| La Doncella Inca Maiden |
|Name(s)||La Doncella Inca Maiden|
|Age||15 at death|
|Site||Summit of Volcán Llullaillaco|
“La doncella” was unearthed at the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of the Chilean border, by American archaeologist Dr. Johan Reinhard and Argentine archaeologist Constanza Ceruti.
The girl’s remains were found among the bodies of another two Inca children - a seven-year-old boy, and a six-year-old girl. Now the bodies of 13-year-old Llullaillaco Maiden and her younger companions Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl have revealed that mind-altering substances played a part in their deaths and during the year-long series of ceremonial processes that prepared them for their final hours.
Under biochemical analysis, the Maiden's hair yielded a record of what she ate and drank during the last two years of her life. This evidence seems to support historical accounts of a few selected children taking part in a year of sacred ceremonies—marked in their hair by changes in food, coca, and alcohol consumption—that would ultimately lead to their sacrifice.
The Maiden and her young counterparts, found in 1999, exist in a remarkable state of natural preservation due to frigid conditions just below the mountain's 22,110-foot (6,739-meter) summit.
"In terms of mummies that are known around the world, in my opinion she has to be the best preserved of any of the mummies that I'm aware of," said forensic and archaeological expert Andrew Wilson, of the University of Bradford (U.K.). "She looks almost as if she's just fallen asleep." Their frozen corpses were ranked as the best preserved mummies ever found, with internal organs intact, blood still present in the heart and lungs, and skin and facial features mostly unscathed.
Because hair grows about a centimeter a month and remains unchanged thereafter, the Maiden's long, braided locks contain a time line of markers that record her diet, including consumption of substances like coca and alcohol in the form of chicha, a fermented brew made from maize.
The markers show she appears to have been selected for sacrifice a year before her actual death, Wilson explained. During this period her life changed dramatically, as did her surging consumption of both coca and alcohol, which were then controlled substances not available for everyday use. "We suspect the Maiden was one of the acllas, or chosen women, selected around the time of puberty to live away from her familiar society under the guidance of priestesses," he said, noting that this practice is described in the accounts of Spaniards who chronicled information on such rites given to them by the Inca.
A previous DNA and chemical study, also led by Wilson, examined changes in the Maiden's diet and found marked improvements during the year before her death, including the consumption of elite foods like maize and animal protein, perhaps llama meat. Now it's clear that the Maiden's consumption of coca also rose heavily throughout the year before her death, spiking dramatically 12 months before her death and again 6 months before her death.