Llullaillaco: Mummified Inca maiden wows crowds
The remains of the girl, who was 15 when she died,
were found in an icy pit on top of a volcano in the Andes, along with a younger
boy and girl.
Incas fattened up their children before sacrifice on the volcano
October 2, 2007. Source:
Mark Henderson, Science Editor
Grim evidence of how the Incas “fattened up” children before sacrificing
them to their gods has emerged from a new analysis of hair from two
500-year-old mummies preserved near the summit of a volcano.
The remains of the 15-year-old girl known as the “Llullaillaco Maiden” and
the seven-year-old “Llullaillaco Boy” revealed that their diets changed
markedly in the 12 months up to their deaths, shedding new light on the
rituals of the ancient Andean civilisation.
The research, by a British-led team, suggests that the children were fed a
ceremonial diet before being marched to a shrine 82ft (25 metres) from the
top of the 22,110ft (6,739 metres) volcano Llullaillaco, where they were
suffocated or left to die from exposure.
Before being chosen as sacrificial victims, the boy and girl had followed a
typical peasant diet. This raises the possibility that they were chosen from
among the Incas’ conquered subjects and killed not only to pacify the
mountain gods, but also to instil terror and respect for an imperial power.
“It looks to us as though the children were led up to the summit shrine in
the culmination of a year-long rite, drugged and then left to succumb to
exposure,” said Timothy Taylor of the University of Bradford, one of the
“Although some may wish to view these grim deaths within the context of
indigenous belief systems, we should not forget that the Inca were
imperialists too and the treatment of such peasant children may have served
to instil fear and facilitate social control over remote mountain areas.”
The two mummified bodies, along with a third belonging to a six-year-old
girl, were discovered in 1999 on Llullaillaco, in northwestern Argentina,
near the Chilean border.
All are exquisitely preserved, though the younger girl’s body had been
damaged by a lightning strike, giving her the nickname “Lightning Girl”. The
Maiden of Llullaillaco or “La Doncella”, which is considered among the best
preserved of all Andean mummies, has gone on public display recently for the
first time, at the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in the nearby town of
In the new research, Dr Taylor, his colleague Andrew Wilson and others have
now examined hair taken from the Maiden and the Boy for isotopes of carbon,
nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen. Isotopes are atomic variants of particular
elements, and their relative abundance in hair, can reveal detailed
information about an individual’s diet and where he or she once lived.
The study, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, shows that the children spent much of their lives
eating a diet composed primarily of vegetables, such as potatoes, which
indicates a peasant background.
In the 12 months before their deaths, however, both children’s hair shows
that they started to receive maize, which was considered a food of the
elite, and animal protein, almost certainly from dried llama meat known as
“By examining hair samples from these unfortunate children, a chilling story
has started to emerge of how the children were ‘fattened up’ for sacrifice,”
Dr Wilson said.
“Given the surprising change in their diets and the symbolic cutting of
their hair, it appears that various events were staged in which the status
of the children was raised. In effect, their countdown to sacrifice had
begun some considerable time prior to death.”
The hair isotopes show a further change in the children’s lifestyle about
three to four months before they died, which suggests that is when they
began their pilgrimage to the volcano, probably from the Inca capital, Cuzco.
It is thought that the children were given maize beer or chicha and coca
leaves, both to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness and to drug them
into compliance with their fates. By products of coca metabolism have been
found in the hair of the children, with particularly high concentrations in
the Maiden’s. As the oldest, she may have had more idea about what was about
to happen to her.
It is known that the Incas who conquered the indigenous tribes of the Andes
chose the sons and daughters of local rulers and particularly attractive
children for sacrifice. Some girls, known as acllas, were chosen at the age
of around 4 and raised by priestesses. Some would be offered as wives to
local nobles, others would become priestesses and others would later be
The two girls appear to have been been left to die from exposure – at such a
high altitude, it would not have taken long for children to die. Previous
research, however, has shown that the Llullaillaco Boy was suffocated by
having a textile wrap drawn so tightly around him that his ribs were crushed
and his pelvis dislocated.
Empire of the Sun
The Inca empire began in the
Cuzco region of the highlands of Peru in the early 13th
During the next two centuries
the empire grew to dominate the Andes, including large parts
of modern Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, northwest Argentina,
northern Chile and southern Colombia
It survived until the 16th
century, when the Spaniards arrived under Francisco Pizarro
in 1532. The following year Atahualpa, the Inca Emperor, was
murdered and Spanish rule established
Inca religion was centred on the
Sun god Inti, but the empire tolerated the many local gods
or huacas venerated by subjects
Though not as bloodthirsty as
the Aztecs of Mexico, the Incas indulged in human sacrifice,
particularly of children, in a ceremony known as capacocha
Source: Times database
In Argentina, a Museum Unveils a Long-Frozen Maiden
September 11, 2007. Source:
The New York Times, Science by Denise Grady
SALTA, Argentina — The maiden, the boy, the girl of lightning: they were
three Inca children, entombed on a bleak and frigid mountaintop 500 years
ago as a religious sacrifice.
Children of the Cold Unearthed in 1999 from the 22,000-foot summit of Mount
Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of here near the Chilean border,
their frozen bodies were among the best preserved mummies ever found, with
internal organs intact, blood still present in the heart and lungs, and skin
and facial features mostly unscathed. No special effort had been made to
preserve them. The cold and the dry, thin air did all the work. They froze
to death as they slept, and 500 years later still looked like sleeping
children, not mummies.
In the eight years since their discovery, the mummies, known here simply as
Los Niņos or “the children,” have been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned and
biopsied for DNA. The cloth, pottery and figurines buried with them have
been meticulously thawed and preserved. But the bodies themselves were kept
in freezers and never shown to the public — until last week, when La
Doncella, the maiden, a 15-year-old girl, was exhibited for the first time,
at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which was created in Salta
expressly to display them.
The new and the old are at home in Salta. The museum faces a historic plaza
where a mirrored bank reflects a century-old basilica with a sign warning
churchgoers not to use the holy water for witchcraft. Now a city of 500,000
and the provincial capital, Salta was part of the Inca empire until the
1500s, when it was invaded by the Spanish conquistadors.
Although the mummies captured headlines when they were found, officials here
decided to open the exhibit quietly, without any of the fanfare or
celebration that might have been expected.
“These are dead people, Indian people,” said Gabriel E. Miremont, 39, the
museum’s designer and director. “It’s not a situation for a party.”
The two other mummies have not yet been shown, but will be put on display
within the next six months or so.
The children were sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as
capacocha. They walked hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco and
were then taken to the summit of Llullaillaco (yoo-yeye-YAH-co), given
chicha (maize beer), and, once they were asleep, placed in underground
niches, where they froze to death. Only beautiful, healthy, physically
perfect children were sacrificed, and it was an honor to be chosen.
According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but joined their
ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops like angels.
Discussing why it took eight years to prepare the exhibit, Dr. Miremont
smiled and said, “This is South America,” but then went on to explain that
there was little precedent for dealing with mummies as well preserved as
these, and that it took an enormous amount of research to figure out how to
show them yet still make sure they did not deteriorate.
The solution turned out to be a case within a case — an acrylic cylinder
inside a box made of triple-paned glass. A computerized climate control
system replicates mountaintop conditions inside the case — low oxygen,
humidity and pressure, and a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In part
because Salta is in an earthquake zone, the museum has three backup
generators and freezers, in case of power failures or equipment breakdowns,
and the provincial governor’s airplane will fly the mummies out in an
emergency, Dr. Miremont said.
Asked where they would be taken, he replied, “Anywhere we can plug them in.”
The room holding La Doncella is dimly lighted, and the case itself is dark;
visitors must turn on a light to see her.
“This was important for us,” Dr. Miremont said. “If you don’t want to see a
dead body, don’t press the button. It’s your decision. You can still see the
other parts of the exhibit.”
He designed the lighting partly in hope of avoiding further offense to
people who find it disturbing that the children, part of a religious ritual,
were taken from the mountaintop shrine.
Whatever the intention, the effect is stunning. Late in August, before the
exhibit opened, Dr. Miremont showed visitors La Doncella. At a touch of the
button, she seemed to materialize from the darkness, sitting cross-legged in
her brown dress and striped sandals, bits of coca leaf still clinging to her
upper lip, her long hair woven into many fine braids, a crease in one cheek
where it leaned against her shawl as she slept.
The bodies seemed so much like sleeping children that working with them felt
“almost more like a kidnapping than archaeological work,” Dr. Miremont said.
One of the children, a 6-year-old girl, had been struck by lightning
sometime after she died, resulting in burns on her face, upper body and
clothing. She and the boy, who was 7, had slightly elongated skulls, created
deliberately by head wrappings — a sign of high social status, possibly even
Scientists worked with the bodies in a special laboratory where the
temperature of the entire lab could be dropped to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and
the mummies were never exposed to higher temperatures for more than 20
minutes at a time, to preventing thawing.
DNA tests revealed that the children were unrelated, and CT scans showed
that they were well nourished and had no broken bones or other injuries. La
Doncella apparently had sinusitis, as well as a lung condition called
bronchiolitis obliterans, possibly the result of an infection.
“There are two sides,” Dr. Miremont said. “The scientific — we can read the
past from the mummies and the objects. The other side says these people came
from a culture still alive, and a holy place on the mountain.”
Some regard the exhibit as they would a church, Dr. Miremont said.
“To me, it’s a museum, not a holy place,” he said. “The holy place is on top
of the mountain.”
The mountains around Salta are home to at least 40 other burial sites from
ritual sacrifices, but Dr. Miremont said the native people who live in those
regions do not want more bodies taken away.
“We will respect their wishes,” Dr. Miremont said, adding that three mummies
were enough. “It is not necessary to break any more graves. We would like to
have good relations with the Indian people.”
Mummified Inca maiden wows crowds
September 7, 2007. Source:
Science by Denise Grady
A mummy of an Inca girl, described as "perfect" by the archaeologists who
found her in 1999, has gone on display for the first time in Argentina.
Hundreds of people crowded into a museum in the north-western city of Salta
to see "la Doncella", the Maiden.
The remains of the girl, who was 15 when she died, were found in an icy pit
on top of a volcano in the Andes, along with a younger boy and girl.
Researchers believe they were sacrificed by the Incas 500 years ago.
The three were discovered at a height of 6,700m (22,000ft) on Mount
Llullaillaco, a volcano in north-west Argentina on the border with Chile.
At the time, the archaeologist leading the team, Dr Johan Reinhard, said
they appeared "the best preserved of any mummy I've seen".
It is believed the Children of Llullaillaco, as they have come to be known,
were sacrificed during a ceremony thanking the Inca gods for the annual corn
The mummy of la Doncella is on display in a chamber that is filled with cold
air that recreates the sub-freezing conditions in which she was found.
Visitors told Argentine media they were impressed at the mummy's state of
"I'm amazed," one woman said. "You just expect her at any moment to get up
and start talking."
But the exhibition has angered several indigenous groups who campaigned to
stop the mummy from going on display.
Miguel Suarez from the Calchaquies valley tribes in and around Salta told
the Associated Press news agency that the exhibit was "a great mistake",
adding that he hoped visitors would show respect for the dead.
The Inca empire once stretched across much of western South America,
including present-day Peru and Bolivia, and down to central Chile and parts
It collapsed in 1532 with the Spanish conquest.