More than 500 years ago, three children climbed Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina and never came down, the probable victims of human sacrifice. Since their well-preserved mummies were discovered in 1999, scientists have studied them in hopes of reconstructing the last months of their lives. New evidence shows that all three regularly ingested coca and alcohol and suggests that the drugs might have played a more-than-ceremonial role in their deaths.
The children—a young boy and girl, and a female archaeologists call the Llullaillaco Maiden, whom new research estimates to have been 13 years old—were part of an Incan sacrificial ritual known as capacocha, in which children were killed or left to die from exposure at the peaks of high mountains. Found sitting within small shrines, the bodies were naturally mummified by the cold, dry climate of the nearly 7000-meter mountain.