Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mummy of 500-year-old Inca 'Ice Maiden'


She died over 500 years ago yet, with her hands resting on her lap and head falling forward so that her finely braided hair slips across her eyes, this 15-year-old girl looks as peaceful as if she has just fallen into a sleep from which she might wake at any moment.

Her frozen body has been hailed as one of the best preserved Incan mummies ever found and, she went on public display for the first time in the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Argentina.

Visitors to the museum have been peering at the downy hairs still visible on her arms, the perfectly intact skin on her face and the lice that must have been scurrying through her hair when she died and are still lodged there.

The three Children of Llullaillaco, as the mummies came to be known after the mountain on which they met their death, were found with an extraordinary collection of elaborate gold, silver and shell statues, textiles, pots containing food and even an extravagant headdress made from the white feathers of an unidentified bird.

But it was the state of the bodies, preserved not by embalming, like Egyptian mummies, but simply by the natural deep-freeze in which they were abandoned, that scientists found most remarkable.

The younger girl's body was slightly damaged because it had been struck by lightning. But CT scans showed that their internal organs appeared to be in perfect condition: one still had blood in its heart, the brains were completely undamaged and when the blood vessels were thawed the blood that poured out of them was crimson, as it would be in a living person.

"The doctors have been shaking their heads and saying they sure don't look 500 years old but as if they'd died a few weeks ago," said U.S. archaeologist and expedition member Johan Reinhard at the time.

"And a chill went down my spine the first time I saw her hands because they look like those of a person who is alive."

It's thought that the children were chosen by the Incas for their beauty and sacrificed in a ceremony called a capacocha.

"The Incas didn't do this very often," according to Reinhard.

"The sacrifices were children because they were considered to be the most pure." (source: the Daily Mail)

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