The ancient Incan ritual of capacocha is known by historians and archaeologists as an event which culminated with human sacrifices—and the 500-year-old bodies of several young child sacrifice victims were found a number of years ago near the summit of Volcan Llullaillaco in Argentina.
As study continues on the bodies, these three ridiculously well-preserved victims have revealed some previously unknown details about the ritual sacrifice, as well as put a human face on our historical understanding of the event. One of the Inca mummies was a 13-year old girl, with the other two a little younger at the time of their deaths.
The ceremonial processes to ready these children for the sacrificial event took place over the course of a year, and a biochemical analysis of the “Llullaillaco Maiden’s” hair showed scientists what she ate and drank for the final two years of her life.
The markers in her hair showed that her consumption of coca and alcohol (chicha, the maize-brewed beverage) increased at approximately a year before her death—likely when she was selected as a sacrificial victim.
Forensic and archaeological sciences expert Andrew Wilson of the University of Bradford commented that “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.”
Notable was the Maiden’s consumption of coca, a hallucinogenic substance, which increased at 12 months before death and then again at the 6 month point. She used a significant amount of coca during those final 6 months, but it was the alcohol consumption which really spiked in the final weeks before death.
“We’re probably talking about the last six to eight weeks … that she’s either compliant in taking this or is being made to ingest such a large quantity of alcohol … the coca and chicha alcohol, might be used in almost a controlling way in the final buildup to the culmination of this capacocha rite and her sacrifice.”
On the day of sacrifice, the drugs and alcohol may have made her docile, or perhaps “put her in a stupor” or left her barely conscious. The Maiden’s relaxed, seated position—and the presence of chewed coca leaves in her mouth—support the theories.
And while prior discoveries of victims in this particular sacrificial ritual have shown evidence of violence—ie. cranial trauma—it appears that these three young children were allowed to slip away in death quietly. For those who are reading this and shuddering at the notion of child sacrifice, that, at least, may be somewhat consoling.
The final event in the ancient Pentathlon is one that somewhat baffles newcomers to ancient history. While it’s true that wrestling is literally the oldest form of fighting without weapons, wrestling as a sport has changed dramatically throughout the millennia.
In the Ancient Olympic Pentathlon, wrestling was the final component of the event, and unlike modern wrestling matches, the competitors were required to remain upright. Upright wrestling was held in the long jump sand pit, and the rules were simple: If any body part touched the ground, the other competitor took the point.
There were, of course, some additional rules for safety’s sake: No hitting, no biting, no holds on male *ahem* organs. Leaving the sand pit was grounds for disqualification.
It’s thought that three successful “throws” were required to be declared a winner in the Pentathlon upright wrestling match, and some sources suggest that breaking an opponent’s fingers—to get out of a hold, for example—was allowed. But, the legitimacy of this rule, and how a winner was actually declared, remains contested.
As with the majority of Olympic events in Ancient Greece, competitors were nude for the Pentathlon events, including wrestling—most of the time. Some sixth-century vase black-figure artwork does show the athletes wearing a loincloth, so it’s more likely that the rules and requirements of the sport changed over time—just as tends to happen with modern sporting events today!
In Ancient Greece, the five events of the Pentathlon—held at the ancient Olympic games—were not the same five events as we’ve seen in our modern Pentathlon. However, the one thing that never seems to disappear is… running. Humans love to run, and they love to compete against each other when running. Some things never change!
The running race in Ancient Greece was known as the stadion. In fact, between the years of 776 and 724 BC, it was the only event at the Olympics, and the winner’s name was the title by which the event would be known for the next four years—hence, Classical scholars today know the winners of many of these races!
In fact, the winner of the first stadion event was a man named Coroebus of Elis.
The stadion took its name from the building in which the race was held (sound familiar? the Latin term, stadium, became the English word we use today), and the Pentathlon stadion race was approximately 180-meters long—making the event more of a sprinting challenge rather than an endurance event.
Just as is done today, officials would wait at the starting blocks to ensure that no competitor started early, and a trumpet would sound to begin the race. Officials at the end of the track determined the victor, and in the event of a tie, the race would be run a second time.
Unlike modern track runners, the competitors in the Pentathlon stadion likely started from a standing position with their arms outstretched. Runners completed the event in the nude, running barefoot on a track of packed earth or sand.
By the 5th century, the track became a little more sophisticated, as the starting line would be marked on the ground by stones (called a balbis), which eventually would be adjusted to include grooves where a runner could place his toes in the starting position.
…and they’re off!