Journal of Glacial Archaeology, Vol 1 (2014)

Overview of the Inca Frozen Mummies From Mount Lullaillaco (Argentina)

Constanza Ceruti
Issued Date: 6 Nov 2014

Abstract


Three frozen bodies belonging to a young woman and two infants were found at an elevation of 6.715 meters (22,100 ft.) above sea level, on the summit of volcano Llullaillaco, in the Andes of northwestern Argentina. The mummies were discovered (and recovered for ulterior preservation and study) during scientific excavations codirected by the author of this paper at the highest archaeological site in the world. The mummies belonged to children that were sacrificed five hundred years ago, under the rule of the Inca Empire, as part of a state-controlled ceremony known as capacocha. According to the historical sources written during the Hispanic conquest, the Inca human sacrifices were performed in response to natural catastrophes, the death of the Inca emperor, or to propitiate the mountain spirits that grant fertility. The selected children and the young acllas or “chosen women” were taken in processions to the highest summits of the Andes to be sacrificed. They were believed to become messengers into the world of the mountain deities and the spirits of the ancestors. Numerous interdisciplinary studies were conducted on the frozen mummies between 1999 and 2004, a time span during which the “Llullaillaco children” were preserved at the Catholic University of Salta (UCASAL). These studies included radiological evaluations by conventional X-rays and CT scans, which provided information about condition and pathology of the bones and internal organs; as well as dental studies oriented to the estimation of the ages of the three children at the time of death. Ancient DNA studies and hair analysis were also performed in cooperation with academic institutions in the United States and Europe, including the Institute of Bioscience at the George Mason University, the University of Bradford and the Laboratory of Biological Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. In this paper we focus on the frozen bodies of mount Llullaillaco as objects for bioarchaeological and medical research, providing an overview on the paleopathology of the mummies that are among the best preserved known to date.

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DOI: 10.1558/jga.v1i1.79

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