Children of the ancient Inca Empire were fed intensifying doses of alcohol and coca leaf for as long as a year before their slaughter in a brutal sacrifice ritual, scientists report.
Both drugs may have been used for their “psychologically deadening, disorienting, and mood-modifying effects” and to ensure cooperativeness, wrote the researchers. Their paper appeared on the online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Moreover, “coca and alcohol were substances that induced altered states interpreted as sacred, and which could suggest to victims and those associated with them the proximity of the divine beings” whom the sacrifices were meant to appease, they added.
Coca, a plant from which the drug cocaine is derived, was in widespread use in the Inca Empire, which lasted from about the 12th to the 16th centuries A.D. and was based in modern-day Peru.
More than a decade ago, archaeologists unearthed three individually entombed mummies perched atop Llullaillaco, a 6,739 meter (7,370 yard) high Andean volcano in northwest Argentina. Long believed to be sacrificed during ceremonial Inca rites called capacocha, the 13-year-old girl, and 4-5-year-old boy and girl were remarkably well-preserved and have since been extensively studied.
Andrew Wilson of the University of Bradford, U.K., tracked the children’s consumption of coca leaves and an alcoholic beverage called chicha by checking the levels of coca and chicha chemical breakdown products in the mummies’ hair. This process is not unlike studying tree rings. Hair closer to the root is more recently grown and thus tends to contain chemicals reflecting the most recent dietary habits.
For the “maiden,” the researchers were able to trace diet over the 21 months before death. It appears she consumed more coca and chicha than the two other children, they found. The data indicate an irregular but strong, overall, increase in intake of both substances over the year before death, Wilson and colleagues found. Alcohol use in particular spiked sharply just before death.
The maiden was consuming coca right until the end, with a chewed-up bundle of coca leaves still between her teeth, the scientists noted.
The consumption patterns may reflect “an intentional and precise schedule of events,” Wilson and colleagues wrote. The younger children had much shorter hair than the maiden and thus their data went back only about a third as far—the researchers assumed hair growth of 1 cm (0.4 inches) per month.
The capacocha ritual, held in honor of important imperial events, unfolded with the Inca sending a demand for tribute out to the provinces, including for physically perfect 4-to-16-year-old children. These would be sacrificed amid much ceremony and feasting in their honor. Death might occur by suffocation, a head blow or burial alive; in any case, the victims would be left buried in an elaborate mountaintop grave.
The ritual would inevitably have created a “climate of fear” among subject peoples of the Inca Empire, Wilson and colleagues wrote, although elaborate pretenses typically masked this fear.
“This is implicit in comments made by the Spanish Jesuit missionary and writer Bernabé Cobo (1653) in relation to parents compelled to give up their children,” they added. Cobo wrote that “‘it was a major offense to show any sadness,’ and that ‘they were obliged to do it with gestures of happiness and satisfaction, as if they were taking their children to bestow upon them a very important reward.’”
Source : http://www.world-science.net