The perfectly preserved bodies of three Inca children are giving scientists new clues into how their people performed rituals--such as child sacrifice--and how they prepared for the event.
The 500-year old mummified remains of a 13-year old girl and two younger children--a boy and girl of about 4 or 5--were found enclosed in a tomb atop the 6,739m-high Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina in 1999. New tests on hair samples show that the elder girl's diet changed dramatically the year before she died, from one based on potatoes to one full of meat and maize. She also ingested copious amounts of alcohol and coca leaves, which is where cocaine comes from, in the months before her death. Scientists believe she was chosen for her virginal status to be sacrificed, though they aren't sure what she gave her life for.
"The Spanish chroniclers suggest that children were sacrificed for all kinds of reasons: important life milestones in the lives of the Incas, in times of war or natural disasters, but there was a calendar of rituals too," said Dr. Emma Brown of the University of Bradford.
The mind-altering substances would have likely been used as part of the ritual, but they served a dual function as a way to get the children to comply with the sacrifice, and possibly to make their transition to death easier for them. The fact that they are so well preserved has had a profound effect on those working with them.
"In terms of mummies that are known around the world, in my opinion she has to be the best preserved of any of the mummies that I'm aware of," said forensic and archaeological expert Andrew Wilson, also of the University of Bradford. "She looks almost as if she's just fallen asleep. I suppose that's what makes this all the more chilling. This isn't a desiccated mummy or a set of bones. This is a person; this is a child. And this data that we've generated in our studies is really pointing to some poignant messages about her final months and years."
Image courtesy of Johan Reinhard