Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethical and Legal Issues

What repatriation issues are related to the archaeology of the Inca Empire?

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III of Yale University rediscovered the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru; over the next few years (1912- 1915) he excavated the site (Alderman, 2010, p. 3; Orson, 2012). The artifacts he uncovered, including ceramics, jewelry, and human bones, were brought from Peru to Yale under a special government decree (Orson, 2012). However, conflict arose regarding the artifacts. In a 1916 communication with the National Geographic Society, Bingham wrote, “Now they do not belong to us, but to the Peruvian government, who allowed us to take them out of the country on condition that they be returned in 18 months… The whole matter has assumed a very large importance in the eyes of the Peruvians, who feel that we are trying to rob their country of its treasures” (quoted in Alderman, 2010, p. 3). There was increasing disagreement over whether the artifacts, especially the human remains, should remain at Yale or be returned to Peru. In 1921, several boxes of artifacts, presumably including the human remains, were returned to Peru, but Yale kept other artifacts. The Peruvian government demanded the return of these Machu Picchu artifacts in 2000, but Yale claimed they only had artifacts they owned (Alderman, 2010, p. 3). This prompted the Peruvian government to file a lawsuit against Yale in 2008 (Needham, 2008).

This case was different from many other repatriation disputes. Unlike many similar incidents, the disputed artifacts were not stolen, but rather left the country by government decree (Orson, 2012). Initially, efforts were made to resolve the situation outside of court, but these were unsuccessful (Needham, 2008). Following this, the Peruvian government tried to focus on legal grounds for their complaint. However, U.S. courts determined that they could not demonstrate national ownership of cultural property dating farther back than 1929, and the statute of limitations on the complaint had passed (since the original formal demand made in the late 1920s) (Alderman, 2010, p. 3). From there, the claimants decided to turn to the moral basis of their demands. The Peruvians claimed that Yale was profiting from the objects at the expense of the people of Peru, and that Yale was not conducting sufficient research on the objects to warrant their continued possession of them (Needham, 2008). The international public became engaged in the discussion as well, placing even greater pressure on Yale to return the artifacts (Alderman, 2010, p. 4). Finally, a two part agreement was reached. Yale will return all objects by the end of this year (2012), with the museum quality objects having been returned by last year for the centennial celebration of the 1911 rediscovery of Machu Picchu (Orson, 2012; Alderman, 2010, p. 4). The second part of the agreement centers on the concern of those at Yale for the continued scientific research of the artifacts (Orson, 2012). They decided that Yale will partner with San Antonio Abad University in Cuzco to continue with research efforts (Alderman, 2010, p. 4; Orson, 2012).

Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911 and led its excavation . Photo taken from

What legal framework guides the handling of cultural artifacts of Peru?

The Memorandum of Understanding provides an agreement between the United States and Peru that acts as a, “pursuant to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” (Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru [U.S. Gov.], 1997). The purpose of the Memorandum was to protect the archaeological and ethnological material from the pre-Hispanic cultures that resided in present day Peru. The document is broken up into four different articles, which all focus on different aspects of protecting these invaluable materials.

Article I states the “Designated List” of materials contains artifacts that cannot be imported back into the United States (U.S. Gov, 1997). Another requirement of Article I forces the United States to publish in the U.S. Federal Register all of the items from excavation sites in Peru (Federal Register). Article II deals primarily with the issue of preserving the “Cultural Patrimony” of Peru. This article also encourages there to be cooperation between academic and non-governmental institutions in order to protect the cultural patrimony of Peru (U.S. Gov, 1997). Article III of the Memorandum makes the point that each government must enforce the issues discussed in the document as well as distribute pecuniary funds if possible (U.S. Gov, 1997). The fourth and final piece of the Memorandum, Article IV, explains that both governments will review the document every five years, and make proper changes if needed (U.S. Gov, 1997).

The Memorandum can be compared to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Regulations Act (NAGPRA) because of its great intentions, but its lack of enforcement allows there to be issues caused by both parties involved. One of these issues deals with the treatment of human remains. The Memorandum lacks legal framework that states how human remains should be treated (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). Because of this human remains are analyzed, curated, and exported in different ways by each government, which can lead to concerns about their proper treatment (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). Another issue with the Memorandum is that the preservation of archaeological and cultural patrimony has not included insight from many indigenous groups of Peru (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). This can lead to locals holding a negative view against the scientists conducting research in their homeland.

Works Cited

Alderman, K. (2010). Yale Agrees to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru: Ethics- Based
            Repatriation Efforts Gain Steam. Cultural Heritage & Arts Review, 1(2). Retrieved 
            April 16, 2012 from
The Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru.
            (1997). Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United 
            States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru Concerning the 
            Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from the 
           Prehispanic Cultures and Certain Ethnological Material from the Colonial Period 
           of Peru.
Federal Register. (1997). Peru 1997 Designated List Federal Register Notice. 
            Washington, DC.
Needham, P. (2008, December 10). Peru sues for artifacts. Retrieved
Orson, D. (2012, January 1). Finders Not Keepers: Yale Returns Artifacts to Peru. Retrieved
            April 16, 2012 from
Turner, B.L., & Andrushko, V.A. (2011). Partnerships, Pitfalls, and Ethical Concerns in
            International Bioarchaeology. In Social Bioarchaeology (Chapter 3). Retrieved 
            April 16, 2012 from 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ice Maiden and the Ice Man

The Ice Maiden found in Peru in 1995 and the Ice Man uncovered in the Alps in 1991 come from distinct geographic and temporal locations; however, many of the conditions leading to preservation are remarkably similar. Comparison of the two cases may be able to provide insight into the difficulties and potential advantages of uncovering remains in such contexts.

How were the mummies discovered? What was the recovery process like?

The Ice Maiden, also called Juanita, is a 500-year-old Inca mummy found high in the mountains of current day Peru. She was one of the child sacrifices made as a part of the Capacocha rituals (“Peruvian Ice Maiden,” 2005). She had been especially preserved through time by accumulated ice and snow; however, the eruption of the nearby Mt. Sabancaya in 1990 produced hot ash, which began to melt away this covering (Clark, 1998; World of Forensic Science, 2005). In 1995, anthropologist John Reinhard and Miguel Zarate found bright feathers, a sacred shell, and other evidence of an Incan ceremonial platform near the summit of Mt. Ampato; upon further investigation, they found the Ice Maiden surrounded in other artifacts (World of Forensic Science, 2005). Once the remains had been discovered, however, there still remained challenges. Juanita had been uncovered by the volcanic eruption, and when found had not yet been reburied by heavy winter storms, and so Reinhard and Zarate did not have to worry about the potentially damaging process of freeing the remains from the ice (Clark, 1998). However, as Reinhard describes in his 2005 book on the discovery, there were still many concerns to consider. To leave the mummy would mean allowing its continued exposure to the elements or the possible loss of it under new snowfall; however, removing it involved the logistical problems of moving the remains over treacherous terrain without causing damage and the likelihood of political objections to removal without a permit (p. 30- 31). After weighing the options, Reinhard chose to remove the Ice Maiden from the summit immediately.

The Ice Man is a 5,000-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991 (Iceman Murder Mystery, 2011). As explained by Alpine archaeologist Dr. Patrick Hunt, at the end of the summer in 1991, two hikers in the Otztal Alps at an elevation of around 10,500 feet found the Ice Man partially exposed in a melting glacier. The location where he was located was normally under a glacier, which had contributed to his preservation; however, dramatic warming in the Alps in the last half century caused the glacier to begin melting, exposing the remains (personal communication, April 11, 2012). This discovery was similar to that of the Ice Maiden in its general context, with both mummies being preserved by extreme snow and ice and only uncovered recently as a result of changing environmental conditions. However, in other ways they each provided distinct challenges to those who discovered their remains. Unlike the Ice Maiden, the hikers who discovered the Ice Man did not realize the significance of their find, initially believing him to be a recent homicide victim, until the medical team examining him recognized the significance of the stone tools found with him (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012).

What was involved in the process of removing the mummies from the locations they were found in?

As might be expected in the extreme conditions in which both mummies were found, removing the remains involved a number of difficulties. Rienhard (2005) describes some of the problems of reaching the summit where the Ice Maiden was found, including not only treacherous footing and lack of supplies but also the risk of problems such as acute mountain sickness, which can include headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea among other things (p. 34- 37, 62). The Ice Maiden was backpacked down the mountain after she had been located. One of the most pressing concerns of her removal was preservation; luckily, the majority of the body was still surrounded by ice, aiding preservation (Maugh II, 1996). Using the ice and insulated sleeping pads they had with them to try and protect her from changing temperatures and the rigors of travel, Reinhard and Zarate were able to successfully bring her from the summit (Reinhard, 2005, p. 30- 31).

Those involved in the removal of the Ice Man did not face the same physical difficulties in reaching the remains, and after the hikers had made the discovery, the Austrian police and the coroner were called in, arriving by helicopter. However, unlike with the Ice Maiden, those involved with the discovery were not able to recognize the true significance, believing the Ice Man to be a modern homicide victim. Because of this, those removing him were not concerned with the preservation of his clothing or artifacts, and may have even used glacial icepicks to free him from the ice; later scientists and archaeologists returned to the site later on and recovered more artifacts, but some of his clothing was partially destroyed in his removal and the process of removal contributed to the destruction or loss of various artifacts associated with him. There was damage done to the body itself, including when they tried to force his body into a coffin (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012).

What gains have been made by these discoveries, despite their problematic contexts?

Despite the difficulties associated with the high altitude, frozen remains of the Ice Maiden and the Ice Man, these discoveries can provide extremely valuable information. The ice that froze Juanita preserved her skin, internal organs, hair, and blood, setting her apart from other high-altitude Inca mummies desiccated by the environmental conditions (Clark, 1998). Similarly, the Ice Man provides a complete assemblage of tools and significant information from uniquely preserved organic information. Typically, finds of human remains as old as the Ice Man include a skeleton and a few stone tools or other artifacts and so the Ice Man’s preservation in ice gives scientists a significant and unique wealth of information (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 12, 2012).

One example of the information gathered from these unique discoveries is the ability to look at the diet through analysis of the stomach contents of the two mummies. Analysis of the Ice Maiden, for example, shows she was well fed and that there were only vegetable products present (World of Forensic Science, 2005). This shows that she had a meal of vegetables within six to eight hours before her death (Reinhard, 2005, p. 159). This sort of analysis raises new questions (such as why the meal consisted of vegetables and why it was eaten so shortly before her death) that may give further insight into elements of the ritual of Capacocha. Analysis of the Ice Man revealed that he had eaten a sort of wild goat jerky, as well as showed his use of birch tree bracket fungus as a medicine. Very interestingly, analysis of pollen in his food and body has been used to trace his journey in the days before his death, including movement up and down the mountain before once more ascending to the place of his death (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012). The kind of analysis enabled by the preservation of both mummies under ice and snow, which preserved organic information including stomach contents, has permitted a greater understanding of the lives of these individuals, especially leading up to their deaths.

To learn more:

To learn more about the Ice Man, you can watch the NOVA documentary Iceman Murder Mystery at 

Works Cited

Clark, L. (1998). Ice mummies of the Inca. Retrieved February 7, 2012, from 
Iceman Murder Mystery. (2011). NOVA. Retrieved April 11, 2012 from 
Maugh II, T.H. (1996, May 23). Frozen asset. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 11, 2012 from 
"Peruvian Ice Maiden." World of Forensic Science. 2005. Retrieved April 10, 2012 from 
Reinhard, J. (2005). The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the 
     Andes.Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Technologies and the Study of Mummies

What kinds of technological advances can be used to improve the study of mummies such as those from the Inca Empire? How do those advances contribute to research?

Radiocarbon dating is one important process that researchers use to date finds of unknown age, including human remains. This process, as described by Reinhard (2005), makes use of carbon 14, which is found in living things and decays constantly over time. Every 5,560 years (a ‘half-life’), half of the carbon 14 present decays into nitrogen 14. Scientists can then compare levels of carbon 14 to expected atmospheric levels in order to determine an approximate age, going as far back as 45,000 to 50,000 years ago (American Chemical Society, 2010). Reinhard discusses this procedure in the context of his work with the Ice Maiden, one of the most famous of the Capacocha mummies. Dr. Irv Taylor used carbon dating of the Ice Maiden’s hair to determine that she lived approximately 530 years ago (Reinhard, 2005). In the context of his work, such a date is important to Reinhard because it helps to determine with greater accuracy when the sacrifice occurred, which he concludes may have not been long after Inca conquest of the region. Dating techniques, used in this way, could continue to provide greater insight regarding the timeline of Inca conquest and the relation of the sacrifices to those conquests, especially with regards to the arrival of the Spanish.

The technology for radiocarbon dating is not a particularly new advance; however, researchers continue to make progress in improving its effectiveness and usefulness as a tool of study. An American Chemical Society press release from 2010 discusses a new method in which an object is placed inside a special chamber with plasma, which produces carbon dioxide from used for C-14 analysis. Older methods involve taking a sample of the object to be analyzed. While the samples can be small, even slight samples can have negative consequences on delicate objects or objects with particular ethical and legal responsibilities associated, such as human remains (American Chemical Society, 2010). The benefit of this new method is that it eliminates the need for taking samples. Richardin, Gandolfo, Carminati, and Walter (2011) outline a new method for eliminating contaminating traces of carbon from hair samples taken from mummies (p. 380). This is especially important because, as they mention, while the analysis of bones using sampling methods has been advanced to the point of becoming generally reliable, in the case of mummies, preservation concerns limit such analysis (p. 379). Instead of risking damage to the remains, researchers have looked at increasing the accuracy of less destructive methods. In such ways, while the essence of radiocarbon dating is not new to archaeology or to the study of human remains, continued advances in this area may aid future researchers in studying those remains in a manner that avoids the ethical, legal, and conservational consequences of more destructive methods.

CT scans, otherwise known as computed axial tomography, was once a scan used for medical purposes. However, this medical technology has proven to be useful in the study of mummies. According to The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary definition, a CT scan is “tomography used in diagnostic studies of internal bodily structures, in which computer analysis of a series of cross-sectional scans made along a single axis of a bodily structure or tissue is used to construct a three dimensional image of that structure”. However, archaeologists have been able to apply this technology to studying mummies as well. In fact, by applying this technology to ancient Egyptian mummies, archaeologists were able to find the oldest case of arterial disease known to science (Miyamoto, 2011). Another use for CT scan technology in researching mummies is to see how mummification happens. According to Luna, puncture holes, incisions, and other surgical modification can be revealed by CT scans to determine how mummification happens (Luna, 2007). This new technology could also be applied to mummies worldwide, and could provide insight when comparing mummification methods across the world.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is found within living cells and contains an collection of genetic information, gives scientists leads to endless amounts of information (Andes expedition, 1997). Joe Watkins in his article, Becoming American or becoming Indian, explains genetic analysis of DNA is one of the ways that modern technology has helped researchers identify biological affinity of human remains from the past (p. 75). According to Keith McKenney of the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), the case of the Ice Maiden of Ampato, which was found southern Peru in 1995 by Johan Reinhard, reveals some of the best ancient DNA ever extracted. Scientists from TIGR extracted DNA from a ten-milligram sample of the ice maiden’s heart, and studied the mitochondrial DNA, which provides information about genetic origins (Andes expedition, 1997). After an extensive examination, scientists were able to determine the Ice Maiden as being related to Native Americans, but explain that her DNA sequence could not be matched within the database (Andes expedition, 1997). Because DNA is so extensive, our technology and databases are limited to the amount of information that we can take from certain ancient samples. In the future we should expect to see DNA technology significantly increase.

To see more applications of this technology:

The video Egyptian mummy CT scan video, Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History shows a series of images of an Egyptian mummy produced by using CT scans:

The video Explorer: Tech- Smart Mummies? shows investigation into mummies found in China, including the difficulties of the scientists to find a sample to be used for DNA testing:

Works Cited
Andes expedition searching for Inca secrets. (1997). Retrieved March 29, 2012 from
American Chemical Society. (2010, March 23). New method could revolutionize dating of ancient
     treasures. Author. Retrieved March 29, 2012, from
computerized axial tomography. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical 
     Dictionary. Retrieved March 28, 2012, from
Egyptian mummy CT scan video, Smithsonian’s Natural Museum of Natural History. (2011).       Smithsonian. Retrieved March 28, 2012 from
Explorer: Tech- Smart Mummies?. (2007). National Geographic. Retrieved March 28, 2012 from
Luna, K. (2007, August 29). Ct scans show how mummies were preserved. Quad-City Times
     Retrieved March 29, 2012 from
Miyamoto, M. (2011, April 15). Mummy in the machine. Retrieved March 29, 2012 from
Reinhard, J. (2005). The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the 
     Andes. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Richardin, P., Gandolfo, N., Carminati, P., &Walter, P. (2011). A new protocol for radiocarbon 
     dating of hair and keratin type samples- application to an Andean mummy from the National 
     Museum of Natural History in Paris. Archaeology and Anthropological Sciences, 3(4), 
     379- 384.
Watkins, J. (2004). Becoming American or becoming Indian?. Journal of Social Archaeology, 
     4(1), 60- 80.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Role of Mummies in the Structure of the Empire

How did the Incans maintain power over their empire?

In the National Geographic Special Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World (2009), it is noted that during the time of the Incan Empire, as few as 100,000 Incas were able to rule over 10 million subjects. In an interview, Terence D’Altroy, a professor of anthropology at Columbia, points to a combination of innovations and the continuation of existing structures as allowing the Inca to maintain control over this huge empire. The Inca moved many of those living in the lands they came to control, to increase the agricultural productivity of the empire or for political reasons, and created a vast system of roads (Tyson, 2010). However, the Inca also tried to present themselves as a larger version of the pre-existing system of local lords, seeking to create a system of mutual obligations that tied their subjects to the Empire (Tyson, 2010).

What was the role of the Capacocha sacrifices in the power structure of the Empire?

In addition to the religious associations of the Capacocha child sacrifices, these acts played an important role in the way that Inca rulers maintained control over the expanse of their Empire. Andrushko, Buzon, Gibaja, McEwan, Simonetti, and Creaser (2011) note that one reason such rituals would be performed would be to mark a historic event in the life of the emperor. Furthermore, they point out that the children selected were chosen from the far reaches of the Empire (2011).  This incorporation of children, and through them of villages, from well away from the center of the state into an event that could have as its primary cause the life of the person who most represented that state served as a form of bringing the more geographically isolated elements into closer association with the whole. Reinhard and Stenzel (1996) also comment on the unifying element of the sacrifices. They point out how the children were often taken to Cuzco, the capitol city, for celebrations before the sacrifice, refocusing attention on this center. Capacocha sacrifices also occurred on sacred mountains that had strong religious importance for the people of those areas; by holding this ritual in those places, the Inca authorities incorporated the deities of the mountain into the state religion (Reinhard, J., & Stenzel, M., 1996).

The element of honor of these rituals also enabled further Inca control by encouraging a desire to participate. The child involved in the sacrifice was thought to become a deity, and becoming such a sacrifice brought great honor and prestige to the family involved (Hammond, 1991). This is illustrated in the National Geographic Mummified Child Sacrifice video. Through analysis of a sample of hair from the mummy La Doncella, researchers learned that a year prior to her death, the girl’s diet shifted to include maize and animal proteins, markers of a noble diet. Such changes as diet were likely ways that those chosen to participate in Capacocha sacrifices experienced the honor of the act. It is possible that one of the reasons the Inca were so successful in expressing control in this way was because the people welcomed this honor.

What was the role of the royal mummies in the power structure of the Empire?

Baur and Rodríguez (2007) discuss an excavation hoping to uncover some of the royal mummies lost during the Spanish conquest of the Incan Empire. They remark that “when the Spaniards entered the city, they were amazed to see the mummies of previous kings and queens playing an active role in the politics of the day” (Baur, B.S., & Rodríguez, A.C., 2007). The mummies of previous Inca rulers were not separated from the day to day functioning of the empire. In the palaces, they were used as advisers to the current king, and the most trusted were used as ambassadors; at times throughout the year, the mummies were publically assembled in the plaza. Baur and Rodríguez explain this approach as a way to legitimize the current king. They argue that this display served as a physical, direct line of descent of divine leaders stretching back through time. Such proof of descent was perhaps particularly important for the Inca leaders because, in addition to the need to maintain the loyalty of the outer regions of the empire, there could often be internal power struggles. The Inca did not have a concept of primogeniture; legitimacy as a ruler was decided through success, fostering competition and disagreement (Tyson, 2010). In such a system, the ability to display a line of ancestors and predecessors may have been a way to further legitimize rule.

One of the topics discussed by Metcalf and Huntington in Celebrations of Death (1991) is the way that royal corpses are manipulated to serve the living (p. 135). Some of the examples they discuss include the use of effigies, such as with the Shilluk or in France, that represent the immortal kingship by representing the ruler or the power of the ruler in the period between the death of the old ruler and the time the new ruler formally takes power (p. 163, 173). With the French monarchy particularly, the effigy is made to resemble the king as closely as possible, and for several days it is treated as though it were the king himself (p. 175). Such a situation seems to draw an interesting parallel with the Inca example. There certainly seem to be important ideas of religion and ancestry involved with the treatment of Inca mummies; additionally, in the Inca practice the mummies continue to hold importance after a new ruler has taken power, while in France the effigies serve largely to hold the place for the next king. However, the line of leaders that was at times put on display in the plaza could be related to the importance of the idea of an immortal kingship that lives beyond individuals who may hold it for a time. In both situations, the divine right and inevitable continuity of leadership seem to be expressed to at least some extent.

Works Cited

Andrushko, V. A., Buzon, M. R., Gibaja, A. M., McEwan, G. F., Simonetti, A., & Creaser, R. A. 
     (2011). Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland. Journal of 
     Archaeological Science, 38(2), 323- 333.
Bauer, B. S., & Rodríguez, A. C. (2007). The Hospital of San Andrés (Lima, Peru) and the 
     Search for the Royal Mummies of the Incas. Field Museum of Natural History.  
Hammond, N. (1991, May 28). Mummified body is key to Inca ritual. The Times.
Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved 
Metcalf, P., & Huntington, R. (1991). Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary 
     Ritual. Cambridge: Cambridge University.
Mummified Child Sacrifice. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 2012 from 
Reinhard, J., & Stenzel, M. (1996). At 22,000 feet children of Inca sacrifice found frozen in time. 
     National Geographic, 196(5). 
Tyson, P. (Ed.). (2010, January). Rise of the Inca. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from 

National Geographic Videos

In the previous post, we included a link to the National Geographic Special on Inca Mummies (Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World). Around fifteen minutes into the program, there is discussion of some of the finds of the mummies of Capacocha child sacrifices. The importance of the mountains themselves in the ideology of the Inca and the results of techniques such as DNA testing are some of the topics covered in this portion of the show. However, the special also largely features a few additional sites, such as a settlement likely inhabited after the coming of the Spanish conquistadors and especially the cemetery site that was excavated from under the town of Tupac Amaru,

Although these topics of the program may not seem to have direct relevance to the cultural practices we are investigating, there are important aspects to note. One of the focuses of the special is the interaction of the past and the present through the presence of these mummies. Tupac Amaru is a site in which excavators had only ten weeks to work before the need for sewers and plumbing in the town would cause anything remaining to be destroyed. This conflict of archaeology and the needs of the population is an interesting question throughout the program which has not yet strongly impacted the excavation of Capacocha mummies, found in areas unlikely to be inhabited, but could in the future in some capacity. There is also the possibility that such conflicts may impact any possible future discoveries of royal mummies. The program also addresses the impact of the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors on the Inca Empire. As this arrival not only drastically impacted the Incan people and their activities, such as mortuary practices, but also likely was a direct cause of the lack of surviving royal mummies (see Mummies of the world), this background has interesting applications to this study.

The second video (Mummified Child Sacrifice), also from National Geographic, addresses more directly Capacocha. It shows scientists taking samples of hair from the mummy named La Doncella to try and learn more about what her life was like prior to her death. This video is interesting in the way that it shows techniques used by scientists in such situations and also in the information actually gained from the process.

To make accessing these videos easier, they are both now linked at the top of the page.

Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 
Mummified Child Sacrifice. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 2012 from 
Mummies of the world. (2000). Retrieved February 7, 2012, from

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What was the importance of the Capacocha sacrifice to the Inca people?

In the Inca culture the practice of Capacocha child sacrifice was performed, which offered young children to the gods. This ritual sacrifice was performed, “in response to catastrophes such as earth quakes, droughts and volcanic eruptions, as well as to mark historic events in the life of the emperor” (Andrushko, 2011). The sacrifice always took place high in the mountains, which is one of the primary reasons that researchers are able to find some of these remains today. The mountains where the Inca people lived were very important to them, and they worshipped the mountains because they believed the mountains controlled the weather, which is still practiced today (Berardelli, 1996). Research shows that in some cases the children involved with the sacrifice as being children of royalty or upper class, which meant this would help secure the “link” between the Inca Emperor and the gods (Hammond, 1991). Children were also viewed as being “purer than adults” and the sacrificed child was thought to have essentially become a deity, as well as, “a direct representative of the people, (who was) living with the gods forever after”(Reinhard, 2002). It was also important to the Inca that young boys and girls from all around the empire were sacrificed, in order to “unify” the empire (Andrushko, 2011).  The Capacocha child sacrifice ritual was truly a monumental part of Inca culture, and held huge importance within their religious beliefs. Throughout the semester we will explain individual examples of Capacocha sacrifice.    

What are some of the problems and ethical issues researches and scientists are dealing with when dealing with Inca Mummies?

           One of the primary issues that scientists and researchers are dealing with today is finding tombs that have not been looted by grave robbers. Because royal mummies are usually mummified with expensive belongings like gold, textiles, and ancient pottery, looters who sell the items on the black market seek their gravesites out. These items usually end up in personal collections, and never will be seen or evaluated by scientists or researchers (National Geographic: Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World”).   Johan Reinhard, an American high-altitude anthropologist who found the mummy “The Maiden of Ampato” explained that he was forced to move her down the mountain once he found her in fear that looters would destroy her tomb (Berardelli, 1996).

           Scientists and researchers must understand the areas and cultures where they work because as Jane Pratt, the president of the Mountain Institute, explains, “Rituals that are appropriate for one culture are not necessarily proper for all” (Berardelli, 1996).

            Governmental law and control of the land are also aspects that scientists and researchers must deal with when finding mummies. In the National Geographic Special: “Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World,” it explains some of these pressures of destroying mummified gravesites due to the population of the area increasing and expanding. Reinhard’s expedition, which found “The Maiden of Ampato,” needed to first convince the locals, native organizations, as well as the Peruvian government in order to transport the mummy back to the United States, where it then would go through various testing and studies (Berardelli, 1996). This elaborate process of getting permission from various organizations can be tough at times for scientists and researchers to properly study their subjects.
Because of these problems and issues, researchers and scientists face situations that make it hard to conduct adequate research on their subjects. Throughout the semester we will touch on each of these aspects.
The Maiden of Ampato 
Image from

National Geographic Special “Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World”
Video from

 Video from

Works Cited

Andrushko, V. A., Buzon, M. R., Gibaja, A. M., McEwan, G. F., Simonetti, A., & Creaser, R. A. 
     (2011). Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland. Journal of 
     Archaeological Science, 38(2), 323- 333.

Berardelli, P. (1996, July 1). Inca mummy yields secrets. National Geographic, 12(1), 36.

Hammon, N. (1996, June 17). Mummified body is key to Inca ritual. Times Newspapers Limited Insight on the News

Inca Mummies: Secrets of the Lost World. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 

Mummified Child Sacrifice. (2009). National Geographic. Retrieved February 29, 2012 from 

Reinhard, J. (2002, May). At 22,000 feet children of Inca sacrifice found frozen in time. National Geographic

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Royal Mummies of Cuzco and the Capacocha of the Inca Provinces

Who were they?
The royal Inca mummies were the rulers of the once-mighty Inca Empire. They ruled a large portion of the Andes Mountains of South America from approximately 1100 to 1500 AD, ending with the Spanish conquest of the area (“Mummies”, 2000). The Capacocha mummies were small children who were offered as sacrifices. According to archaeologist Juan Schobinger, the sacrifices often involved the child of a chief. It is also believed that the sacrificed child had to be perfect (Clark, 1998b). 

How were they found?
The mummies were mostly found in a fetal position, wrapped with leather or cloth. They were placed in either baskets, or under big ceramic jars, which tended to be decorated, and buried with clothing, food and other items (“Mummies”, 2000). 

Who was mummified?
We know that the rulers of the Inca Empire were mummified, but some archaeologist think that the Inca mummified all of their dead, and not just the elite. However, nobody really knows for sure, other than the rulers were not the only ones mummified (“Mummies”, 2000). Infants, children, and adults were also mummified.

How were they mummified?
The mummies of the rulers have been mummified artificially by the Inca themselves. The exact process that was used is not known because archaeologists have not yet recovered any of these remains (“Inca”, n.d.). There is some debate over the possible use of violence in the Capacocha sacrifices, as skull fractures have been found on most of the mummies; however, there is speculation that this was a way to knock the children out. There is also evidence that they were given chicha, maize alcohol, to ease the pain. The sacrificed children were then left on the mountain peaks, where they died and later on were mummified by natural causes, such as freezing mountain temperatures and the arid climate (Clark, 1998b). 

What happened to the mummies/ the mummification process?
The mummies of the rulers were kept in Cuzco. There they were treated as if they were still alive. They were displayed during important ceremonies, servants cared for their estates, and sometimes they were even consulted on important issues (Povis & Hirth, n.d.). However, none have been found due to the arrival of the Spanish, who destroyed Cuzco, the capitol of the Incan Empire (“Inca”, n.d.). The Spanish conquerors also banned mummification and removed all the mummies that they found. It is believed that the Spanish sought out the mummies for their own religious objections to the practice of mummification and for the gold and other precious metals that were buried with the mummies (“Mummies”, 2000). The sacrificial mummies from Capacocha were left in tombs in the Andes mountains, the sites of their deaths and mummification (Clark, 1998a). 

Have any burial sites been found?
Yes! In 1875, a very large burial site was discovered at Ancón. This discovery included hundreds of shafts leading to tombs with mummy bundles. Due to the dry climate and high salt content of the region, these mummies were very well-preserved (“Mummies”, 2000).. Around 115 sacrificial mummies have been discovered in the mountains of the Andes One of the most famous of these mummies is Juanita, discovered in 1995 by Dr. Johan Reinhard. She is the best-preserved Incan mummy to be discovered so far (Clark, 1998a). 

Over the Course of the blog...
We aim to explore the nature of the rituals that were performed as a part of the mummification process, to what end mummification was undertaken, to compare this practice to mummification in other cultures, such as sacrificial rituals, and more!

Works Cited

Clark, L. (1998). Ice mummies of the Inca. Retrieved February 7, 2012, from

Clark, L. (1998). The sacrificial ceremony. Retrieved February 7, 2012, from

Inca mummies. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2012, from

Mummies of the world. (2000). Retrieved February 7, 2012, from

Povis, B., & Hirth, B. (n.d.). Religion in the Inca Empire. Retrieved February 7, 2012, from