spanish, and this
continues today. Some people have alleged that the Uros disappeared a long time ago and that
the new islanders have conjured up an ancient heritage in order to attract tourists and receive
special recognition and rights.
SCIENTIFIC PAPER PUBLICATION: A paper on the research, "The Genetic History of
Indigenous Populations of the Peruvian and Bolivian Altiplano: The Legacy of the Uros," will be
published Sept. 11 by the journal PLOS ONE. The paper is embargoed until 5 p.m. (ET, U.S.)
Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, and is at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0073006
QUOTES FROM AUTHORS: "We have found a concrete connection to the distinctive
past for the Uros," said Fabricio R. Santos, professor at the Universidade Federal de Minas
Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil, the leading coauthor of the paper.
"When we shared this information with the Uros people, they were quite enthusiastic
about the news," said Professor Ricardo Fujita of the Universidad San Martin de Porres, Lima,
Peru, coauthor of the paper.
"We were excited to observe some Y lineages only found among the Uros," said
Professor JosÚ R. Sandoval at the Universidad San Martin de Porres, Lima, Peru, first author of
the paper and a Peruvian Aymara born on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
"The timing of human settlement in the Andean Altiplano is one of the great mysteries of
our species' worldwide odyssey - a vast, high-altitude plain that seems utterly inhospitable, yet
it has apparently nurtured a complex culture for millennia," said Spencer Wells, Genographic
Project director and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. "This significant new study
reflects the importance of the Genographic team's careful, patient work with the members of the
indigenous communities living in this remote corner of the mountainous South American terrain,
and sheds light on how our species has adapted to disparate ecosystems since its relatively
recent exodus from an African homeland less than 70,000 years ago."
RESEARCH METHODS: Representatives of the Genographic Project, which uses
project leaders compared the Uros' haplotype (genetic lineages) profiles with those of eight
Aymara-, nine Quechua- and two Arawak-speaking populations from the western region of
BACKGROUND ON UROS: The Andean highlands are home to a vast indigenous
population of several million, mostly Aymaras and Quechuas. The Uros are a minority group
that consider themselves descendants of the ancient Urus, who are generally recognized as the
first major ethnic group to have settled in the Andes, specifically the Lake Titicaca watershed.
As a result of successive invasions by Aymara populations and the Incas, an increasing
proportion of the Uros became confined to floating islands and small villages around the lake.
Today, the Uros of Peru and Bolivia are also known as Qhas Qut su˝i, which means
"people of the lake" in the ancient Uruquilla language. Their economy was originally based on
aquatic resources, especially fishing, bird hunting and gathering of bird eggs. Using the lake's
reeds for construction of islands, houses and handicrafts for tourism, the Uros have become a
fascination to visitors, and the Altiplano is now Peru's second most important tourist destination.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by the National Geographic Society