El niño (the boy), also known as Llullaillaco Boy or Lightning Boy was one of three Inca mummies found near the Volcano Llullaillaco in Argentina. He is believed to have died between A.D. 1430 and 1520. Found in 1999, the well preserved body is estimated to have been only 7 years old at the time of death.
Llullaillaco boy was part of the Inca tribe, and is presumed to be a human sacrifice in the traditional capacocha rite. El niño and two girls were given chicha (maize beer), and left on Argentina’s Llullaillaco volcano. It was consider an honour to be sacrificed for this ritual. According to the Inca culture these children did not die, but instead, joined their ancestors and watched over their villages.
The two other mummies were girls, one was 4- 6 year old Lightning Girl, and the other one was between the ages 13-15, known as The Maiden. El niño and the younger old girl, were likely meant to serve the oldest child as her attendants.
El niño and the other children were discovered almost 500 years after they were sacrificed, and are consider some of the world's best preserved mummies.This natural state of preservation is due to the extreme cold, dry conditions at the mountain's high altitude of 22,100 ft. The body was found in a tomb facing north east.
Llullaillaco boy was wearing a red tunic, leather moccasins, fur anklets, a silver bracelet, and a sling wrapped around his head, with his forehead adorned with white feathers. He had short hair and wore a slingshot decorated with feathers about his neck.
El niño was the only one out of the three mummies that was found tied, his body was so tightly wrapped that some of his ribs and his pelvis were dislocated.
Examination of Llullaillaco boy suggests that death was the result of exhaustion or high altitude sickness or a combination of both, probably before he actually reached the summit. The relaxed position of his arms differs from what mountain top sacrificial victims typically show. The fetal position of the body and the tight wrapping of cords around his legs could have been implemented to facilitate the transportation of the corpse to the summit. Analysis of the lips has shown the presence of blood in the saliva, which can be interpreted as a sign of pulmonary edema.
Findings in the DNA of the mummies established that El niño was not related to the girls. However, the two girls were half sisters.
Due to the well-preserved nature of the mummies, researchers were able to perform a variety of biochemical studies. The hair is remarkably well preserved, and an analysis provided a record of his dietary habits leading up to his death. The dietary information helps researchers speculate an explanation of his final moments. Traces of alcohol and coca indicate involvement in sacrificial ceremonies that led to his death. Researchers were able to use DNA analysis to determine changes in Llullaillaco boy's diet that correlate with the time they believed he left his old life to become a chosen child for the sacrificial ceremonies.
Upon analysis of his blood and hair, the boy did not seem to have any signs of disease prior to his death. It is believed that the boy died under stress, as there was vomit and blood found on his clothing. His body eventually froze and it is now consider to be one of the best preserved Inca mummies in history.
Ceruti, M. C. (2004). Human bodies as objects of dedication at Inca mountain shrines (north-western Argentina). World Archaeology, 36(1), 103-122.
Ceruti, M. C. (2015). Frozen mummies from Andean mountaintop shrines: bioarchaeology and ethnohistory of Inca human sacrifice. BioMed research international, 2015.
Wilson, A. S., Taylor, T., Ceruti, M. C., Chavez, J. A., Reinhard, J., Grimes, V., ... & Worobey, M. (2007). Stable isotope and DNA evidence for ritual sequences in Inca child sacrifice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(42), 16456-16461.