Archeologists have got their hands on the first known examples of mummified llamas, still brilliantly fluffy and decorated with colorful ribbons after being sacrificed by the Inca in Peru over 500 years ago.
As reported in the journal Antiquity today, the naturally mummified llama remains were discovered and studied by researchers at the University of Calgary and a team of archaeologists from the Universidad de Huamanga in Peru at the Inka settlement of Tambo Viejo in the Acari Valley on the Peruvian south coast.
During their dig, they discovered four naturally mummified llamas beneath the floor of the building, as well as another llama that had decayed, most likely because someone had attempted to loot the remains. Alongside the fluffy llama mummies, the pits contained brightly colored feathers of tropical birds and also a number of decorated guinea pigs.
Radiocarbon dating suggests the animals were killed at some point between 1432 and 1459 CE, a time just after the region was settled by the Inca.
Llamas were much more than just meat to the Inca, they also played an important role in their culture, ritual performances, and political life. The discovery of large ovens and other traces of food at the site suggests the llamas were most likely killed as some sort of sacrifice at a ritual celebration. This also fits nicely with what historians know about the relationship between llamas and the Inca.
“Historical records indicate animal sacrifices were important to the Inca, who used them as special offerings to supernatural deities,” Dr Lidio M Valdez, lead author of the research from the University of Calgary, said in a statement. “This was especially the case of llamas, regarded second only to humans in sacrificial value.”
The study also cites previous archaeological work that argued brown llamas were sacrificed to the Creator God (Viracocha), white llamas to the Sun, and mixed-colored llamas to thunder.
“The offerings likely were part of much larger feasts and gatherings, sponsored by the state,” they said, adding “the state befriended the local people with food and drink, cementing political alliances, whilst placing offerings allowed the Inca to claim the land as theirs.”
However, the new research did unearth a rather unpleasant surprise too. Some historical accounts suggest the animal sacrifices had their throats cut, but there was no evidence of that taking place here. Instead, the lack of injuries on the mummies suggests they were buried alive.
Of course, the Inca were no stranger to acts that would be considered unusually cruel by today's standards. Just last year, archeologists reported that the severed and mutilated heads of dissents were (oops didn't finish here...)