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September 11, 2007

La Doncella — Frozen Inca Child Sacrifice Unveiled


In Salta, Argentina, at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, after eight years of study and preparation, the 500-year-old mummy of a 15-year-old girl known as "La Doncella" (the maiden) has just been placed on display for the world to wonder at.

Denise Grady's story in today's New York Times Science section has the details, and follows.

Photos of the three frozen child mummies discovered in 1999 appear above and below.

In Argentina, a Museum Unveils a Long-Frozen Maiden

The maiden, the boy, the girl of lightning: they were three Inca children, entombed on a bleak and frigid mountaintop 500 years ago as a religious sacrifice.

Unearthed in 1999 from the 22,000-foot summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano 300 miles west of here near the Chilean border, their frozen bodies were among the best preserved mummies ever found, with internal organs intact, blood still present in the heart and lungs, and skin and facial features mostly unscathed. No special effort had been made to preserve them. The cold and the dry, thin air did all the work. They froze to death as they slept, and 500 years later still looked like sleeping children, not mummies.

In the eight years since their discovery, the mummies, known here simply as Los Niños or “the children,” have been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned and biopsied for DNA. The cloth, pottery and figurines buried with them have been meticulously thawed and preserved. But the bodies themselves were kept in freezers and never shown to the public — until last week, when La Doncella, the maiden, a 15-year-old girl, was exhibited for the first time, at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which was created in Salta expressly to display them.


The new and the old are at home in Salta. The museum faces a historic plaza where a mirrored bank reflects a century-old basilica with a sign warning churchgoers not to use the holy water for witchcraft. Now a city of 500,000 and the provincial capital, Salta was part of the Inca empire until the 1500s, when it was invaded by the Spanish conquistadors.

Although the mummies captured headlines when they were found, officials here decided to open the exhibit quietly, without any of the fanfare or celebration that might have been expected.

“These are dead people, Indian people,” said Gabriel E. Miremont, 39, the museum’s designer and director. “It’s not a situation for a party.”

The two other mummies have not yet been shown, but will be put on display within the next six months or so.

The children were sacrificed as part of a religious ritual, known as capacocha. They walked hundreds of miles to and from ceremonies in Cuzco and were then taken to the summit of Llullaillaco (yoo-yeye-YAH-co), given chicha (maize beer), and, once they were asleep, placed in underground niches, where they froze to death. Only beautiful, healthy, physically perfect children were sacrificed, and it was an honor to be chosen. According to Inca beliefs, the children did not die, but joined their ancestors and watched over their villages from the mountaintops like angels.

Discussing why it took eight years to prepare the exhibit, Dr. Miremont smiled and said, “This is South America,” but then went on to explain that there was little precedent for dealing with mummies as well preserved as these, and that it took an enormous amount of research to figure out how to show them yet still make sure they did not deteriorate.


The solution turned out to be a case within a case — an acrylic cylinder inside a box made of triple-paned glass. A computerized climate control system replicates mountaintop conditions inside the case — low oxygen, humidity and pressure, and a temperature of 0 degrees Fahrenheit. In part because Salta is in an earthquake zone, the museum has three backup generators and freezers, in case of power failures or equipment breakdowns, and the provincial governor’s airplane will fly the mummies out in an emergency, Dr. Miremont said.

Asked where they would be taken, he replied, “Anywhere we can plug them in.”

The room holding La Doncella is dimly lighted, and the case itself is dark; visitors must turn on a light to see her.

“This was important for us,” Dr. Miremont said. “If you don’t want to see a dead body, don’t press the button. It’s your decision. You can still see the other parts of the exhibit.”

He designed the lighting partly in hope of avoiding further offense to people who find it disturbing that the children, part of a religious ritual, were taken from the mountaintop shrine.

Whatever the intention, the effect is stunning. Late in August, before the exhibit opened, Dr. Miremont showed visitors La Doncella. At a touch of the button, she seemed to materialize from the darkness, sitting cross-legged in her brown dress and striped sandals, bits of coca leaf still clinging to her upper lip, her long hair woven into many fine braids, a crease in one cheek where it leaned against her shawl as she slept.

The bodies seemed so much like sleeping children that working with them felt “almost more like a kidnapping than archaeological work,” Dr. Miremont said.


One of the children, a 6-year-old girl, had been struck by lightning sometime after she died, resulting in burns on her face, upper body and clothing. She and the boy, who was 7, had slightly elongated skulls, created deliberately by head wrappings — a sign of high social status, possibly even royalty.

Scientists worked with the bodies in a special laboratory where the temperature of the entire lab could be dropped to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and the mummies were never exposed to higher temperatures for more than 20 minutes at a time, to preventing thawing.

DNA tests revealed that the children were unrelated, and CT scans showed that they were well nourished and had no broken bones or other injuries. La Doncella apparently had sinusitis, as well as a lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, possibly the result of an infection.

“There are two sides,” Dr. Miremont said. “The scientific — we can read the past from the mummies and the objects. The other side says these people came from a culture still alive, and a holy place on the mountain.”

Some regard the exhibit as they would a church, Dr. Miremont said.

“To me, it’s a museum, not a holy place,” he said. “The holy place is on top of the mountain.”

The mountains around Salta are home to at least 40 other burial sites from ritual sacrifices, but Dr. Miremont said the native people who live in those regions do not want more bodies taken away.

“We will respect their wishes,” Dr. Miremont said, adding that three mummies were enough. “It is not necessary to break any more graves. We would like to have good relations with the Indian people.”


A slide show accompanies the Times article.

September 11, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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i know this story the 6 yr old liitle girl had a metel plate on her head and get struk by lighting and the 15 ye old drunk this posines stuff and dies when she was high in the air and u can tell the 7 yr old was chuked into laver because hes burnt :I

Posted by: brooke | Jan 17, 2010 3:49:19 AM

she looks freakylkeqrahnbs tfgjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwsswwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww


Posted by: jordan | Mar 11, 2009 4:31:44 PM

had to watch a veido on dis in class.....IT WUZ AWSOME!!!

Posted by: Person | Mar 4, 2009 5:30:07 PM

This thread is useless without pics...

Oh wait...


Posted by: Rocketboy | Oct 28, 2008 6:01:07 AM

wow that chick is hot *hiss*oh baby

Posted by: tyler paige | Oct 27, 2008 4:22:43 PM

Anyone got any aztec in them? I had a little mummy last year and I need my refill. Even an aztec kidney would work.

And yes, she blended.

Posted by: clifton t marsupial | Oct 27, 2008 4:19:44 PM

i disagree aztecs r HOT AND SPICY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: why do want know u stalker | Oct 27, 2008 4:05:48 PM


Posted by: mike | Oct 27, 2008 4:03:55 PM

For William: You think that is bad to just be shipped? The British used mummies to stoke the fires used to power locomotives...by the thousands!!!! Egyptian mummies were like a novelty back in the 18th and 19th century. Everybody had one and there were too many to know what to do with. Granted, yes, they should have been left alone to begin with but i guess that's humans for ya. Constantly sticking their noses into everyone else's business.

Posted by: Maria | Sep 9, 2008 3:25:27 PM

These bodies are amazingly preserved but like many of the other people I agree that puting them on display is wrong. They are beautiful specimines but perhaps after learning what we could from them they should be placed back on the mountian in their graves out of respect for the culture from which they were taken. I feel that it is the culture of the people that we should respect more than the dead person. This culture felt/feels that these people were important and desreved a highly cerimonial burial therefor they should remain burried. Yet every culture is different and treats death diffrently, look at the catacombs in Paris, the bones of thousands heaped together in mounds, and decoratively displayed, very macabre, and very interesting. Understanding a cultures treatment of religion and death is interesting but if religion and death are not for entertainment in a culture than we as outsiders should respect that.

Posted by: Erica | Sep 2, 2008 1:13:45 PM

Dead children on display in museums. This is what happens when Humans forget what they are.

Posted by: | Jun 7, 2008 11:48:40 PM

I agree with William!!
Wow science is great BUT I must say to dig up a body frozen or not,its just not right. You've not disturbed more than ones peace,you've disturbed the familys peace. Just because their belief is different from ours should not give us the right to take what is not ours for science. We don't dig up war bodies as William stated why disturb these precious babys! The world has many different religions and beliefs this is what makes the world today.Things have changed in todays children.Their generation does not seem to care and lack feelings for others carring only for themselves and what they can have or take away from another.Its such a shame.What ever happend to values?

Posted by: Shirley | May 24, 2008 7:48:10 AM

this pictures are really good its amazing how the cold weather preserves the bodies so well

but it is also sad because these beautiful young ladies never got a chance to live and see there potential for success did they think that they were dying for a good cause?

Posted by: rosita hernandez | May 21, 2008 4:25:04 PM

clifyt your a genius!

Posted by: someone ;) | Feb 14, 2008 2:58:00 PM

How come they don't bury the bodies, I mean I can't just go to a church yard and dig up a body and put it on display, surely they should be left in peace, same as the mummys from Egypt, never understood how they can be shipped round the world on display, something really wrong here. Why ar'nt they left alone, you don't disturb ships that are war graves, these poor little things were religious sacrifices,maybe interesting for science but learn something and then bury them. Something really mucky about this. Don't like it one bit.

Posted by: william | Feb 14, 2008 2:37:43 PM

They should probably have been left alone. 500 years is not a long time anthropologically. Shakespeare has been dead for over 300 but once again these are indigenous people and they usually are the first to have their holy sites picked through and be bent over. I am a cultural anthropologist and I always worry about the fine line between what is archaeological and what is desecration.

Posted by: | Feb 14, 2008 3:18:59 AM

wow clifyt your really smart, tell me more

Posted by: a c | Feb 14, 2008 2:37:15 AM

Au contrair. It has been four months since writing that. And I'm still receiving gratification for what I wrote.

If this isn't delayed gratification, I might have to reconsider the definition. Still, you might be right about the arrogant part...I have been accused of having the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you had come along a few days earlier, I could have simply deferred judgment to you and not have had to spend all that money on the session.

Posted by: clifyt | Feb 13, 2008 11:32:07 PM

unbelievable preservation; for those that seek the knowledge to be gathered here, she is priceless; she also is beautiful.

Clift is not an idiot, he is just arrogant and a product of a new generation of give a shits who see value in nothing but their immediate gratification

Posted by: Nick Mathe | Feb 13, 2008 11:13:39 PM

Clifyt (or whatever) is right. By 15, she would have been an adult for years. Typically, she would have had at least three children by that time and be almost halfway through her lifespan. Also, she could be blended with tequila, and after adding a lime, would be the most authentic Margarita the American people have ever experienced.

Posted by: Dwindle | Feb 13, 2008 7:02:44 PM


Posted by: | Nov 16, 2007 6:14:06 PM

I think its so fantabulous!

Posted by: anonumous | Oct 1, 2007 12:56:27 PM

Mayans are a little spicier.

Posted by: clifyt | Sep 26, 2007 10:02:41 PM

Ah Clifyt, ye mustn't make fun of the aborigines after all they have something important to teach us. What, I don't know, but human sacrifice seems like a delightful religious practice we should reintroduce. I also like the practice of abandoning the sick and the elderly.

Besides everyone knows Mayans make better blended drinks than Incans...Incans are best served on the rocks...

Posted by: ScienceChic | Sep 26, 2007 9:42:11 PM

Awww...more clifyt hatred! Ain't ya'll know it never good to feed a troll -- that might be what they after!

Beyond that, while I can sympathize with what may have happened to this person, it has been dead long enough for entire civilizations to be built up, and generations of people having died of just as bad or worse fates, and for chripes sakes...for folks that want to show reverence to a husk of a body that has stayed preserved far longer than their embalmed corpses will be, they have no worry about making a few bucks off the viewing of a torture more horrible than they will most likely ever encounter.

Personally, I could care less what you do with my corpse after I'm gone. 3 possible alternatives will have happened to me by then: I'll either no longer exist in a metaphysical / spiritual sense, I'll be in a better place, or I'll be in a worse place. No other options. Point is, I won't have any need of my corpse in any of the alternatives. Freeze me and blend me with a fine single malt (the one I had last weekend had so much peat infusion, I'm sure I had imbibed some bogman in the process), or tan my hide and mount me upside down in the local perv bar (or is it the other way around)...I don't believe I'll be complaining much.

Posted by: clifyt | Sep 26, 2007 3:42:07 PM

I agree Clfyt is stupid

Posted by: yeppy | Sep 26, 2007 2:20:45 PM

clifyt is an idiot

Posted by: Ms Thing | Sep 14, 2007 3:04:21 PM

Seems odd to describe a fifteen year old as a child in this context. I suspect that in that place and in that era she would have been considered an adult. We don't help our understanding of their customs if we think of them in our terms instead of theirs.

Posted by: Skipweasel | Sep 12, 2007 4:42:36 PM

Frozen? Will she blend? But more importantly, what do you mix her with?

Posted by: clifyt | Sep 11, 2007 3:33:45 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.