Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Maiden`s Sacrifice

We visited another world in Salta, the world of the Inca's over 500 years ago.  At the Museum of High Altitude Archeology we met a fifteen year old girl, the young Maiden, who was presented as a living sacrifice and entombed at the top of the 22,110 foot (6,739 meters) above sea level Mount Llullaillaco. Frozen in her stony chamber, thin dry air, she looks alive just as she looked when she was lovingly laid to rest to appease the gods and to watch over the people down below the mountain.

Along with her was a six year old girl and a seven year old boy.  They wore beautiful textiles, the garments of royalty.  They carried miniature dolls, crafted of gold and silver and dressed in fine clothes, wearing tropical bird feather headdresses. The girls hair was carefully braided, even today you can imagine the effort to make these sacrificial lambs be spotless and without blemish.
The young girl and the young boy have somewhat conical skulls, a sign that they were of royal birth and had their heads bound to shape them.  They were part of an elaborate ritual, hiking two hundred miles over the mountains from Cuzco, where they had been chosen by the Inca leaders, they and their guardians climbed to the very summit of this gigantic peak.  There the men dug a pit and fashioned out three niches.  The children were given a maize beer and some cocoa leaves to put them to sleep.  Then, carefully, they were placed in their mountaintop tomb where they froze to death in their sleep.
In 1999 archeologists discovered the tomb. There is a video display of the actual removal of the mummies from the snow covered mountain.  The children have been viewed by CTScan, their DNA tested, their organs are normal, even some blood remains in their hearts.  They were preserved by the unique conditions of the extremely high altitude.

Additional exhibits show other mountain shrines and one, Reina del Cerro, or Queen of the Mountain, whose body was discovered 80 years ago at a different peak.  Experts believe there are 40 other mountaintop burial places in the Andes.  They are not planning to disturb any others out of respect for the dead and the faith that led parents to sacrifice their own perfect children in the belief that their sacrifice would pacify the gods of these magnificent and terrible mountains.

I cannot help but think of The Old Testament story of Isaac and Jacob, and the New Testament gospel of God sending His own son into the world to sacrifice Himself for the sins of all mankind.
We are part of human history replete with great examples of sacrifice.  The Incas believed that by sacrifing their finest, young royal children, that the children would live forever, would merge with the mountain gods and would be the protectors of the entire Inca community.

Everyone in the museum spoke in hushed tones, the lighting was subdued.  We stood silently and watched the Maiden as she rests peacefully in her plastic chamber.  As we walked out of the museum it felt as if we had been in a church or a temple.  This museum alone was worth the trip to Salta. Every three months they rotate which mummy is on display.  They take extraordinary care to preserve these gifts from the past.

On Wikipedia, ask for Llullaillaco. They indicate the boy must have struggled near the end as he was tied up. The little girls face is upturned, looking toward the sky.  She is known as Lightening Girl as sometime in the far past a lightening bolt struck the top of the mountain and her face shows the burns.  Simply amazing and for an additional article with a fine slide show of the children click the link to the NY Times article below. Dale

1 comment:

Tanya said...

Such a great post about the Maiden Gail! Fascinating. Maybe your next trip needs to include Macchu Picchu? I have some great stories from there. Religious people in some of the remoter parts of the earth seem to have a good handle on respect, honor, and silence before God. Also just the whole ceremonial aspect of their sense of worship. Something I miss.