The discovery of three well-preserved mummies atop a 19,000-foot peak in the Argentinean Andes has literally put a human face on Incan society and what the final year of the culture’s human sacrifices were like.
Biochemical analysis of the hair of the so-called Llullaillaco Maiden revealed that the 13-year old girl was heavily drugged with alcohol and coca, the base product in cocaine, before being left to die in the elements just below the summit of the 22,110-foot Volcán Llullaillaco. The mummified remains of the girl, along with that of two others nicknamed Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, were originally discovered in 1999 and believed to be about 500 years old.
Llullaillaco Maiden was incredibly well intact when she was found by researchers. She was discovered sitting cross-legged, hands resting on her lap, a wad of coca still in her mouth and her face lying on her knees.
"In terms of mummies that are known around the world, in my opinion she has to be the best preserved of any of the mummies that I'm aware of," said forensic and archaeological expert Andrew Wilson, of the University of Bradford (U.K.), according to National Geographic. "She looks almost as if she's just fallen asleep."
The fact that the mummy is so well preserved has helped scientists figure out what the final year of the young girl’s life must have been like before she was given up to die in a ceremony known as capacocha, which was meant to instill fear in the growing population that the Incan empire began to control.
The evidence uncovered by the biochemical analysis supports the theory that a few children were selected each year to take part in the ceremonial sacrifice, which included massive changes in diet such as the bumping up in the intake of both coca and alcohol. Incan religious thinking believed that these substances could induce spiritual trances, but there was also the more pragmatic reason that these substances sedated the children and made them more accepting of their deadly fate.
The analysis indicated that the Incan girl used heavy amounts of coca during the final year of her life, but her alcohol intake stepped up dramatically in the last weeks of their lives. The other two mummies had lower levels of both coca and alcohol, which is believed because of either their lower birth or the fact that they were younger than the Llullaillaco Maiden.
"I suppose that's what makes this all the more chilling," Wilson added. "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."