Studying the Capacocha, the Incan Mummy Children Revealed

The study of the Incan child mummies just made a huge leap forward. In the last decade we have news and research done on three of these mummies in particular, the group known as Los Ninos. This group of mummies became famous for both their context, the frozen high altitude burials in Peru, their preservation, nearly perfect, and also the research process which involved carefully thawing the mummies in order to preserve them. For more information on the Los Ninos mummies, there are both videos and articles.This act of child sacrifice and mummification was used during the Incan Empire (500-600 years ago) as a way to honor the sun and other deities. Perfect children were taken from across the empire and were sacrificed either in response to disasters or as a celebration. They were sacrificed, mummified, and buried in the Andes. This act was known as the Capacocha.

Recently a team led by Andrushko has begun to address questions about the Capacocha ritual and cultural patterns that lead to this kind of burial using a new set of ‘ninos’ who were excavated in 2004. In an extremely well done article from Journal of Achaeological Sciences, Andrushko et al. 2010 address specific questions about the mummies in order to learn more about the culture, and not just the mummies. They compare ethnographic evidence from the Spanish Conquerers from the 1650’s to the archaeological record. The historic narratives recorded that the Incans brought perfect children from the distant reaches of their empire to Cuzco to be sacrificed. The children would be strangled, mummified and buried in the Andes along with a variety of valuables. Leading up to this event there would be feasting and celebration. Andrushko et al. use this information to develop testable research questions which they address using the information from the 2004 excavation.They want to address whether these burials of multiple perfect mummified children exist, if they indeed come from varied regions, and if they were part of this Incan tradition of capacocha.

The first question is readily addressed by the presence of the seven child mummies, as well as the three earlier found ones. The second question is addresses by the use of strontium analysis. This looks at the chemical makeup of the dentition in order to assess where the individual grew up. For this they found that five of the individuals were near to Cuzco, one was from N.W. Bolivia and one was from S. Peru, again historical accounts are proven true at some level. Finally they found the bodies with a variety of Incan figurines, both females and llamas, gold and silver artifacts, and elegant headdresses, all classic Incan artifacts. Also, the children showed evidence of increased maize consumption before their deaths, possibly due to the feasting that occurred.

Studies like this are important. They not only address the questions of the broader funerary processes and ritual behavior of cultures, but they do so in a systematic way that involves multiple lines of inquiry, using ethnographic, archaeological and chemical evidence in order to create their argument.Hopefully in the future we will be able to learn more about who these children were, and the process and meaning that went into this ritual act.

Works Cited

Bower, B. 2010. Clue to Child Sacrifices Found in Inca Buildings. Discovery News.

Andrushko et al. 2010. Investigating a child sacrifice event from the inca heartland. In Journal of Archaeological Sciences. Accepted Manuscript.

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