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.