Sacrificed more than 500 years ago and discovered in 1999, an Incan girl nicknamed “La doncella” or “Llullaillaco Maiden,” has remained so well preserved, that she resembles more a sleeping child than an ancient victim of ritual sacrifice.
“La doncella” was unearthed at the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of the Chilean border, by American archaeologist Dr. Johan Reinhard and Argentine archaeologist Constanza Ceruti.
The girl’s remains were found among the bodies of another two Inca children - a seven-year-old boy, and a six-year-old girl.
Their frozen corpses were ranked as 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 even 500 years later still looked like sleeping children, not mummies.
The three Children of Llullaillaco, as the mummies came to be known after the mountain on which they met their death, were found with an extraordinary collection of elaborate gold, silver and shell statues, textiles, pots containing food and even an extravagant headdress made from the white feathers of an unidentified bird.
“La doncella” was found wearing a magnificent headdress, a brown dress and was buried with several statues. Her hair was braided elaborately, and she had a few white hairs, perhaps indicating emotional stress.
All the children selected for Inca ritual sacrifices were "fattened up" with high-protein diets in the months leading up to their deaths, says researcher Andrew Wilson and his team after conducting DNA and chemical tests of hair samples taken from child mummies.
"The findings offer insight into the preparatory stages leading to Inca ritual killing, as represented by the unique capacocha rite," the report reads, referring to the Inca tradition of mountaintop child sacrifice, occurring in celebration of the key events in the life of the Incan emperor.
The chemical evidence also shows another shift several months before death, indicating that the children were forced on a grueling pilgrimage.
The route likely went from Cusco, Peru - the Inca capital - to high-altitude mountain shrines, where the children were drugged and then killed or left to die, Andrew Wilson added. “La doncella”, for example, was fed fermented maize beer and chewed coca leaves before her death.
The Llullaillaco Maiden’s new acrylic burial chamber is maintained at 0 degrees Farenheit (-18 C). They were put on public display for the first time in the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Argentina in September 2007. The exhibition will last throughout the month of July 2013.
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