Argentine Mummies: Remarkably Well Preserved

  • Share
  • Read Later
Remember the Peruvian "Ice Maiden," a female mummy found in 1995 that Bill Clinton said he wanted to date? These are even better. Archaeologists who ventured to the 22,000-foot summit of a volcano in northern Argentina last month -- and then dug five feet down through the ice -- were rewarded by what archaeologist Johan Reinhard, the leader of the American-Argentine-Peruvian expedition, called the best-preserved mummies he had ever seen: two girls, one boy, all aged 8 to 15, with blood still in their hearts and lungs and wispy hair still on their arms. The three were human sacrifices to Mount Llullaillaco, considered sacred by the Incas, and were found with a host of artifacts that excite some scientists more than the bodies themselves.

Among the treasures were gold, silver and shell statues; pottery, some containing food; and ornate shrouds that suggest that the individuals occupied an elite place in Inca society -- or at least attained one by the circumstances of their demise. All were arranged, the archaeologists think, exactly as they were when the sacrifice took place. "From a scientific point of view," said Dr. Craig Morris, an Andean anthropologist at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, "the artifacts and the base camp are at least as important as the mummies in determining the meaning of these rituals." Though somehow not as dramatic. But that's science.