Inca Children Chosen for Sacrifice Were Given Hallucinogenic Drugs for a Simple Reason

For more than 500 years, the mummified remains of several small children frozen on a volcano in southern Peru have kept a secret record of their final days.

Since the discovery of the mummies in the 1990s, researchers have worked to unlock the ancient children’s past, uncovering a shocking story that ends in human sacrifice.

Now a new discovery from an international team of researchers adds new details to their plight, uncovering traces of matter in their hair and fingernails suggesting high doses of a psychedelic substance.

Taken in the context of historical knowledge of the ancient Inca culture, it is possible – even probable – unfortunate victims of what is now called a capacocha ritual were intoxicated by stimulants, antidepressants and sometimes alcohol for they knowingly faced certain death.

Although it is difficult to know the exact emotions the children may have felt, whether they were proud, affected by anxiety or confused and frightened, the researchers believe that the use of hallucinogens could have been used to alleviate children’s depression.

The remains at the center of this latest study were among a small number of mummies discovered by American explorer Johan Reinhard and Peruvian archaeologist José Antonio Chávez during their expeditions to the Ampato volcano in the Andes in 1995.

It will not be until 2019 that the bodies, along with a third found on the same plateau, will be subjected to a rigorous bioarchaeological examination which will conclude that two were most likely young men and the third a woman.

All three, however, were only 6 or 7 years old.

One showed signs of a malformation in an opening in one of his neck bones, putting him at risk of headaches, sudden loss of consciousness and even blindness.

Similar remains have been found in various states of preservation all over what was once the domain of the Inca Empire, all evidence of widespread ritualized killings in order to appease or call upon deities for aid and favor .

Most seemed to belong to wealthy families, chosen as representatives to serve as emissaries. After being taken to a place high in the mountains on a journey that could take days or even months, their end came in many ways. Some violent. Some less traumatic, claimed by the extreme cold.

Signs of drug use among the remains have been found before in a handful of leftovers, specifically pointing to the consumption of coca leaves and alcohol.

Coca leaves have been chewed for thousands of years to reduce hunger and stimulate the nervous system, which would not be out of place even for children embarking on a strenuous hike in the mountains.

In some cases, children have been found with the leaves still in their mouths, with signs of having consumed them with alcohol in large quantities in the moments before their death.

However, this more recent discovery of metabolites associated with the consumption of a psychedelic brew made from ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) strongly evokes a ritual intended more to calm than to stimulate.

The researchers used mass spectrometry to identify the presence of coca alkaloids and metabolites, as well as harmaline and harmine in the hair nails of the two Ampato mummies.

Harmaline and harmine are made up of compounds found in B.caapiwhich is usually mixed with other materials to create a beverage that induces vomiting, diarrhea and, significantly, vivid and intense hallucinations.

With tests for the N,N-DMT tryptamine that creates negative hallucinations, it’s hard to say for sure if a concoction the children consumed produced such an effect, let alone potent ones. There was also no evidence of alcohol consumption, or at least it was taken too late to show up in their hair and fingernails.

This leaves open the possibility that the ayahusca was not intended to produce strong visions, but simply to reduce their depression and anxiety.

Gathering scraps of evidence noted by Spanish colonizers or left behind in archeology and combining it with artifacts left behind in the anatomy and biochemistry of mummies preserved in the dry cold of the mountains, we are left with a chilling story.

Stimulated and amazed, weary and far from home and loved ones, countless esteemed Inca children marched to their deaths, confident that they would leave behind a better world.

They waited a long time to tell their story. Finally, we listen.

This research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Edward K. Thompson