Mummified llamas yield new insights into Inca ritual sacrifices

Mummified llamas stashed at a more than 500-year-old site on Peru’s southern coast offer the first direct glimpse of Inca ritual sacrifices of these animals.

Colored strings made from the hair of llamas or closely related animals decorated five naturally mummified llamas found at an Inca administrative center called Tambo Viejo. Four of those llamas lay together beneath the floor of a large, rectangular structure, Lidio Valdez, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, and his colleagues report in the December Antiquity. Scattered remains of at least three more llamas were found near the intact animals. Another llama, missing its head and possibly moved from another location, had been placed under the floor of a smaller building.

Bones of hundreds of llamas had already been found at Tambo Viejo, consistent with Spanish historical accounts of mass llama sacrifices to appease various Inca deities. Those ceremonies involved the slaughter of llamas that were probably butchered and eaten, not interred whole, Valdez’s group says.

The newly discovered llamas were killed as youngsters, bound and likely buried alive (along with live guinea pigs) as part of an event held to win support from local residents for Inca annexation of the region (SN: 10/6/11), the scientists say. Lab exams detected no cuts to llamas’ throats or midsections.

Excavations at a Peruvian settlement established by the Inca uncovered these four naturally mummified llamas, apparently sacrificed to help cement control over the region.L.M. Valdez

Llama sacrifices occurred in front of local audiences, Valdez and his colleagues speculate. Large ovens and remains of partly burned animal bones and sweet potatoes at Tambo Viejo fit a scenario in which public feasts followed ritual sacrifices.

Archaeological evidence of Inca child sacrifices has also been found elsewhere in Peru (SN: 9/22/10). But Spanish accounts from the 1600s indicate that Inca authorities most often targeted llamas and guinea pigs as sacrificial offerings, the researchers say.

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