Mummified Inca Girl Unlocks New Secrets
Perfectly preserved 500-year-old bodies with food and statues scattered around them.
This is what Johan Reinhard and Miguel Zárate – an anthropologist and his climbing partner stumbled upon when exploring an ice pit in Mount Ampato.
They discovered that this was the body of a 13-year-old Inca girl and two younger children between the ages of 4 and 5.
In 1999, the children were recovered from an ice cave near the top of Mount Ampato – a dormant volcano in the Andes, Peru; Have been on display around the world with the eldest girl, dubbed “Inca Ice Woman” and “Maiden”, who is so well preserved, scientists have been able to extract DNA and hair samples from her.
The Incas began as a small tribe who expanded their tribe until they became the Incan Empire, in 1438.
They are perhaps better known for their buildings – Machu Picchu being the most famous that is still around today. The Incas had no writing system and relied on passing down stories in their own language of Quechua they would also decorate ceramic objects such as pottery with basic artwork.
Archaeologists have been striving to find out more about the Incas, so the incredible discovery of these children in such pristine condition has already started to go a long way to shedding some light into some of Incas long lost secrets.
A new study meant that scientists have been able to test the children’s hair to see how the chemical traces in the hair changed, from root to tip, this analysis showed the scientists what the children had eaten and drank before they died.
Forensic and archaeological expert Andrew Wilson, from the University of Bradford, said about the most well preserved child, The Maiden: “She has fantastically tightly braided hair, which effectively acts as a timeline stretching back almost two years before her death.”
He went on to say “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 am aware of”.
So how is she so well preserved?
This was down to the ice cave, not unlike an elaborate tomb, in freezing temperatures, the food and artifacts strewn around them were also in perfect condition.
The results from studying The Maidens hair showed that the young woman had started eating better foods around a year before she died.
The scientists and archaeologists think that this meant she was perhaps a peasant who was specially selected, along with the other children for a ceremony called Capacocha.
The Capacocha ritual was thought to be used as a way to commemorate special occasions such as the death of an emperor.
“We suspect the Maiden was one of the acllas, or chosen women, selected around the time of puberty, to live away from her familiar society, under the guidance of priestesses,” says Wilson.
The idea was that the chosen ones could live in paradise with the gods – children obviously being the most pure.
The scientists discovered that the Maiden had consumed a large amount of coca and beer made from fermented maize. Coca is the plant that cocaine is derived from, and the Maiden has coca leaves still in her teeth.
Scientists theorise that both the coca and alcohol were used to sedate her. All of The children had traces of these in their systems, but the Maiden had the greatest amount – probably because she was older and bigger.
According to the finding from the Maidens hair, she had started drinking more alcohol, in the last six weeks of her life. Wilson suggested that this could be because there was more of a need to calm her as the time of the ritual grew nearer.
John Verano, at Tulane University in New Orleans, said “We can only hypothesise, but being older, she might have had more of an idea of what was going on around her. Was she nervous and using drink as a way to deal with it?”
Reinhard, who discovered the bodies and co-wrote the new study isn’t surprised by the results and feels that the findings are backing up what they already thought with real evidence:
“All of a sudden you have this picture where you can almost see what they were going through. Increased attention is paid to them in terms of better food and coca, which was used in ceremonies and wasn’t in very common use. This kind of increased attention paid to these children is exactly what you read in the chronicles.”