Three children were sacrificed at an altitude of 6,000 meters. 500 years later, we found them just as they had been left

  • 46

The first was the boy. He was seven years old and sat on a gray robe. She had short hair, a headdress of white feathers on her head, and an ornament of Spondylus, llama skin, and human hair on her chest. She looked at the rising sun. Then they found the maiden. She wore a braid of feathers in her hair and her face still bore traces of the red paint she had used at the ceremony. She had coca leaves in her mouth and a light brown dress with red trim. On her shoulders she wore a gray cloak and a gray brooch on her chest.

The last one was the lightning girl. She was barely six years old and they found her sitting up, with her legs bent. She was looking southwest. Her skull, like the child’s, had been intentionally modified to acquire a conical shape, something that the Inca noble houses associated with beauty and hierarchy. She had straight hair adorned with two thin braids and topped with a metal plate. Perhaps that was what guided the lightning towards her and damaged part of her body and her clothes..

When the researchers found them at 6,715 meters above sea level, for a moment, they thought they were asleep. But they weren’t. Many years before, in a summer between 1480 and 1532, the three children were taken to the top of the great volcano Llulaillaco and were subjected to the ‘qhapaq piggy bank‘, a ritual ceremony of the utmost importance in the Inca empire that culminated, after years of preparation and drug use, in a human sacrifice on the roof of the world.

The children of the volcano

Llullaillaco 1

Lion Hirth

In 1952, the Andean Club of Chile made the first sporting ascent to Llullaillaco. When they returned, they said that he had seen something. Between 53 and 54, the controversial (with reason) Hans-Ulrich Rudel made three more ascents. With each one, the story of the volcano’s burial grew. Thus, between 58 and 61, the first excavations were carried out that due to (the height and the technical difficulties) they were unable to locate the place where the children were.

Digitally unwrapping a mummy: this is the technology that has made it possible to study the body of a pharaoh without removing the bandages

We had to wait for the year 1998, when the National Geographic Society decides to finance an expedition to find out if the stories, rumors and legends have any truth. This was how a team of Argentine and Peruvian archaeologists (under the orders of Johan Reinhard and Constanza Ceruti) they ascended the 6700 meters to that place where, five hundred years before, it had been celebrated the ‘qhapaq piggy bank‘.

The Boy Mummies of Llullaillaco Jumps

Joseph Castro

On March 17, 1999, they found El Niño’s body, first; and that of the Maiden afterwards. Two days later, they found the Lightning Girl. Spanish chroniclers had extensively documented the ‘qhapaq piggy bank‘, but knowledge of the ceremony was scant and confusing. When the researchers saw the bodies and their surprising state of preservation, they knew that they were before an unusual event and before a historic opportunity.

a window to the past

Trousseau 02


The children of Llullaillaco spent three weeks in two military freezers in Salta (Argentina) and five years in the facilities of the city’s Catholic University. The province was not prepared for a discovery of this dimension. The best professionals of the Argentine Great North were required to analyze the bodies. A prestigious dentist from Salta, without going any further, performed the X-rays. His hair was analyzed with truly incredible thoroughness.

This is how we learned that the Maiden, the only one who did not belong to the Inca aristocracy, had changed her diet in the last year. He not only ate more meat, but consumed increasingly high amounts of alcohol and coca leaf during the long road between Cuzco and Llullaillaco.

Also thus we learned the details of the ‘qhapaq piggy bank‘ and we understood much better some of the great questions of the Inca culture. However, all of this pales before the feeling of standing on the Archaeological Museum of High Mountain of the city of Salta and see one of those bodies there, a few centimeters from you, separated only by a thin glass.

I’m not an easily impressionable person, really. But the fifteen minutes of silence I spent in front of the Maid and the five hundred years of cold that separated our worlds They won’t be quickly forgotten. In a world as strange as today’s, those little miracles are one of the few reasons left to keep searching for beauty and truth.

Image | Groover Peter

The first was the boy. He was seven years old and sat on a gray robe. She had short hair,…

The first was the boy. He was seven years old and sat on a gray robe. She had short hair,…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.