The mummified flames kept at a site of more than 500 years on the southern coast of Peru offer the first direct reflection of the Inca ritual sacrifices of these animals.
Colored ropes made from the hair of flames or closely related animals decorated five naturally mummified flames found in an Inca administrative center called Tambo Viejo. Four of those flames came together under the floor of a large rectangular structure, Lidio Valdez, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary in Canada, and his colleagues recount in December antiquity. Scattered remains of at least three flames were found closer to the intact animals. Another flame, which had no head and possibly moved elsewhere, had been placed under the floor of a smaller building.
Bones from hundreds of flames had already been found in Tambo Viejo, according to Spanish historical accounts of massive mud sacrifices to appease several Inca deities. Those ceremonies involved the killing of flames that were probably butchered and eaten, not buried whole, Valdez’s group says.
The newly discovered calls were killed when they were young, tied up and probably buried alive (along with live guinea pigs) as part of an event held to gain support from local residents for the Inca annexation of the region (SN: 10/6/11) say the scientists. Laboratory tests did not detect cuts in the throat or mid-sections of the slides.
Llama's sacrifices took place in front of the local public, speculate Valdez and his colleagues. Large ovens and bone remains of partially burned animals and sweet potatoes in Tambo Viejo fit into a setting where public festivities followed ritual sacrifices.
Archaeological evidence of sacrifices of Inca children has also been found elsewhere in Peru (SN: 22/09/10). But Spanish accounts from the 1600s indicate that Inca authorities often directed flames and guinea pigs as sacrificial offerings, researchers say.