Before they were sacrificed, the Inca children were completely high

Hallucinogenic plants and psychotropic stimulants played an important role in belief, ritual and divination practices in the ancient Andes. More recently, researchers have isolated traces of cocaine and ayahuasca, a hallucinogenic drink, in the bodies of two children who were sacrificed in Peru several centuries ago.

The Inca Empire is believed to have existed in Peru between 1400 and 1533. It is one of the largest empires ever seen in America. Among these people, the capacocha was an important rite, usually involving the sacrifice of children. Performing these rituals was motivated by the belief that it could help Avoid natural disasters such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, but also periods of drought or heavy rain.

A few years ago, near the ancient city of Chan Chan, a team uncovered the remains of nearly 140 children belonging to the Chimú culture one of the greatest casualties ever recorded. Researchers then discovered that this sacrifice had occurred at a time when heavy rains were falling on the region, likely due to the El Niño phenomenon. However, we do know that the Chimú culture thrived thanks in part to their intensive agriculture, which was heavily dependent on the weather.

Toxicological analyses

In 1995, researchers came across people killed on Mount Ampato in the south of the country. Two children, estimated to be between six and seven years old, were among the victims. Both would be sacrificed dead more than 500 years ago. Recently, a team performed toxicology tests on the two remains. To do this, the researchers took some hair from one of them, called Ampato 2, and some nails from the other, called Ampato 3.

During their analysis, the researchers were able to identify traces of cocaine, a tropane alkaloid extracted from the coca leaf, in both sample groups. This is not a premiere. In fact, other similar traces have already been discovered during other studies of the Capacocha rituals.

cocaine kids
A coca leaf in Bolivia. Credit: Marcello Casal Jr./ABr

The two children also showed up positive for harmine and harmalinetwo plant alkaloids whose only possible source was in the region Banisteriopsis caapi. These are tropical lianas from the Malpighiaceae family, native to Amazonia. These plants are commonly used to make Ayahuasca (or Yagé), a hallucinogenic drink traditionally eaten by some indigenous groups.

The results of the study show that the victims chewed coca leaves and got high on ayahuasca in the last few weeks of their lives., the study notes. According to the researchers, the Incas may have consciously harnessed the antidepressant and hallucinogenic properties of these substances reduce anxiety levels their victims.

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