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The Mummies of Llullaillaco have been preserved for 500 years and show what Incan child sacrifices entailed

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Three 500-year-old mummies were discovered along the Argentine-Chile border in 1999 near the peak of the Llullaillaco Volcano. They were children at the time.

The oldest, dubbed the Ice Maiden, was only 13 years old, while the other two, a boy and a girl, were assessed to be four or five years old by specialists.

The Llullaillaco mummies are a fascinating discovery for scientists, offering information on the ancient Incan ritual of sacrifice. All three of them were most likely killed in a ritual known as Capacocha, in which they were sacrificed to the Sun God.

Their bodies were remarkably well preserved; the cold, thin air in the high highlands had naturally converted them into frozen mummies. They appeared to have simply dozed off.

The Maiden, the Llullaillaco Boy, and the Lightning Girl (so named because she looks to be struck by lightning) are all on display in Salta, Argentina.

They continue to reveal details about their interesting and sad life in the old Incan Empire to academics.

The Mountaintop Conditions Were Ideal For Preserving The Bodies Of The Children

Credits: grooverpedro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The three toddlers appeared to have froze in their sleep just below Mount Llullaillaco’s 22,000-foot peak. Unlike other mummies from around the world, neither natural or man-made compounds were used to preserve the remains.

The tissues were remained intact solely due to the atmosphere, which consisted of cold temperatures and extremely dry, thin air. Their bodies were practically immobile.

The children are among the world’s best-preserved mummies. Hair, skin, facial characteristics, blood, and internal organs are all intact on the bodies, giving researchers with a treasure of information about the lives of the Incan sacrifices. Source

All Three Children Showed Signs Of Drug And Alcohol Use

Credits:  José Fontanelli / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The children, particularly the older girl, are thought to have spent their final year at Cusco, Peru, the Incan Empire’s capital. She spent the previous year “weaving textiles and brewing chicha” in order to prepare for her trip to the mountain.

Chicha, a corn-based drink, and the coca leaf, from which cocaine is produced, were both popular in Incan civilization. Both were, however, prohibited substances that were not available to the general public.

Hair tests revealed that the children’s usage of chicha and coca had increased dramatically in the year leading up to their deaths.

This was especially true for the 13-year-old girl, who had usage surges six months before her death and then again in the month leading up to her death.

Experts believe the beer and drugs were either consumed as part of the festivals they attended or were used to sedate the children during the sacrifice.

A coca package was also discovered in the girl’s mouth, which may have helped her relax in her freezing grave. Source:1, 2.

Researchers were able to learn a lot about the mummies’ previous lives by studying their hair

Credits:  Pedro Groover / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The lengthy, beautifully braided hair of 13-year-old Ice Maiden provided crucial information to researchers. Hair serves as a record of what is happening in a person’s life.

Scientists investigating the Llullaillaco mummies were able to piece together a timeline of the children’s final year of life because it grows at a regular rate of roughly one centimeter every month.

The children’s diets changed as a result of hair analysis, with higher-end foods like meat and maize being added to their meals (corn).

It also revealed that their consumption of chicha (corn-based beer) and coca had increased, with spikes throughout the year. This was said to be linked to their attendance at festivals leading up to their sacrifice, as well as their dying preparations. Source

Most likely, the three children played very different roles

Credits:  jimmyharris / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The three Llullaillaco mummies were not connected, although they may have had similar beginnings in life, according to studies.

According to some reports, all three children came from humble beginnings and rose to “elite status” as a result of their service to the empire.

Other accounts, on the other hand, speculate that the two younger children were already on a higher social level than the older girl, and that they were possibly royals.

Their elongated heads, which were most likely produced through deliberate head-wrapping, indicate their upper-class rank.

Whatever start in life the two younger children had, their job in death appeared to be that of attendants for the older girl.

Despite the fact that all three girls dedicated their life in the Capacocha ceremony, only the oldest girl received special attention prior to death. She was also the only youngster with intricate braids, while the boy’s hair was infested with nits. Source:1, 2.

The older girl’s death was most likely peaceful, but the young boy displayed signs of a struggle

Credits: Joseph Castro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The Llullaillaco mummies were laid to rest in a serene setting. The religious artifacts that surrounded the mummies remained untouched, and the children appeared to be sleeping.

Because lightning partially burned her body long after she died, the younger girl became known as the Lightning Girl, but she most likely went to sleep peacefully in the chilly tomb. The Llullaillaco Boy, on the other hand, may have struggled, especially because there was a little quantity of blood on his shirt.

Not all Capacocha sacrifice sites are calm, with several displaying violent behavior.  “Either they got it right, in terms of perfecting the mechanisms of performing this type of sacrifice, or these children went much more quietly,” says forensic and archeological specialist Andrew Wilson.

Source:1, 2.

The Children Looked Like They Were Sleeping, Unnerving Researchers

Credits:  grooverpedro / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Mummies mainly consist of bones, dried tissue, and characteristics that no longer resemble human faces when scientists work with them. The Llullaillaco mummies, on the other hand, were created with bodies that appeared to be living.

Working with the three children felt “almost more like a kidnapping than archeological work,” according to Dr. Gabriel Miremont, director of the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, in an interview with the New York Times.

In a 2013 interview, archeological expert Andrew Wilson discussed the surprisingly well-preserved bodies:”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.” Source:1, 2.

Being chosen for sacrifice may have been an honor among the Inca

Credits:  jimmyharris / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

According to research on the three mummies, the children may have led ordinary lives in the Incan Empire until the elders chose them to be elevated to a higher rank by religious sacrifice.

Although the loss of a child is considered a tragedy in modern society, the ancient Incas considered it an honor if their child was one of the few chosen to serve as a sacrifice – or so it is said.

Some analysts believe the sacrifices were performed for religious reasons and to exert psychological control.

If parents showed any shows of sadness after their children were chosen, it was considered exceedingly insulting. Source:1, 2.

The Andes Mountains were considered sacred in Incan religion

Credits: Johan Reinhard / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Incas had a different reason for utilizing the Andes’ peaks as sacrificial locations, despite the fact that the alpine environment was perfect for preserving human bodies.

The mountains were extremely holy to them because their religion focused around Inti, the Sun God, and the summits were the closest they could get to the sky.

The Incas risked harsh and perilous weather conditions at high altitudes to bury their human sacrifices, who were later seen as angelic creatures guarding the empire and ensuring its safety and prosperity. Source

The child sacrifices could have been power plays by the ruling class

Credits: Martin St-Amant / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Incan Empire was centered in Cusco, Peru, but it had spread up and down the west coast of South America at the time of the children’s sacrifice.

Before being sacrificed at the Llullaillaco Volcano, the children would have visited several festivities across the empire. The volcano is located on the boundary of modern-day Chile and Argentina, in one of the Incan Empire’s most southern regions.

Some analysts believe that as the empire’s frontiers became wider, the emperors intended to send a statement. As demonstrations of the Incan Empire’s strength, the child sacrifices contributed to a “climate of fear.” Source

These Three Children Were Not The Only Ones Who Got Freezed In The Mountains

Credits: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Ice Maiden, the Lightning Girl, and the Llullaillaco Boy are among the best-preserved archeological artifacts in the world, yet they were far from alone on the Andes’ highest peaks.

Within the Incan Empire, there were over 100 other burial or sacrifice sites featuring mummies in varied degrees of preservation.

One mummy known as “Juanita” was discovered in 1995, while another known as the “Reina del Cerro” (Queen of the Hill) was unearthed in the 1920s and circulated among private collectors for decades.

These mummies are housed in the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Salta, Argentina, alongside the three Llullaillaco children. Source:1, 2.

Because earthquakes are common in the area, there are several contingency plans in place to keep the mummies safe

Credits: NASA Astronaut photograph / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Because earthquakes are common in South America, storing highly sensitive mummies might be difficult. The mummies, which are kept in climate-controlled conditions, could quickly decay if the facility loses power.

The Museum of High Altitude Archaeology took a number of precautions to keep the mummies’ cases from losing electricity. There are three backup generators at the museum.

In the event of a more pressing situation, the governor’s plane will be dispatched to transport the mummies to any location with a reliable power supply. Source

The Mummies Exhibit Takes Both Practicality And Sensitivity Into Consideration

Credits: Calu Rivero2013 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

The three mummies are currently housed in Salta, Argentina’s Museo de Arqueologa de Alta Montaa (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology). Their exhibits took a lot of work, especially because the mummies are so delicate and important to both science and the local culture.

The museum chose an exhibit that takes into account the mummies’ physical demands as well as the reverence they believe these hallowed relics deserve.

The corpses’ displays (usually just the 13-year-old girl’s, while the other two are kept in storage) are tube-like containers with temperature controls.

Because many people are disturbed by the sight of dead bodies, the curators created the exhibit to be completely dark until someone requests to see the body and turns on the light.

The display has been respectful of the Incan culture since its inception. Dr. Gabriel Miremont, the museum’s director, noted in an interview that the exhibit was launched quietly for a reason: the bodies were once real people, and while it was a thrilling moment for scientists, it wasn’t “a situation for a party.” Source:1, 2.

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