When you imagine finding the 500-year-old remains of a person, you might think you’d find some bones, or perhaps some scraps of material that used to be clothing. Consider, then, the surprise of scientists who found a fully preserved girl, only 15 years old at the time of her death, frozen near an Argentinian volcano. The girl’s hair, body, and skin had been miraculously maintained by the cold temperatures – it truly seemed like she only recently passed on.
She was an Incas native and was most likely sacrificed to the gods (this was common among the Incas). They would sacrifice children around her age during a ceremony called capacocha, which would typically follow a major cultural event – like the death of an emperor or even rampant hunger.
The so-called Maiden mummy of a 15-year-old Incan girl who was sacrificed 500 years ago is giving up some secrets, revealing the teenager suffered from a bacterial lung infection at the time of her death.
“Ritual killings were common within the Incan culture. In 1999 three Children of Llullaillaco, who found deep frozen were found with an extraordinary collection of elaborate gold, silver and shell statues, textiles and pots containing food The children included a 13-year-old known as the ‘Llullaillaco Maiden'”
Scientists who found the girl were able to determine that she was suffering from a disease similar to tuberculosis, and miraculously they are hoping that the samples taken from her body might actually aid in finding a cure for modern diseases.
The find – using a new technique of swabbing the lips and comparing the swabs with those of current patients – is the first time a disease has been ‘diagnosed’ in such an ancient body.
‘Pathogen detection in ancient tissues isn’t new, but until now it’s been impossible to say whether the infectious agent was latent or active,’ says Corthals.
‘Our technique opens a new door to solving some of history’s biggest mysteries, such as the reasons why the flu of 1918 was so devastating. It will also enhance our understanding of our future’s greatest threats, such as the emergence of new infectious agents or re-emergence of known infectious diseases.’
The analysis was possible because of the incredible preservation of the mummy, which is so well-preserved there were still lice in her hair.
The team swabbed the lips of two Andean Inca mummies, buried at 22,000-feet elevation and originally discovered in 1999, and compared the proteins they found to large databases of the human genome.
Our study opens the door to solving many historical and current biomedical and forensic mysteries, from understanding why the plague of 1918 was so lethal, to finding out which pathogen is responsible for death in cases of multiple infections.