Before leaving Salta we stopped at the Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña (MAAM) / Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, a museum focusing on Inca culture with an exhibition on capacocha, child sacrifices. In 1999, the mummified bodies of three children, buried 500 years ago, were discovered at the peak of Llullaillaco Volcano at an impressive elevation of 22,000 feet. They are considered the best preserved Inca mummies. The grave site contained two girls and one boy, as well as about 150 pieces of textiles, pottery and precious metals.
The practice of ritual sacrifice in the Inca society is believed to have been done to placate gods and ensure health and harvests. The museum is also home to the “Queen of the Hill”, another Inca mummy whose tomb was raided in the 1920s. After eight decades and a turbulent history of wandering in various private collections and basements, the deteriorated remains found their way to the MAAM in 2006.
Only one of the Llullaillaco children are on display at the museum at a time. During our visit, we were able to view “Lightning Girl”, so named because she was struck by lightning after her death, causing damage to her face. She was approximately six years old at the time of sacrifice. It is a moving experience to stand inches away from a person so perfectly preserved from an ancient time, a face frozen, the expression making you wonder about her final moments. Was it a peaceful death, the child drugged to sleep and then succumbing to the high altitude elements? Or is that a face of fear or agony, did she know her fate?
Bike touring in Argentina is so easy. We can checkout late from the hotel, visit a museum, ride 45 miles and still have camp setup by 4pm.