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Environment

Incas Doped Their Sacrifice Victims

Children to be sacrificed were plied with increasing amounts of coca leaves and alcohol for a year prior to their deaths

by Sarah Everts
August 5, 2013 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 91, ISSUE 31

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Credit: PLOS ONE
This 500-year-old mummified Inca girl was sedated with coca leaves and alcohol before she was sacrificed, as determined by measuring cocaine and cocaine metabolites in her body.
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Credit: PLOS ONE
This 500-year-old mummified Inca girl was sedated with coca leaves and alcohol before she was sacrificed, as determined by measuring cocaine and cocaine metabolites in her body.

In 1999, archaeologists discovered the mummies of three Inca human sacrifice victims near the 22,000-foot summit of Llullaillaco volcano in the Andes Mountains. The 500-year-old remains were so remarkably preserved in the cold, arid climate that medical researchers have been able to detect molecular evidence of tuberculosis and other diseases in the remaining body fluids (C&EN, May 20, page 32). A team of scientists led by Andrew S. Wilson of the University of Bradford, in England, now reports that the 13-year-old female mummy found at the site was doped with cocaine and alcohol (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2013, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1305117110). Using mass spectrometry to analyze segments of the Llullaillaco maiden’s hair nearest her scalp, the team discovered that, in the year prior to her death, the girl had consumed an increasing amount of coca leaves and alcohol, as revealed by increased levels of cocaine and the cocaine metabolites benzoylecgonine and cocaethylene, the latter of which is produced in the presence of alcohol. The researchers argue that the doping may have facilitated consent or compliance of the children chosen for sacrifice.

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