Mercifully the children were drugged before they were left to die. Aged 6, 7, and 15, they were given a strong dose of Coca and maize based alcohol, which allowed the girls to die in their sleep after they were sealed in the grave. In fact, the oldest one, the virgin dubbed la doncella (the maiden), has the highest concentration of coca ever found in Andean human remains.
Tragically, the boy (aged 7) did struggle… and most likely suffocated.
You see, dear reader, we were down the road from the high altitude museum in Salta, one of the most northern states of Argentina, high in the Andes, which houses the Children of Llullaillaco. Despite one of them being struck by lightning, these three children, who were ritually sacrificed 500 years ago, are the most immaculate preserved mummies we have.
Sealed at 6,739 m (22,110 ft) high in the mountains, they froze before any decomposition took place. There is still frozen blood in their hearts, their organs are perfectly preserved, even the hairs on their arms are still visible. And now, you can see them, peer deep into past centuries, in specially made cases.
However, this exhibition does not come without controversy. Like just about anything these days, there are large debates on either side of the discussion about where these children should be.
Scientifically, anthropologically, they are absolutely fascinating. They allow a window not only into the more ‘modern’ past, but in many ways into an ancient past we can barely conceive. For instance, two of the children display cranial elongation. I’ll admit, when I first read this, I immediately went to google and was shocked by both the deeply steeped history of this activity, as well as its universality. Apparently cultures have been purposefully elongating infants’ heads – for who knows why – for millenia.
Herodotus in 400 BC was the first to record it, describing a group known as the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification.
It’s quite remarkable to see this ancient practice… along with, tragically, the world of sacrifice. It’s something we know happened in the ancient world, all over the world. But reading about it in the textbooks offers little compensation for those who died. It’s rare that we get the humbling, horrible, humanizing experience of looking the sacrificed in the face.
But just because we learn something from them, doesn’t mean taking them out in the first place was right… Does it?
For one thing, descendants of these children still exist. And they certainly don’t like their sacred ritual on display. There are movements to take back the children of Llullaillaco… and return them to their resting spot. Rogelio Guanuco, the leader of the Indigenous Association of Argentina (AIRA), called the display “a violation of our loved ones”, saying that “Llullaillaco continues to be sacred for us. They should never have profaned that sanctuary, and they should not put our children on exhibition as if in a circus.”
Not all indigenous people agree though. In 2004, the Third World Congress of the Quechua Language, which brought together 300 representatives from Andean countries, discussed the children of Llullaillaco. They approved of the museum, declaring, “the diffusion of such investigations for recognizing the greatness and the evolution of our ancestors from their origins to the present day.”
Either way, it is the dead that is being unearthed… taken away from their final resting place… but we all know it’s not only high altitude gravesites that are being excavated.
|From the many tumuli exposed to the elements the world over to the more recent warriors excavated at the Palace of Nestor... at what point are we disrupting those who have given up the ghost? As lovers of history and archeology it’s always worthwhile to take a step back and ask if our actions and passions are ethical.|
Essentially, is it okay to dig up the dead? When does archeology become grave-robbing?
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