Inca children were drugged and then sacrificed on volcanic peaks and mountains

An international team of scientists has found that Inca children were drugged before being ceremoniously sacrificed as part of the so-called capacocha ritual.

The Capacocha ritual was a sacrificial rite, where children of both sexes were selected for sacrifice in ceremonies at important shrines known as huacas or wak’akuna. Sacrifice was primarily carried out through four methods: strangulation, a blow to the head, suffocation, or being buried alive whilst unconscious (although in cold places children likely died from hypothermia). The ritual was performed in response to key events in the life of the Sapa Inca, whilst at other times Capacocha ceremonies were undertaken to stop natural disasters.

In a new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers identified sites on mountain and volcanic peaks across Peru. The study focused on two children found below the summit of the Ampato volcano who were buried in a sitting position at an altitude of 5800 metres above sea level.

A toxicological study shows evidence of intoxication with coca leaves and hallucinogenic substances, suggesting that both children were drugged before being sacrificed. The study suggests that the children chewed on coca leaves, resulting in increased blood pressure and a state of euphoria and well-being.

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Traditional medical uses of coca are foremost to overcome fatigue, hunger, and thirst. It is considered particularly effective against altitude sickness. The children also consumed a hallucinogenic brew called ayahuasca, a type of psychedelic that can affect the senses, cognitive skills, emotions and cause a person to hallucinate.

Both of the children were also struck by lightning, with one of the children being in a poor state of preservation due to the possibility of multiple lightning strikes. Although the cause of death is undetermined due to no visible blows or injury, this suggests the possibility that both children were buried alive during the ritual.

Header Image – Ampato Volcano – Image Credit : EkaterinaZ – Shutterstock

Ritual drug use during Inca human sacrifices on Ampato mountain (Peru): Results of a toxicological analysis

Journal of Archaeological Science : 


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is an award winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education and the BCA Medal of Honour.

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