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Inka Child Sacrifice December 11, 1996
by Angela M.H. Schuster

[image] The mummy of an Inka girl is brought down from 18,070-foot Mt. Sara Sara in Peru (A NOVA/PBS Online Adventure with BBC HORIZON) [LARGER IMAGE, 78K]

The mummified body of a seven-year-old girl has been found atop the 18,070-foot Andean peak Sara Sara in southern Peru. The young girl, dubbed "Sarita," was sacrificed more than 500 years ago as an offering to Inka gods, including the sun, moon, and, most importantly, the mountain itself. Sarita was discovered in September by Johan Reinhard, a senior research fellow at the Mountain Institute in West Virginia, and José Antonio Chavez, dean of archaeology at the Catholic University in Arequipa, Peru, atop a platform on the mountain's east face. The sex of the mummy was identified by the presence of a shawl pin worn only by women.

Found in a fetal position, Sarita had been placed on the platform along with three gold and silver statuettes and a small bundle of coca leaves, traditional offerings to the mountain gods. Seven more artifacts--a six-inch-tall silver female statuette wrapped in textiles; one silver and one gold male statuette; a female figurine and a llama carved out of spondylus shell; and one gold and one silver llama--were discovered in a cache on a nearby platform.

Reinhard and his team have found a mummy (see "Andean Icewoman," ARCHAEOLOGY, January/February 1996) and skeletal remains on other Andean peaks. "With the number of mountaintop sacrifices found to date," says Reinhard, "we are beginning to piece together details of the Inka rite of capaccocha or human sacrifice." The most common mountaintop offerings, he says, were textiles, guinea pigs, llamas, incense, and coca leaves. Human sacrifices, particularly those of children, were made in times of famine, epidemic, and military defeat, or on the summer and winter solstices, the most sacred events of the Inka ceremonial calendar.

Because Sarita had been left on the sun-drenched east face of the mountain, her body had decomposed. Reinhard and his team moved the mummy to the snow-covered south face to freeze it before a 20-hour journey to the conservation laboratory at Catholic University, where Sarita will be preserved and eventually unwrapped.

* Visit NOVA's web site "Ice Mummies of the Inca."
* ARCHAEOLOGY's newsbrief "Andean Icewoman," from the January/February 1996 issue

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© 1997 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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