Like cattle being prepared for slaughter, some native children captured by the Inca were fattened up for months before being ritually sacrificed to the gods, a sequence of events calculated to elevate the victims’ value to the gods and to strike fear into subjugated peoples, British researchers reported this week.
Beginning at least a year before the sacrifice, the children’s diets were switched from their normal fare of potatoes and similar vegetables to one rich in corn and meat, a change typically associated with elevation of their status from peasant to elite, according to archaeologist Andrew Wilson of the University of Bradford in England.
In the days and weeks before their deaths, their diets were switched to primarily corn at way stations along the trails from the capitol of Cuzco to the lofty peaks where the children met their fate, Wilson and his colleagues reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“This is the very first time we are hearing the account from the individuals themselves – what they were eating and when they were separated from their normal existence and set on this path,” Wilson said.
That account came from hair samples from four frozen 400-year-old mummies. One was a 15-year-old girl found in 1996 at the 18,000-foot-high summit of Sara Sara volcano of Peru. The other three were found in 1999 in a shrine 75 feet from the top of the 21,100-foot-high Llullaillaco volcano: a 15-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl known as Lightning Girl because she had been struck by at least one bolt.
The researchers are not sure precisely how the children died, but they were probably drugged and left to die from exposure to the elements.