Researchers revealed yesterday that drugs and alcohol played a key part in Inca practice of child sacrifice.
Tests on three Inca child mummies found atop a 20,000-foot volcano in Argentina show that the children consumed increasing amounts of cocaine and corn beer for up to a year before they were sacrificed, stated the researchers in a paper published in the Proceedings of ther National Academy of Sciences.
Sedation by the drugs and alcohol combined with the frigid, high-altitude setting may explain how the children were killed. There is no evidence for direct violence, the researchers noted.
The drug and alcohol consumption rises about six months before death and then skyrockets in the final weeks, especially for the eldest, a 13-year-old girl known as the "Ice Maiden."
"She was probably heavily sedated by the point at which she succumbs to death," Andrew Wilson, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom and the study's lead author, told NBC News, in an MSN report.
The finding is based on detailed analyses of hair taken from the more than 500-year-old mummified remains, which also include a four-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy. The boy and girl were perhaps the maiden's attendants.
The data corroborate earlier research showing the children ate more meat and corn in their final year. Taken together, the studies suggest the peasant children were selected for the ritual sacrifice and lived a high-status life until their death near the top of the Llullaillacao Volcano in Argentina, Wilson said.
Dr Emma Brown, from the department of archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, told The BBC: "The Spanish chroniclers suggest that children were sacrificed for all kinds of reasons: important life milestones in the lives of the Incas, in times of war or natural disasters, but there was a calendar of rituals too."
Like They Are Asleep
The mummified remains were discovered in 1999, entombed in a shrine near the summit of the 6,739m-high Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina.
Three children were buried there: a 13-year-old girl, and a younger boy and girl, thought to be about four or five years old.
Their remains date to about 500 years ago, during the time of the Inca empire, which dominated South America until the Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th Century.
"The preservation is phenomenal. These three children look like they are asleep."
The international team of researchers used forensic tests to analyse the chemicals found in the children's hair.
They discovered that all three had consumed alcohol and coca leaves (from which cocaine is extracted) in the final months of their lives.
Historical records reveal that these substances were reserved for the elite and often used in Incan rituals.
Death from exposure
An analysis of the teenage girl's hair, which was longer than the hair of the younger victims, revealed more.
The girl, known as the "Llullaillaco maiden", was probably considered more highly valued than the younger children, because of her virginal status.
"In the case of the maiden, there is no sign of violence. She is incredibly well looked after: she has a good layer of fat, she has beautifully groomed hair, beautiful clothes," Dr Brown told The BBC.
NBC News stated that the Ice Maiden was inside a tomb structure, surrounded by offerings from the four corners of the Inca empire such as seashells, bird feathers, coca and corn. Her head is bowed as if she fell asleep, sedated, and succumbed to the biting cold and thin air as is inevitable at such altitude.
The mummies are now housed in the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Salta, Argentina. – July 31, 2013.