Peruvian child mummy with elongated skull undergoes analysis
Scientists know little about a pre-Columbian child mummy of Peru on display in Ohio, but that may soon change as the body of the toddler has just undergone CT scans at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The ancient remains are in a traveling museum exhibit called Mummies of the World. The mummy’s usual home is at the San Diego Museum of Man, which has a large collection of ancient remains.
Dr. Heather Gill-Frerking, Mummies of the World director of science and education, and the children’s hospital’s chief radiologist, Dr. Brian Coley, performed a “virtual autopsy” on the mummy with a 3D CT scan.
"We know that it's 400 to 500 years old. We think it's maybe 2 to 3 years old, but we can learn more about its age. We can learn how it died perhaps," Dave Duszynski of the Cincinnati Museum Center told WLWT.
Dr. Andrew Trout of the children’s hospital was also involved in the CT scans and said it might be possible to learn the child’s sex too.
"We can see dried-out lung, it looks like, and some of the dried-out abdominal organs and liver," Trout said. "As far as figuring out are their anomalies or abnormalities, that's going to take some time and some detailed evaluation of the images.”
The child’s skull apparently had been bound in life.
“It does show evidence of artificial cranial modification. Many South American cultures believed that a long, narrow head was beautiful, leading them to bind the skulls from birth to form them,” said Cincinnati Museum Center’s Cody Hefner.
Radiologists and archaeologists did a CT scan of the Peruvian mummy to learn more about the deceased child. A CT scan is a type of X-ray image. (Courtesy: Cincinnati Children’s)
Mummies of the World is the largest exhibition of mummies and related artifacts ever produced. It has 150 objects and specimens, including animal and human mummies from South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania and Egypt.
In the early 2000s, archaeologists found the bodies of three other Incan child mummies high in the Andes. Ancient Origins reported on this find in 2013 because scientists tested the bodies and found the children had been drugged before they were sacrificed. (These are different children than the one that underwent a CT scan this week.)
The bodies were found atop the summit of Volcan Llullaillaco in Argentina. In 2012 an analysis on the bodies of the ‘Maiden,’ who was about 13 when she died, and her 4- to 5-year-old companions, Llullaillaco Boy and Lightning Girl, revealed they’d been drugged and given alcohol on a regular basis as part of a year-long series of ceremonial processes leading up to their final sacrifice.
Archaeologists made the discovery after analyzing hair samples from the frozen mummies, which revealed that all three children had consistently been given coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived) and beer. Although they all appear to have had a peasant background as their diet consisted mainly of common vegetables, they all ate the food of the elite leading up to their death. This supports historical accounts suggesting that a few children were selected and prepared for their sacrifice as part of the Incan sacred ceremonies.
Evidence suggests that the Maiden was treated differently from the other two children, who may have served as her attendants. The 13-year-old consumed more of the elite food than the other two and was given the largest amount of coca and alcohol – while the younger children were given coca and alcohol for 9 months before their deaths, the Maiden was given the substances approximately 21 months beforehand.
The Maiden had a feathered headdress on her head, elaborately braided hair and a number of artifacts placed on a textile draped over her knees. By contrast, Llullaillaco Boy had blood on his clothes, a nit infestation in his hair and a cloth binding his body, suggesting he may have died of suffocation. Lightning Girl did not appear to have been treated as roughly but did not receive the same care or attention as the Maiden.
The Mummy of Lightning Girl
"The Maiden was perhaps a chosen woman selected to live apart from her former life, among the elite and under the care of the priestesses," said Andrew Wilson, study lead and archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the U.K.
Evidence suggests the sacrificial ceremony may have been used as a form of social control. Being selected for the ritual was supposed to be seen as a great honor, but it probably produced a climate of fear. In fact, it was a major offense for parents to show any sadness after giving up their children for the ceremony. It is hoped that more work on the three mummies will reveal more about the Inca society and its practice of ritual sacrifice.
It is hoped that, like the Inca child mummies of Argentina, we will also learn the story behind the child mummy of Peru.
Top image: Lithograph of Pervuian elongated skulls by J. Basire, 1842, and a Peruvian landscape. (Public Domain/Deriv)
By Mark Miller