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Children of Llullaillaco

In 1999, three Incan child mummies were found near the summit of a dormant volcano on the Argentina–Chile border, Llullaillaco. They consisted of a 14 year old girl (la doncella), a 6 year old girl (la niña del rayo) and a 7 year old boy (el niño). The three had been sacrificed there as part of the Incan practice of qhapaq hucha. Their bodies had been almost perfectly preserved due to the extreme cold they were found in.

It is thought that the older girl had been selected as an aclla, or “sun virgin”; the acllas were taken from their home villages to the capital Cusco at the age of ten, fed and clothed generously, and educated to a high level by Incan standards. The acllas were variously assigned to be priestesses (training younger generations of acllas), concubines for royalty and other distinguished people, and human sacrifices to the gods, as it seems was la doncella’s fate. The younger children might have been her servants.

La doncella died non-violently, and in fact still had a wad of coca in her mouth when found. The boy’s corpse showed signs of distress, and it’s thought he was suffocated. It’s hard to tell the younger girl’s fate because her body was struck by lightning after her death, but there are apparently no signs of violent treatment. All three had been drugged regularly with coca and alcohol in the months leading up to their deaths. It’s thought that the older girl died of exposure.

The mummies are currently on display in a museum in Salta, Argentina. This is controversial, because some indigenous communities feel that they never should have been removed from their final resting place, and want them returned. Apparently, the museum where the mummies are being displayed has agreed that no further bodies will be removed from the estimated 40 burial sites scattered around the peaks of the Andes.

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