Volcanoes, lightning strikes, human sacrifices, and gods: It has the be the Incas.
Bioarchaeologists have been studying the 500-year-old remains of child sacrifices found on top of the volcanos Ampato and Pichu Pichu in the Andes. As reported by Science in Poland (PAP), an official outlet of the Polish government, their research has found that a surprising number of the sacrifices have been struck by a bolt of lightning.
This is no coincidence, the researchers suggest. It appears that the bodies of children were taken to the tops of mountains or volcanoes after they were sacrificed, where they were laid on a ceremonial stone slab and left to be hit by lightning. If a bolt struck, the gods were pleased with the sacrifice.
"According to the Incas, a person struck by lightning received great honor: a god expressed interest in that person,” Dagmara Socha, a bioarchaeologist from the Center for Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw, told PAP.
No strangers to lightning storms, the high peaks of the Andes were sacred to the Inca and closely associated with their deities, such as the weather god, Illapa. The use of child sacrifices in this context, Socha said, suggests that the lightning and children were being used as an intermediary between the gods and the people of Earth.
"The Incas considered the children pure and untouched; their status was supposed to facilitate persuading the gods to make specific decisions,” she added.
One of the most famous examples of the "lightning sacrifices" can be found on the aptly-named remains of “Lightning Girl.” Discovered alongside a number of other children sacrifices on the summit of Argentina’s volcano Llullaillaco in 1999, the 6-year-old girl displayed clear damage from a lightning strike on her face and shoulder that occurred after her death. She also had a skull that was intentionally elongated through head binding, a tradition that can be found across the world to denote a person’s place in the social hierarchy.
Along with this gruesome detail, the new research has also shed light onto other insights into the lives of child sacrifices. The girl's teeth show visible changes in the enamel structure, suggesting she experienced a prolonged period of hunger at some point in her young life. Alternatively, it could hint that the child experienced extreme stress as a toddler.
"I suppose it was then that the girl was taken away from her parents and brought to Cuzco, the capital of the Inca empire, where the girl was being prepared for three years to be sacrificed at the top of the volcano," added Socha.
Some of the sacrifice victims' remains have mummified, though the researchers think that the reason why some of the soft tissue and clothes didn't survive on others is because of the burn marks that showed they were struck by lightning. The Incas erected these special flat stones in places known to attract lightning strikes, and some of the stones showed they had been repeatedly struck.