What are the strange facts about Peru

Inca child victims were drugged

Three Inca mummies found near the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina are so well preserved that they give a face to the ancient ritual of the Capacocha - which ended with their sacrifice.

Now the bodies of the 13-year-old Llullaillaco virgin and her younger companions, the Llullaillaco boy and the “lightning girl”, have shown that with their death and the ceremonial rites that have been held over many years, they should prepare them for their final hours , mind altering substances played a role.

A biochemical analysis of the virgin's hair revealed what she ate and drank in the last two years of her life. This information seems to support historical accounts of a select few children who participated in a year of sacred ceremonies. That time, evident in her hair through a change in food, coca, and alcohol consumption, eventually ended with her sacrifice.

According to the religious ideology of the Incas, according to the authors, coca and alcohol could have served to bring about a status that is considered to be sacred. Presumably, however, the substances also had a more pragmatic function, confusing and calming the young victims from the high mountains so that they could better endure their cruel fate.


The Jungfrau and her young companions, discovered in 1999, are remarkably well preserved naturally due to the cold conditions directly beneath the 6,739 meter high mountain peak.

"I think it's the best-preserved mummy found anywhere in the world," speculates Andrew Wilson, forensics and archeology expert at Bradford University in the UK. "She almost looks like she just fell asleep."

Not only the mummies, but also the artifacts and textiles draped in the tomb-like construction are incredibly well preserved. Therefore, technical analyzes were possible, on the basis of which experts could understand the events that took place in this thin air around 500 years ago.

“That makes it a lot more exciting,” adds Wilson. “We are not dealing with a dried-up mummy or a pile of bones here. It's a person, a child. And the data that we have obtained in our studies give precise information about their last months and years. "


Since hair grows about an inch a month and doesn't change after that, the Virgo's long, braided braids contain some sort of timeline with markers that reflect their diet. They show the consumption of substances like coca and alcohol in the form of chicha, a fermented corn drink.

“The markers suggest she was selected as a victim a year before she died,” explains Wilson. During this time, her life changed drastically. This also includes increased consumption of coca and alcohol, two controlled substances at the time that were not available for everyday use. "We assume that the virgin was an Aclla: a woman who was chosen at puberty to live separate from her family under the direction of a priestess," he says. "This custom is described in the reports of the Spaniards, in which they recorded the information the Inca gave them about these rites."

An earlier chemical and DNA analysis, also carried out under the direction of Wilson, examined the changes in the virgin's eating habits. The results show marked improvements in the year before her death when she ate special foods such as corn and animal protein, possibly made from llama meat. It is now also clear that her coca use rose sharply in the last year of her life, with dramatic climaxes twelve and six months before her death.

“This information coincides with the assumption that she initially led a normal and possibly even poor farming life, until a year before her death she was chosen, torn from her familiar surroundings and thrown into a different life,” says Wilson. "And now this massive change in coca consumption is evident."

The virgin regularly consumed large amounts of coca in the last year of her life. Their alcohol consumption, on the other hand, only increased significantly in the last few weeks of their lives.

“Something has changed in the last six to eight weeks. She consumed large amounts of alcohol, either voluntarily or under duress. ”In her final weeks she has clearly assumed a different status. Presumably these chemicals, the coca and the chicha alcohol, were consumed in an almost controlled way in this last phase of the Capacocha rite before their sacrifice. "

On the day of her death, the drugs may have made the Virgo more docile and dizzy, if not unconscious. This theory is supported by her relaxed, seated position in the grave-like construction. The artifacts around her and the feather headdress she wore were also untouched. When it was discovered in 1999, chewed coca leaves were found in the mummy's mouth.

The younger children have lower levels of coca and alcohol, which could be due to their lower status in the ritual or their younger age and smaller size. “Maybe the virgin needed to be anesthetized more because of her age,” suggests Wilson.

And while other Capacocha sites show signs of violence such as skull injuries, these children have been peacefully asleep. “Either they had perfected the making of these offerings, or these children died in a quieter way,” explains Wilson.


Kelly Knudson, an archeology chemist at Arizona State University, was not involved in the research. But she points out that this exciting study shows how scientific archeology can help us understand human life and larger ancient societies in detail.

“The increasing consumption of coca and alcohol is very interesting. He tells us a lot not only about the Capacocha victims and their lives, but also about the exercise of coercion and control among the Inca, ”says Knudson.

According to the authors of the study, the control system that took these children to a remote peak at extreme altitude shows all the hallmarks of government support at the highest level. Possibly it took place as part of a military and political expansion of the Cuzco-based empire that happened just before the arrival of the Spaniards.

“Even today, working at this height requires extensive logistical structures,” explains Wilson. “The finds indicate the highest possible level of support at the imperial level. There are artifacts and clothing that belonged to the elite and fine products from all four corners of the Inca Empire. "

These include figures made from the shell of spiny oysters brought in from the coast and feather headdresses from the Amazon basin. The elaborately crafted figures made of gold and silver, wearing finely woven miniature clothing, were only available to the highest class of society. "The whole arrangement probably represents their status and the symbolism used with the approval of the highest authority," he adds. Wilson and his co-authors suggest that such sacrifices were a very complex means of exercising social control over large conquered areas.

(In a study published in "PLOS ONE" last year, it was found that the virgin was suffering from pneumonia at the time of the sacrifice.)


Johan Reinhard, an “Explorer-in-Residence” of the National Geographic Society, discovered the mummies in 1999 with his colleague Constanza Ceruti from the Catholic University of Salta, Argentina.

As a co-author of the new study, he is particularly interested in how the results relate to the historical chronicles that the early Spanish conquerors created for these ceremonies. “They describe how these ceremonies were carried out, but these are not first-hand reports: no Spaniard has ever observed these rites himself,” explains Reinhard. "They just wrote down what the Inca told them."

(In the mid-16th century, for example, Juan de Betanzos wrote about the widespread use of child sacrifice. According to his wife, who was previously married to none other than the Inca ruler Atahualpa, there were up to a thousand victims.)

"The dates seem to coincide with the events described in the chronicles," says Reinhard. “All of a sudden there is this picture where you can almost see what they are going through. They receive more attention in the form of better food and coca, which was otherwise rarely consumed and mostly consumed in ceremonies. It is precisely this increased affection for these children that is also described in the chronicles. "

According to Reinhard, given the stories that have been handed down, it is not surprising that coca consumption rose in the year before the death of a chosen child like the virgin.

“They tell of pilgrimages to Cuzco and a series of ceremonies in which the children were sent from one place to another on other long pilgrimages. The six-month period between the highest levels of coca consumption is also interesting, ”he adds. “The connection is unclear. However, historical accounts may be supported here, according to which some of these virgins of the sun participated in solstice ceremonies in the year before they were sent to their deaths. "

Today the mummies are in the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) in Salta, Argentina. "It's exciting to see the extent to which their physical remains can support historical and archaeological records," said Wilson. "But at the same time it's creepy that the children still look so clearly human so long after their death."

“To me, it's almost like the children can tell us their own stories,” he continues. "Above all, hair is something so personal, and here after five centuries it provides us with convincing evidence and a very intimate story."

The study was published on July 29 in the Early Edition section of the journal PNAS.

Article published in English on July 29, 2013