Children of Heaven

A Bioarchaeological Review of the Inca Capacocha Mummies

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Olenka Kawchuk


Ruling over western South America for nearly 100 years, the Inca Empire was one of many global cultures that practiced human sacrifice, though few other rituals of human sacrifice are as captivating as the Inca child sacrifice of capacocha. Capacocha children were chosen to be representatives of the Inca people in the afterlife. As such, they were afforded an elevated position in society before their death. Following their selection, children would undergo a year-long pilgrimage terminating at a mountain top shrine where they would be killed. As a result of the low temperature and oxygen levels present at such a high elevation, the bodies of capacocha children were protected against decomposition, creating some of the best-preserved natural mummies in the world. These mummies have been the subject of numerous bioarchaeological analyses to determine their age, sex, geographic origin, pathological conditions, diet, and cause of death. Beyond these, however, the mummies present a unique opportunity to study how the capacocha ritual process — including the sudden ascension in status — manifested itself on the children's bodies. This paper aims to review the bioarchaeological data garnered from the mummies in order to reconstruct the experience of a child chosen for capacocha. Results suggest higher variability between children selected for capacocha than was originally outlined by Spanish chroniclers.