A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The perfectly preserved bodies of two Inka girls and a boy have been found
atop the 22,000-foot Andean volcano Llullaillaco in northwestern Argentina.
Discovered by archaeologist Johan Reinhard of the West Virginia-based
Mountain Institute and Argentine archaeologist Constanza Ceruti, the
children, thought to have been between 8 and 15 years old, were
sacrificed as offerings to the mountain gods some 500 years ago. Bundled in
layers of woven cloth, their bodies froze in the cold, dry air atop the peak
shortly after death.
In addition to the mummies, which had been placed atop a stone platform,
the site yielded bundles of exquisite textiles, ceramic vessels containing
offerings of meat jerky, a pair of moccasins, and 36 small gold, silver, and
shell statues of humans and llamas, many of which had been clothed in woven
garments. "The manner in which the offerings were arranged attests the care
taken in preparation of the sacrifices," said Reinhard, noting that all of
the llama statues had been lined up as if part of a caravan.
CAT-scans, conducted on the mummies soon after their discovery two weeks
ago, revealed intact organs with blood still present in the heart and lungs,
and skin so well preserved that fine hair on the arms could be discerned.
One girl's body had been slightly damaged by a lightning strike; the other
had a head that was deliberately deformed at birth into a conical shape. The latter was clothed in a beautiful yellow mantle and
wore a white feathered headdress.
Capac cocha, or the offering of human sacrifices to the mountain gods, was
an integral part of the religion of the Inka, whose empire dominated Andean
South America until the arrival of the Spanish in 1532. Mountains were the
abodes of those that controlled the forces of nature. Volcanic eruptions,
in particular, could spell disaster, and for this reason the mountains
needed to be placated. To be chosen as a sacrificial offering was
considered an honor among the Inka.
"These are the best-preserved Inka mummies we have ever found," said
Reinhard, who has discovered numerous Inka mummies, including "Juanita the
Ice Maiden" an 18-year-old sacrifice victim found atop the Peruvian peak
Nevada de Ampato in 1995. Reinhard, notes, however, that the mummies had
been buried under more than five feet of rock, which is why they had
escaped the attention of looters and even one of his earlier expedition
parties. The remains of a camp, presumably used by the participants in the
sacrifice ceremony, was found at the 7,000-foot level. The newfound mummies
will be taken to Catholic University in Salta, Argentina, for unwrapping