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Incan Mummies Reveal Children were Given Drugs and Alcohol before Sacrificial Death


Researchers prepare La Doncella, “the maiden,” for exhibition. (Museum of High Altitude Archaeology)

In 1999, the bodies of 3 mummified children from the Inca Empire were discovered in a shrine on the summit of Llullaillaco, a volcano at the border of current day Argentina and Chile, their bodies incredibly preserved due to the cold.  Throughout the subsequent years, these Incan mummies have gained international fame, especially the eldest child, dubbed “The Maiden.”  Since their discovery, scientists have been testing their hair and bodies for more information regarding the years and months before their deaths. In the most recent study, conducted by the Department of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen and Bradford University, scientists found that these children were steadily given a regime of alcohol and coca leaves (the plant that cocaine is derived from) in the months before their deaths (Lynnerup).

Researchers recently analyzed the mummies’ hair for cocaine, its metabolite benzoylecgonine, as well as cocaethylene, a metabolite formed when both cocaine and ethanol are present in the bloodstream (Castro).  Through this analysis, they found that all of the children – aged 4,5, and 13 – had ingested both coca leaves and alcohol in the months prior to their deaths.  Researchers also used CT analysis to visualize the internal organs and oral cavity of The Maiden, ascertaining that there was still a clump of coca leaves in her oral cavity (Lynnerup).  Researchers were also able to compare the differences in the substance consumption between the three Incan mummies, and they found that the two younger children, named Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, consumed coca leaves and alcohol at a steady rate, while The Maiden consumed more coca leaves in her last year, with peak consumption 6 months prior to her death and alcohol consumption peaking a few weeks before her death (Castro).  Researchers speculate that due to the euphoric sensation this combination creates, it would have made these children more compliant, less anxious, and less lucid in the months prior to their deaths (Gordon).

This provides researchers with new and valuable insight into the ritualistic sacrifice that created these Incan mummies. For instance, they were able to ascertain that The Maiden was administered coca leaves and alcohol a full year before her younger counterparts were given the same substances (Gordon).  Additionally, this information combined with the vast change in diet they were able to establish for The Maiden, as well as the condition in which she was found, suggests that she was the most important of these sacrifices to the Incan Empire.  It may also suggest that she required heavier sedation than the two younger Incan mummies in order to go to her death.  No matter what the reason for the drugging of these children was, it provides further scientific insight into the ritualistic process of sacrificing people in the Incan Empire.

The Maiden and the other Incan mummies have been a scientific, cultural, and social phenomena since their discovery over a decade ago.  They’ve provided insight into an empire that was once one of the most powerful and populated in the Americas, as well as into the specifics of rituals that otherwise may have remained undiscovered.  This new study shows that the steady administration of coca leaves and alcohol to special sacrifices such as The Maiden, Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, was part of the preparation for the actual sacrifice.  It is another stepping stone into more completely understanding a powerful and ancient society, their customs, and their rituals.



Works Cited:

Castro, Joseph. “Incan Mummies’ Hair Samples Suggest Children Were Given Drugs, Alcohol Before Ritual Sacrifice.” 30 July 2013. Huffington Post. Web. 6 August 2013.

Gordon, Josh. “Mummified Inca Children Reveal Dark, Drug-Filled Secrets.” 2013. AllTreatment. Web. 6 August 2013.

Lynnerup, Niels. “Inca children were drugged with coca and alcohol before sacrifice.” 6 August 2013. EurekAlert. Web. 6 August 2013.


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A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

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