Two Inca children scheduled for ritual sacrifice more than 500 years ago drank a special soothing concoction that has gone unnoticed until now.
Those young victims, most likely a girl and boy about 4 to 8 years old, drank a liquid that may have lightened their mood and calmed their nerves in the days or weeks before they were ceremonially killed and buried on Peru’s Ampato Mountain. , a new study suggests.
The youths’ bodies contain chemical remnants of one of the main ingredients of ayahuasca, a liquid concoction known for its hallucinogenic effects, say bioarchaeologist Dagmara Socha of the University of Warsaw, Poland, and her colleagues (SN: 5/6/19† Analyzes focused on hair from the girl’s naturally mummified body and fingernails from the boy’s partially mummified remains.
Although no molecular signs of ayahuasca’s strong hallucinogens appeared in those remains, the team did find traces of harmine and harmaline, chemical products of banisteriopsis cape vines, the Socha group reported in June Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports† At ayahuasca, B. caapic boosts the power of other more hallucinogenic ingredients.
Recent studies in rodents suggest that solutions containing harmine affect the brain, as do some antidepressants. “This is the first [evidence] That B. caapic could have been used in the past for its antidepressant properties,” Socha says.
While research into whether harmine can reduce depression or anxiety in humans is still in its infancy, archaeologist Christine VanPool of the University of Missouri, Columbia believes the ingredient may have been used on purpose. Spanish documents written after the fall of the Inca Empire say alcohol was used to calm those who had to be sacrificed, so other concoctions may have been used, speculates VanPool, who was not part of Socha’s team.
“I say yes for the time being, the Incas understood that” B. caapic reduced anxiety in sacrifice victims,” she says.
Spanish chroniclers may have mistakenly assumed that victims of Inca sacrifices drank a popular corn beer known as chicha rather than a B. caapic drink, Socha suspects. Molecular analyzes of the Ampato mountain children showed no evidence of alcohol. But alcohol consumed just before it was sacrificed would have gone undetected in the researchers’ tests.
Traces also indicated that both children had chewed coca leaves in the weeks leading up to their deaths. Spanish written records described the widespread use of coca leaves during the Inca rites of passage. Those events included ritual sacrifices of children and young women, who were believed to become envoys to various local gods after their deaths.
The sacrificed children were found during a 1995 expedition near the summit of Ampato (SN: 11/11/95† It would have taken at least two weeks and possibly several months for the pair of Inca children to make a pilgrimage from wherever their homes were to the capital Cuzco for official ceremonies and then to Mount Ampato, Socha says.
Give those kids a soothing B. caapic booze and coca leaves to chew doesn’t surprise University of Calgary archaeologist Lidio Valdez, who didn’t participate in the new study. Children may not have understood they were going to die, but they had to endure the hardship and loneliness of a long journey while separated from their families, he says.
Valdez suspects that the Ampato Mountain was originally called Qampato, a word meaning: path in the Inca language. Andean communities such as the Inca associated toads with water or rain. “The mountain was probably also connected to water or rain, and the children may have sacrificed to ask the mountain gods to send water,” he says.