Scientists discovered that three child mummies used as ritual sacrifices were fed drugs and alcohol prior to their death centuries ago. Deep analysis of the mummies is giving scientists insight not only into the events leading up to their death, but shedding light on the practices of the Inca civilization.
Originally found in 1999, scientists believe the children were preserved some 500 years ago during the Inca empire. A preserved boy and girl, both aged five, as well as the similar remains of a 13-year-old girlwere found on top of the Andean summit of Volcán Llullaillaco, Argentina. The children were separately preserved, yet the lead scientists Andrew Wilson calls this the "best naturally preserved assemblage of mummies found anywhere in the world." The impeccable preservation has allowed the international team of scientists to deeply investigate the practices of human sacrifice as a ritual for the imperial Inca.
Using hair analysis, the scientists discovered that of the three children, the eldest girl was the most heavily sedated prior to her death. The chemicals found in her hair suggest that a year before her death she was fed at an elite status. They surmised this change in diet and coca consumption coincided with her selection to be a child sacrifice. Unlike the other two children, she received a significant amount of drugs and alcohol weeks before her death, suggesting there was more reason to sedate her. Unlike most Inca burial sites, there is no evidence of violence or head trauma to the three children found on top of Llullaillaco. Instead, the scientists have concluded hypothermia is a likely cause of death.
During this time, child sacrifice was not only common, but an honor to the Inca people. Children were seen as the most pure and healthy, the best people to sacrifice to the gods. Before the sacrifice they were treated as elite, dressed in the finest clothing, and fed well. The eldest girl was found with braided hair and a headdress, wearing an eloquent dress upon burial. Their sacrifices were not only religious in nature, but political as well. Used to intimidate other neighboring populations, their deaths were intended to solidify authority over the land the Inca had acquired.
The full study was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences. As scientists continue to piece together information regarding the three Inca children, the mummies are displayed at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Argentina.