The Frozen Children of Llullaillaco – Day 212

Sat 1st Sept

So having been to the Juanita Museum in Arequipa, I knew there were lots of other frozen mummy children found and especially in Salta where I would be visiting later. Here too there is a museum dedicated to the extraordinary finds of Johan Reinhard and the rituals of the Incas and their beliefs. Having been up north yesterday visiting previous inca territory, it is so good and interesting to be connected with this history yet again therefore visiting this museum was always a must and top of the list for today.

The Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) is located in the main square. There wasn’t an offer of any guide which is a massive shame but there signs written in both English and Spanish.

It starts by explaining the mountain Mount Llullaillaco which is the highest in Salta. 1952 was when the volcano was first climbed by the Chile Mountaineering Club. Several people ascended also over the years but it was only in the years 1983-85 that Johan Reinhard the same guy who discovered Juanita set up a scheme to survey and study every site on this volcano. In 1999, he organised the expedition that led to the discovery of the Llullaillaco children.

So a bit of history…

Volcán Llullaillaco is 6739m asl and is used to mark the international border with Chile. North Argentina was added to the Incan empire by Pachacuti. The Ayllus tribe were the people living there before.

As written in previous posts, 4 regions/suyos made up the Incan empire known as Tawantisuyo with its centre in Cusco.

The Incas established a unifying system based on a strict control of payment of tributes to their rulers and their hierarchy. They imposed the Quechua language and controlled natural resources and developed a self sufficient economy. They created and developed a road system that linked all suyos so that goods and tributes could be transported.

Ceremonies were linked to nature, fertility & agricultural cycles and seasons. One of most important rituals was Capacocha – where children with talent, beauty and perfection were chosen from the 4 regions as gifts to gods and sent to Cusco.

Here people gathered in the main plaza in front of images of Viracocha – the creator of god. After performing animal sacrifices and other ceremonies, the children walked around the plaza twice circling the ushnu – a symbolic structure representing the centre of inca world.

To conclude, the procession of selected children, priests and escorts walked to site of offering which could take weeks. The children were dressed and paraded in all their finery. Fabrics n textiles were very important.For the most noble, their garments were made in the acllas or the house of the chosen women. This was where the appointed girls went until their time came. I visited one of these acllas at the Temple of the Moon in Copacabana in Bolivia.

The Children of Llullaillaco were discovered 16 March 1999. The burial site was covered by five feet of earth and rock at the time of discovery and has been described as the world’s highest archaeological site. 3 days into their search Reinhard and his team discovered a grave site containing three mummified children – two girls and one boy. The team endured tough conditions and temperatures as low as -40 and according to Reinhard, the team were very close to giving up when they spotted an artificial layer in the site that indicated they should continue the investigation. The researchers followed the artificial layer, which eventually led them to the burial of one of the mummies.

Again it was discovered that each of these children had been drugged with chica and coca leaves before being placed in their graves along with miniature objects.

Like Juanita, these mummies were in excellent condition, again due to the climate at such altitude. Reinhard had said that the mummies “appear to be the best preserved Inca mummies ever found” and that the internal organs were still intact – one of the hearts still contained frozen blood. Because the mummies froze before dehydration could occur, the desiccation and shrivelling of the organs that is typical to exposed human remains never took place.

So who were these 3 children? This is what we now know….

The first and oldest child has been named La Doncella and is believed to have been about 15 at the time of her death. It is believed that she was an aclla, that she was a virgin, chosen and sanctified at around the age of ten years old.

The next child has been named La Niña del Rayo (The Girl of Lightning) and was about 6 years old. She gained her name due to her face, one of her ears, and part of her shoulder bring damaged by a lightning strike that occurred after her death. Her skull was intentionally deformed to bear a conic shape as symbol of her high social class.

The last child found was a young boy aged around 7 who they have called El Niño. He had been tightly wrapped and appears to be the cause of his dislocated ribs and pelvis. He apparently died under stress as vomit and blood were found on his clothing. His skill had also been slightly elongated.

DNA testing indicated that the two girls were half sisters, while the boy was not related. It also appears that La Donacella was treated much better than the other 2.

Once the painstakingly difficult work had been done of recovering these children had been done and all had been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned and biopsied for DNA. The cloth, pottery and figurines buried with them meticulously thawed and preserved, much came about of what to actually do with it all. The MAAM was set up to specifically showcase them and opened its doors quietly, without any fanfare on 11 Sept 2007. The most important challenge for the MAAM is to show this significant find so that its visitors feel interested in learning, respecting and appreciating the richness of the Andean culture.

Once you walk through the various rooms full of information and objects, there sits in a glass case – La Niña del Rayo. These children as in Juanita’s case, are rotated on a regular basis for preservation.

The room holding La Niña del Rayo is dimly lit, and the glass case itself is dark – we must turn on a light to see her.

This was done so that those not wanting to see a dead body don’t have to but more importantly to avoid causing further offense to people who find it disturbing that the children, part of a religious ritual, were taken from the mountaintop shrine.

The Incas believed that these children didn’t die, but that they were reunited with ancestors who would watch over their lands from their mountaintops. Human sacrifices were only performed on most important huacas (sacred places). The lives that were offered were believed to bring health and prosperity.

To that end, it has been agreed that although more graves are known about atop of this and other mountains, but these children come from beliefs and a culture that is still alive today and they don’t want to go causing any offense. Many have been discovered, much has been unearthed and discovered and as a tourist and someone interested in this, I totally agree. We have enough, let the others rest and be at peace on their Apu with Pachamama and their other deities.

Again no photos were allowed so I have stolen a few from Google.

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