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On The Imperial Inca Rite…

Inca, the Largest Empire of the 15th Century, was a mixture of technological advancement and aristocracy. The Inca Empire was spread over an area of about 5,000km, from Ecuador to Chile. In fact, the Inca Empire was the last chapter of thousands of years of Andean Civilisation, which is one of five Civilisations in the world deemed by scholars to be Pristine that is indigenous and not derivative from other Civilisations. Much of the Inca Civilisation is still shrouded in mystery. However, archaeologists are trying hard to solve it. Although their use of technology amazes the modern people, human sacrifice was one of the major cultural practices of the Incas. They used to sacrifice holy souls to God. Interestingly, they did not dissect human bodies, but used to mummify the living people!

Archaeologists had found one such mummy on March 16, 1999. It may be noted that they had dug out three mummies in Llullaillaco, a dormant stratovolcano at the border of Argentina (Salta Province) and Chile (Antofagasta Region), at the top of the Andes Mountains. All three were very young at the time of their demise. While the eldest one (a girl) was 13, the other two (a girl and a boy) were five and four, respectively. The Incas’ crematorium was situated at Llullaillaco. Archaeologists had unearthed this area made of volcanic rock 5ft below the surface two decades ago.

Llullaillaco

Llullaillaco, situated at the top of the Andes Mountains near the Atacama Desert in South America, is 22,110ft above sea level, and the place, where the mummies have been found, is the highest archeological site in the world. According to archaeologists, those three mummies are actually fine examples of Child Sacrifice, also referred to as Capacocha or Qhapaq Hucha, by the Incas. Among them, the 13-year-old girl has been named Llullaillaco Maiden (or La doncella). She had been primarily dedicated to God, while the other two (named La niña del rayo and El niño) were kept there to accompany her. They were left at the top of the Andes Mountains to die. As expected, they had started losing strength. After they fell asleep while sitting there, they were buried 5ft below the ground!

In 1999, Johan Reinhard and his team of researchers set out into the high Andes to search for Inca ritual sacrifice sites. Three days into their search, Reinhard’s team discovered a grave site, containing the two mummified girls and one mummified boy. Several gold, shell and silver statues, textiles, and pottery were also found. Llullaillaco Maiden‘s body had been struck by lightning after her death, causing burn damage on her body, especially her face and shoulder. The other two mummies were not affected.

Llullaillaco Maiden

Archaeologists are of the opinion that the mummies are at least 500-year-old! Even today, it is quite difficult to reach this remote area. After several attempts, a team of archaeologists arrived there in 1999. Poor weather conditions even prompted them to take the mental preparation to return from that place. However, they finally reached the crematorium in Llullaillaco and excavated the area. The regular travel of the Incas to this remote area so many years ago is truly incredible. Meanwhile, archaeologists were stunned to see Llullaillaco Maiden sitting cross-legged, with a half-smile playing on her lips, as if she looks at peace. Just like their bodies, their clothes, too, were intact. Even their hair remained the same! It looked like their bodies were frozen to death in their sleep. Andrew Wilson of the University of Bradford in the UK said: “Llullaillaco Maiden has fantastically tightly braided hair, which effectively acts as a timeline stretching back almost two years before her death.

Surprisingly, their internal organs did not decompose in 500 years. Even after so many years, blood clots have been found in the heart of one of them. Experts are of the opinion that they had become mummies before their bodies began to dehydrate. Furthermore, the Atacama Desert is one of the driest places in the world. Because of the dry air, the bodies have been preserved so beautifully for five centuries. Both dry air and cold weather reduce the possibility of decomposition of the body. Experts believe this remarkable weather condition in Llullaillaco has kept the three mummies well preserved for so many years.

Preserved beautifully

Archaeologists were even more surprised to find out the cause of their death. The three children were allowed to consume only alcohol for six months before their death. They used to eat cocoa leaves (from which caffeine is made) and to drink wine made from corn. As the day of sacrifice approached, the level of alcohol consumption increased. Researchers have found cocoa leaves and corn-made liquor in their bodies. After analysing how chemical traces in the hair differ from root to tip, researchers have come to the conclusion that the Maiden had experienced important dietary changes in her final two years.

For his part, Charles Stanish of the University of California stressed: “Rather than the alcohol and drugs being used to sedate the Maiden to make it easier for her carers to manipulate her, they might have been for her benefit – to numb her to her fate. Some would say that within this cultural context, this was a humane action.” Meanwhile, John Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans stated that the Maiden’s hair also contains the stress hormone cortisol, so it should hold clues to her stress levels. “If (cortisol) also increased towards the end of her life, that would certainly be interesting.” he added.

Inca Empire expansion in the 15th & 16th Centuries

According to a section of archaeologists, the Incas used to consider the practice of Child Sacrifice auspicious. However, only the Upper Class people of Inca Society were allowed to be sacrificed to God. Archaeologists have claimed that children were chosen from all over the sprawling Inca Empire, and were picked primarily on the basis of their physical perfection. They were, then, taken hundreds or thousands of miles to Cusco, the capital, where they were the subject of important purification rituals. From there, the children were sent to high mountaintops throughout the Empire to be sacrificed. According to traditional Inca belief, children, who are sacrificed do not truly die, instead watch over the land from their mountaintop perches, alongside their ancestors. The Incas considered it a great honour to die as a sacrifice. The three, who had become mummies, must have been children of rich families. Although they were young, they understood very well what was going to happen to them. Hence, they relied on alcohol to alleviate fear and reduce physical suffering. The Inca parents used to feel proud to sacrifice their children. They thought that the sacrificed children would be immortal, and they would have a place with God. Many other well-preserved mummies, such as Mummy Juanita, have also been found on Andean mountaintops.

Museum of High Altitude Archaeology

The three mummies have been preserved at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM) in Salta, Argentina. Salta was, once, under the Inca Empire. The same dry and cold condition has been created in the room, where the mummies are on display, in order to preserve them well. The museum has been open to tourists since 2007.

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