High levels of mercury found in capacocha victims’ hair

(ORDO NEWS) — The researchers used mass spectrometry to measure the concentration of mercury in the hair of seven mummies found in northern Chile.

It turned out that two girls, whom the Incas sacrificed during the capacocha ritual, had the content of this heavy metal about 80 times higher than that of people from ordinary burials.

According to the researchers, this is the result of prolonged poisoning during the months-long capacocha ritual. This is reported in an article published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

In the 11th-16th centuries, there was the largest state of the pre-Columbian era in terms of territory and population – the Inca Empire, which at its peak occupied the territories of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and also partially Colombia, Argentina and Chile.

The Incas often fought with their neighbors, expanding the borders of their state, while behaving quite gently towards the conquered peoples, for example, they did not prohibit local gods and did not carry out repressions. They had a complex system of beliefs, within which an important place was given to sacrifice.

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Image of the hair of a nine-year-old girl who was sacrificed during the capacocha ritual, obtained using a scanning electron microscope

Sacrifices for the Incas were a matter of state. One of these rituals was capacocha, which involved the selection of well-developed children of both sexes (or young virgin girls) in different parts of the empire.

They were taken to Cusco, where the priests performed certain rituals and prepared future victims. The reason for capacocha could be, for example, the death of a ruler, a victory in a war, or a natural disaster.

As part of the ritual, drugged children could be taken to the tops of volcanoes and mountains, where they were sacrificed. A recent study of the remains of two children, six to seven years old, showed that they used coca and ayahuasca in the last weeks of their lives.

In 1976, near the Chilean city of Iquique, road builders carried out blasting and discovered on the slope of Mount Cerro Esmeralda the burial of two girls aged about 9 and 18-20 years old.

The mummies, dated to about 1399-1475, were found wearing expensive clothes and with a rich accompanying inventory of 104 items, including silver jewelry.

Archaeologists have come to the conclusion that these girls were victims of the capacocha ritual, having made a long journey to the place of their death – from Iquique to Cusco about 1200 kilometers. Recent studies have shown that their clothes were saturated with a deadly poison – red dye from cinnabar.

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Finds made on the slope of Mount Cerro Esmeralda

Bernardo Arriaza of the University of Tarapaca, together with colleagues from the United States and Chile, examined the mummified remains of seven people from Northern Chile.

Five mummies of adults of both sexes were found in ordinary burials in the Atacama region dating back to 800 BC – 1400 AD. Two more mummies belonged to girls who were sacrificed on the slope of Cerro Esmeralda.

Using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry and laser ablation, the scientists examined the hairs of all seven mummies to determine the levels of mercury accumulated during the last five to six months of their lives.

As a result of the study, it turned out that in the hair of girls sacrificed, the concentration of mercury was about 80 times higher than in mummies from ordinary burials. The scientists noted that today the WHO considers a safe level of about one to two micrograms per gram, while in capacacho victims this figure was 11.2 micrograms per gram.

At the same time, not only poisoning could lead to this, but also excessive consumption of contaminated fish, especially a high trophic level, for example, swordfish or tuna. Although scientists found it difficult to give a definite answer, about the source of mercury in the hair of girls,

At the same time, the researchers noted that the concentration of lithium, boron and sulfur in the hair of the sacrificed girls was lower than that of other individuals, and corresponded to the modern norm.

In addition, the low concentration of arsenic indicated that these girls drank good quality water and did not suffer from exposure to this toxic substance, unlike many Atacama populations.



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