|A child who was deep frozen rather than embalmed 500 years ago [Photo: Courtesy]|
Her body is so perfectly preserved that it is hard to believe this girl died more than 500 years ago.
But what is even more remarkable is that scientists today have been able to learn the secrets of her death – by analysing her hair.
The 13-year-old Incan girl was heavily dosed with alcohol and coca leaves, which form the basis of cocaine, before being left to die of exposure high in the Andes as a sacrifice.
Known as the Ice Maiden, she is one of three children found in stone tombs on a mountain in Argentina.
The girl, the eldest of the three, was found cross-legged, with her head slumped forward and her hands resting in her lap.
She wore a feather headdress over her tightly braided hair and there were coca leaves between her teeth and balled up behind her cheek.
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The children were discovered in 1999.
They are believed to have been sacrificed in a ceremony called capacocha, a ritual thought to have been used to instil fear and help control members of the rapidly expanding Inca empire.
Analysis of the children’s hair, which still contains a chemical fingerprint of their diet, shows that all three were plied with drugs and alcohol to subdue them in the months before they died.
Amounts were particularly high in the 13-year-old girl, perhaps because she showed more resistance.
The chemical analysis was carried out by researchers at the University of Bradford, and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers said the coca leaves, which release a mild stimulant when chewed and sucked, would have helped her cope with the demands of altitude.
The chicha, an alcoholic drink made from fermented maize, would have helped her deal with the cold.
But it could also have hastened her death by stopping her from shivering.
There is no evidence that the girl, known as the Llullaillaco Maiden after the mountain in northwest Argentina, was brutally killed.
Instead, it is thought she died of exposure. Priests would have waited for her to fall unconscious before placing her in a burial chamber.
Dr Andrew Wilson, from the University of Bradford, said: ‘We think it likely that the Maiden was selected for sacrifice 12 months before her death, after which her treatment changed, corresponding to the sharp rise in coca consumption.
‘She was then probably involved in a series of rituals, involving consumption of coca and alcohol in the build up to her sacrifice.
‘Both substances were controlled, were considered elite products.
‘The fact that in her final weeks the maiden shows consistently higher levels of coca and alcohol use compared to the younger children suggests there was a greater need to sedate her in the final weeks of life.’