A few years back I read the story about a 500-year-old mummy found on a mountain, nicknamed “The Maiden”. She was sacrificed to her Inca Gods on the top of a mountain summit and preserved due to the cold conditions. Well due to recent improvements in technology, there have been recent revelations that are pretty cool. The maiden was discovered in 1999 during an Argentinian volcano expedition to Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of the Chilean border. She was frozen in ice-cold conditions which perfectly preserved her body. These conditions have made her one of the best preserved mummies ever found. All of her internal organs were intact. There was even blood still in her heart and lungs after 500 years on a mountain summit. This is absolutely amazing when you take into consideration the fact that no special measures were taken to preserve her body. She was sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as capacocha. She wasn’t the only child found. There were two other mummies found with her, both children, a boy and a girl. The three Inca mummies were discovered underground in a small chamber about 1.5 meters under the surface of the mountain top. The other two came to be known as “Llullaillaco Boy,” and “Lightning Girl” whose remains were struck by lightning and charred. The boy was the youngest of the group. He appears to be either 4 or 5 years old.
Discoverer Johan Reinhard with Inca mummies (maiden right, boy left) on the summit at 22,100 feet.
It is estimated that the maiden was 13-15 years old when she was sacrificed. She would have been a peasant girl taken from her village about 12 months prior to the time that she was sacrificed.
She has been fully analyzed. A great source of information was her perfectly preserved hair. She had very tight braids, and when the hair strands were analyzed, it was found that she was given large amounts of chicha beer and cocoa leaves before her death. This would have kept her very sedated. In her final weeks, the maiden shows consistently escalating levels of cocoa and alcohol in her system when compared to the younger children. This suggests there was a greater need to sedate her in the final weeks of life.
A research team led by Angelique Corthals of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, used a new technique called proteomics, which focuses on protein rather than DNA remains. He profiled the immune system response found in samples taken from 500 year-old Andean Inca mummies. This was done by swabbing the lips of two mummies and comparing the proteins they found to large databases of the human genome.
They found that the protein profile from the Maiden was similar to that of patients who suffered from chronic respiratory infection. The related DNA analysis also showed the presence of Mycobacterium, which is considered responsible for upper respiratory tract infections and tuberculosis. So at the time of her death, she had a bacterial lung infection.
This knowledge will give researchers a better understanding of infectious diseases and their patterns. Ultimately it will help us understand and possibly prepare for future outbreaks.
The 500-year-old mummies have been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned, and biopsied. The bodies were kept in freezers and not shown to the public until September 2007.
The mummy found on a mountain was placed on exhibit first, at the Museum of High Altitude Archeology, which was created in Salta specifically to display them. Salta was part of the Inca empire until the 1500s, when it was invaded by the Spanish conquistadors.
Although the mummies captured headlines when they were found, officials here decided to open the exhibit quietly, without any of the fanfare or celebration that might have been expected. “These are dead people, Indian people,” said Gabriel E. Miremont, 39, the museum’s designer and director. “It’s not a situation for a party.” The cloth, pottery, and figurines buried with them have been meticulously thawed and preserved and are also on display.
There is one thing I can say for certain. Science is amazing!
They traveled hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco, and were then taken to the summit to die. It is said that only healthy, beautiful children who were considered perfect physically, were chosen for sacrifice. This was supposed to be a great honor to be chosen among the Inca civilization. According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but went on to join their ancestors to watch over their villages from the mountaintops like angels.
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