Mummified Inca maiden wows crowds
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Salon IFA (Salon 173: 8 October 2007) reports
'A team of scientists at the University of Bradford, including our Fellow Dr Timothy Taylor and led by Dr Andrew Wilson, have been studying hair samples from four children preserved in the ice of the Andes, aiming to build up a picture of how the children were prepared for sacrifice over a period of months prior to being exposed on the summits of the mountains that form the border between modern Argentina and Chile.
‘By examining hair samples from these unfortunate children, a chilling story has started to emerge of how the children were “fattened up” for sacrifice,’ says Dr Wilson, a Wellcome Trust Bioarchaeology Fellow. By analysing stable isotopes found in the hair samples, Dr Wilson and colleagues were able to see that the children lived mainly on vegetables, such as potato, suggesting that they came from a peasant background. However, in the twelve months prior to sacrifice, the isotopic evidence shows that the diet changed markedly to one that was enriched with plants such as maize, considered an ‘elite’ food, and protein, likely to have come from charki (dried llama meat).
‘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’, says Dr Wilson. ‘In effect, their countdown to sacrifice had begun some considerable time prior to death.’
Whilst members of the team cannot be certain how the children died, it is believed that they were first given maize beer (chicha) and coca leaves, possibly to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness and also to inure them to their fate. This theory is supported by evidence of coca metabolites that the researchers found in the victims’ hair. ‘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,’ says Timothy Taylor, adding that, ‘Some may wish to view these grim deaths within the context of indigenous belief systems, [but] 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.’'