From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The replica of the Plomo Mummy on display at the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural in Santiago, Chile

Capacocha or Qhapaq hucha[1] (Quechua qhapaq noble, solemn, principal, mighty, royal, hucha crime, sin, guilt[2][3] Hispanicized spellings Capac cocha, Capaccocha, Capacocha, also qhapaq ucha) was an important sacrificial rite among the Inca that typically involved the sacrifice of children.[4] The phrase Capacocha has also been translated to mean "solemn sacrifice" or "royal obligation."[4] The rationale for this type of sacrificial rite has typically been understood as the Inca trying to ensure that humanity's best were sent to join their deities.[5] Capacocha ceremonies took place under several circumstances. Some could be undertaken as the result of key events in the life of the Sapa Inca, the Inca Emperor, such as his ascension to the throne, an illness, his death, the birth of a son.[6] At other times, Capacocha ceremonies were undertaken to stop natural disasters performed as major festivals or processions at important ceremonial sites.[6] Capacocha ceremonies were performed at important shrines distributed across the empire, pagan Andean shrines are locally known as "huacas", alternative spellings include "waqa", "waq'a", "waka" or "wak'a".

Capacocha ceremonies were circular in nature, with sacrificial victims and material offerings being brought from local communities in the provinces to the capital of Cuzco before being redistributed to sacred places throughout the empire.[7] During the festivities of the Capacocha in Cuzco, it was decided what type and quantity of offerings each shrine or wak'a would receive, of which the Incas maintained a clear record. This depended on the relative importance of the wak'a and the relationship of its devotees with the Incas, Inca priests would periodically visit wak'a distributed across the Inca realm and certificate if they still maintained its power or had lost it, on occasions destroying the discredited wak'a.[8] Most wak'a offerings ranged from dirt to small stones to food and animals among other objects, and on special occasions humans in particularly powerful wakas. All objects, animals, and people sacrificed to a wak'a, not only represented Inca symbols but were also previously legitimized in ceremonies conducted by the emperor himself.[9]

This fulfilled political as well as religious goals. As such, capacocha sacrifices were usually not sacrificed in the region from which they originated.[6] Capacocha ceremonies are often associated with high-altitude occurrences and the tops of mountains; however, these rituals were not limited to mountain peaks.[4] Evidence of the practice of capacocha has been found at relatively lower altitudes such as around Lake Titicaca at 3,812 m.[4]

After the ceremonies at Cusco, the children, the priests and their entourage of companions undertook the trip back to their communities. When they returned, they did not follow the royal road, or the Inca road, as they had gone, but they had to follow a path in a straight line, possibly following the ceque lines that left Cusco and went to the wakas. This was a long and tedious journey, crossing valleys, rivers and mountains, which could take months.[10]

When arriving back to their villages they were received with more celebrations by the local community, after which they went in procession towards the waka in which the offering would be made, following the children to be offered and the priests of the local wakas.[10]

The ceremony of the offering had particular characteristics in each place, possibly originated in the uses and beliefs of each bias. In most cases, the children were drugged and unconsciously deposited at the place of the ceremony, if the ceremony was carried out in a particularly cold place, they could die from hypothermia,[11] in other cases death was provoked in a more violent manner, such is the case of the Aconcagua child, with a strong blow to the head,[12] as well as that of the girl at Sara Sara and the young woman from the snowy Ampato,[13] while the cause of death of the "Queen of the Hill" was a puncture wound in the right hemithorax, which entered through her back.[14]

In the same sense, while in some cases, as in Llullaillaco, the bodies were deposited in a burial chamber and covered with gravel,[15] in the case of Cerro El Plomo the sacrificial victim was wrapped in a complex funerary bundle of several pieces with a specific function and message,[16] as in the case of Aconcagua.[17]

Capacocha at Cuzco[edit]

The capacocha sacrifice started at the capital city of Cuzco, on the order of the Sapa Inca. The first Sapa Inca to do this sacrifice was Pacha Kuti.[18][19] Possibly, the offering began in the city with some of the children in the local wakas of Cusco ceque lines, while other children were sacrificed in other wakas around the kingdom, as this large sacrifice trickled down so no location was left out of an offering. According to priest Molina at each shrine in the provinces, the devotees interred gold, silver, and shell objects, while children were sacrificed only at the most exalted locations.[5] And thus the parties continued with their travels and sacrifices, until they reached the markers that defined the edge of the known civilized world, at a distance of 500 leagues (∼2,000 km).[5] If a huaca was forgotten or left out, it could cause political uproar or displease the Gods.

Child sacrifices[edit]

Since the Incas had no writing, it is difficult to fully comprehend and ascertain how their sacrificial practices were performed, since there's no surviving or detailed primary account from the Spanish side either.

However, non-primary colonial clergy accounts about Inca religion, particularly of priest Molina, who around 1575 - 1576, decades after the defunct Inca Empire, published a detailed work about Inca religion or priest Cobo, who took Molina's account as one of the basis for his work, are specially important for the modern understanding of Inca sacrificial practices outside of archaeologic evidence of human burials to contrast with.The victims of child sacrifice were children of both genders, chosen for looks, and no region was exempt from the recruitment of these child sacrifices; they could come from any region of the empire.[5] The male victims were no older than ten and girls could be up to age sixteen but must be a virgin when chosen; they had to be perfect, unblemished by even a freckle or scar.[20] When they were looking for tributes the children would be sent along with other goods of tribute, like silver and gold, and camelids.[5] Until the time of the sacrifice, the tributes were fed well, and those too young to eat would have their mothers with them to breastfeed.[20] This was to ensure that they would be well fed and happy when they prepared to reach the gods.[20] The children were paired off, girl and boy, and dressed finely like little royals.[5] They were paraded around four large statues, of the Creator, the Sun God, the Moon God, and the Thunder God.[5] The Sapa Inca would say to the priests then to divide the children, along with the other sacrifices, in four, for each of the four suyu regions.[5] He would then order the priests to make their sacrifices at their main huaca.[5]

Some of the children were sacrificed at very important mountain-top shrines, alongside gold, silver and spondylus, as archaeological findings show.[5][7] Waves of offerings would be distributed throughout the empire from this sacrificial offering, so that every region had a piece of it; if a huaca was missed, it would be an insult and could jeopardize the Sapa Inca's rule.[18]

When the sacrifices of children and material offerings were buried, the holes couldn't be made using any metal, but in the ceremony dug out using sharpened sticks.[20]

The fullest description of a qhapaq ucha comes from Molina[5] who placed it in the context of a monarch’s ascension. He wrote that all of the towns of the empire were called upon to send one or two boys and girls about 10 years old to the capital, along with fine cloth, camelids, and figurines of gold, silver, and shell. The boys and girls were dressed in finery and matched up as if they were married couples.[5] Priests were then dispatched to the four quarters with sacrificial items and orders to make offerings to all wak’a according to their rank. The parties left the city in straight-line paths, deviating for neither mountain nor ravine. At some point, the burdens were transferred to other porters, who continued along the route. The children who could walk would do so, while those who could not were carried by their mothers. The Inca himself traveled the royal road, as did the flocks. Some children were cut open to have their hearts removed and others strangled. Their blood was used as paint on the idolic statues of the gods in the rest of the ceremony.[5]

Archaeologically, the evidence to support sacrifices at that scale is lacking.[5] Bauer, In his fieldwork among the wak’as of Cuzco, found surface evidence of human burial at three shrines, but nothing approaching the thousands of victims described in the chronicles has yet been reported.[5] Even so, Molina’s comment that the rituals paid special attention to high peaks has been supported by the archaeological finds described.[5] The principal offerings recovered from those sites – gold, silver, spondylus shell, and children – also nicely match the priest’s account.[5]

Sacrifice was primarily carried out through four methods: strangulation, a blow to the head, suffocation, or being buried alive while unconscious.[6] Some Spanish records tell of Incas removing victims' hearts, but no evidence of this has been found in the archaeological record; it seems more likely that this practice was witnessed by the Spaniards among the Aztecs and wrongly attributed to the Incas as well.[6] To the great gods, the Creator, the Sun, the Moon and the Thunder, prayers were made to keep the Sapa Inca safe and to guard the people of the empire.[5] The prayers also begged the gods to keep the Sapa Inca young, to save his sons, and their children forever.[18]

Mama-Kuna and chosen women[edit]

While the boys were immediately brought to Cuzco, the young girls, called aclla, taken for sacrifice were often entrusted to the mama-kuna, in the "House of Chosen Women" (aqlla wasi).[19] Chosen for their looks, the girls were taught to weave and sew here for an extended time. The mama-kuna women were compared to nuns by many Spanish men, as they lived celibate lives, serving the Gods.[19] There were three groups the girls were divided into. Some girls never left and went on to raise the girls brought after them, and the prettiest were sent as tribute.[19] The rest from the girls brought to become Chosen Women became slaves and concubines in Cuzco, for the noblemen.[19]

Typical offerings[edit]

A number of offerings were often left with the sacrificed individuals at the sites of capacocha ceremonies. The human body itself was often finely dressed and clothed in a feathered headdress and other ornamentation such as a necklace or bracelet.[7] The most elaborate artifacts were typically paired human statuettes and llama figurines that have been crafted with gold, silver, and spondylus.[5] The combination of both male and female figurines alongside the use of both gold and silver was likely meant to pay tribute to the male Sun and the female Moon.[5] Several sets of ceramics as well as gold, silver, and bronze pins were relatively commonplace too.[4] A large amount of cloth was a typical find at capacocha sites too.[4] Some objects that often appear such as plates and bowls have often been found in pairs.[7] Alongside these objects are sometimes found food items.[7]

High-altitude sites[edit]

Special attention was paid by the Inca to a number of ceremonial wak'a sites at very high elevations.[5] Over 100 ceremonial centers and shrines were built within Inca territories on or near the high summits of the Andes Mountains.[7] These sites were often meant to function both religiously and politically. Some mountains were viewed as origin places or the home to important mountain deities.[5] Building shrines on these mountains both paid homage to the deities and also placed an imperial stamp on areas important to local beliefs, fulfilling both religious and political goals.[5][7] In a number of instances, typically at the most important of these mountains, these sites contain the mummified remains of children sacrificed in capacocha ceremonies.[5][7] Capacocha ceremonies at these important locations held a great deal of weight.

Travel to these sites would have involved a procession of priests, the children who would be sacrificed, and a number of other important individuals throughout the empire.[6] Different peoples would assist with the procession as the group moved throughout the different regions of the empire.[6] These sites were difficult to reach and even more difficult to work on. In order to increase the ease with which these mountaintop locations could be reached, the Incas built staging stations lower on the mountains and also made paths that lead up to the summit.[5] Some preparation would likely have occurred at tambos situated nearby.[6]


The journey to the mountaintop site chosen for the child sacrifice was often long and arduous. Forensic evidence suggests that many children (as well as the priests) received coca leaves to chew on in order to give them energy and help them breathe more easily in the high mountains while climbing upward. Once at the summit the young victims would then be administered an intoxicating drink or other substance to either induce sleep or a stupor, ostensibly to let the final ritual go on smoothly.

Once dead, the victims would then be buried in a fetal position, wrapped up in a bundle with various artifacts within the bundle or next to it in the same grave.


One of the mummies recovered from Llullaillaco.

One particularly noteworthy site was found near the summit of Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano in Argentina that lies near the Chilean border.[21] This mountain appears to have been the site of the conclusion of a capacocha ceremony, taking place at an elevation of around 6,739 meters above sea level.[6] In 1999, the mummies of three relatively young individuals were found at the top of the mountain alongside a diverse assemblage of artifacts.[22] Excavations around the main ceremonial structure, a rectangular platform, revealed the burials of a young woman of about 15 years of age, a girl of about 6 years of age, and a boy of about 7 years of age along with over 100 offerings of various materials.[7][22] Due to the frigid conditions, both the mummies and the materials were incredibly well preserved.[7] Some of the notable artifacts found at the site include a feathered headdress, well-made clothing, a number of ceramics, bowls and spoons made of wood, various food items, figurines made out of gold, silver, and spondylus, and other metal objects such as pins.[7]

Due to the incredible preservation of the children, a number of studies could be undertaken from their remains. Hair samples indicate that the diets of the children underwent a momentous change in the year before their deaths.[22] This helps to indicate the care with which children were treated during their travels throughout the empire prior to their ultimate sacrifice.[22] Other changes in the isotopes found in the hair samples indicate that the children began their procession to the mountain several months prior to their death.[22] The preservation of both the human remains and the artifacts associated with them has been an invaluable source of information.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Of Summits and Sacrifice: An Ethnohistoric Study of Inka Religious Practices, University of Texas Press, 2009
  2. ^ Teofilo Laime Ajacopa, Diccionario Bilingüe Iskay simipi yuyayk'ancha, La Paz, 2007 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary)
  3. ^ Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary)
  4. ^ a b c d e f Valerie, A.; Buzon, Michele R.; Gibaja, Arminda M.; McEwan, Gordon F.; Simonetti, Antonio; Creaser, Robert A. (2011). "Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (2): 323–333. doi:10.1012/j.jas.2010.09.009 (inactive 2019-08-18).
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y D'Altroy, Terence N. (2003). The Incas (Reprinted ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 1-4051-1676-5.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reinhard, Johan; Ceruti, Constanza (June 2005). "Sacred Mountains, Ceremonial Sites, and Human Sacrifice Among the Incas". Archaeoastronomy. 19: 1–43.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ceruti, Maria Constanza (March 2004). "Human Bodies as Objects of Dedication at Inca Mountain Shrines (north-western Argentina)". World Archaeology 36 (1): 103*122.
  8. ^ Urton, Gary; Hagen, Adriana von (2015-06-04). Encyclopedia of the Incas. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780759123632.
  9. ^ Duviols, Pierre (1976). La Capacocha. Allpanchis: Revista del Instituto Pastoral Andino, 9.
  10. ^ a b Murra, John V.; de Betanzos, Juan; del Carmen Martin Rubio, Maria (1990). "Suma y narracion de los Incas". Ethnohistory. 37 (1): 95. doi:10.2307/481952. ISSN 0014-1801. JSTOR 481952.
  11. ^ MAAM (2010). "Guía de referencia de la exposición". Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña de Salta. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Ciner, Patricia Andrea (2010-03-01). "La exégesis del Apocalipsis en el comentario al Evangelio de Juan de Orígenes". Intus-Legere Filosofía. 4 (1): 37–52. doi:10.15691/0718-5448vol4iss1a95. ISSN 0718-5448.
  13. ^ Johan., Reinhard (1998). Discovering the Inca Ice Maiden : my adventures on Ampato. National Geographic Society. OCLC 607107175.
  14. ^ "Secretaria de Cultura de Salta Argentina - LA REINA DEL CERRO". 2012-03-10. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  15. ^ Constanza, Ceruti, María (2003). Llullaillaco : sacrificios y ofrendas en un santuario Inca de alta montaña. Ediciones Universidad Católica de Salta. ISBN 978-9506230142. OCLC 836277798.
  16. ^ Abal, Clara (2001). Cerro Aconcagua: descripción y estudio del material textil. Universidad Nacional de Cuyo EDIUNC, Mendoza.
  17. ^ Roberto., Bárcena, J. (2001). Estudios sobre el santuario incaico del Cerro Aconcagua. Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. OCLC 61205067.
  18. ^ a b c Molina, Cristóbal de; Bauer, Brian S.; Smith-Oka, Vania (2011). Account of the Fables and Rites of the Incas. University of Texas Press. pp. 114–120. ISBN 9780292723832.
  19. ^ a b c d e Besom, Thomas (2009). Of Summits and Sacrifice : An Ethnohistoric Study of Inka Religious Practices. Austin TX: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292783041.
  20. ^ a b c d Cobo, Bernabe (1990). Inca Religion and Customs. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292738614.
  21. ^ Grady, Denise (2007-09-11). "In Argentina, a Museum Unveils a Long-Frozen Maiden". The New York Times.
  22. ^ a b c d e Andrushko, Valerie A.; Buzon, Michele R.; Gibaja, Arminda M.; McEwan, Gordon F.; Simonetti, Antonio; Creaser, Robert A. (2011). "Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (2): 323–333. doi:10.1012/j.jas.2010.09.009 (inactive 2019-08-18).


  • Andrushko, Valerie A.; Buzon, Michele R.; Gibaja, Arminda M.; McEwan, Gordon F.; Simonetti, Antonio; Creaser, Robert A. (February 2011). "Investigating a child sacrifice event from the Inca heartland". Journal of Archaeological Science. 38 (2): 323–333. doi:10.1012/j.jas.2010.09.009 (inactive 2019-08-18).
  • Besom, Thomas (2009). Of Summits and Sacrifice : An Ethnohistoric Study of Inka Religious Practices. Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292719774.
  • Ceruti, Maria Constanza (March 2004). "Human Bodies as Objects of Dedication at Inca Mountain Shrines (north-western Argentina)". World Archaeology. 36 (1): 103*122. doi:10.1080/0043824042000192632.
  • Cobo, Bernabe; Hamilton, Roland (2010). Inca Religion and Customs. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292789791.
  • D'Altroy, Terence N. (2003). The Incas (Reprinted ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 978-1-4051-1676-3.
  • Grady, Denise (2007-09-11). "In Argentina, a Museum Unveils a Long-Frozen Maiden". The New York Times.
  • Molina, Cristóbal de; Bauer, Brian S.; Smith-Oka, Vania (2011). Account of the Fables and Rites of the Incas (Reprinted ed.). University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292723832.
  • Reinhard, Johan; Ceruti, Constanza (June 2005). "Sacred Mountains, Ceremonial Sites, and Human Sacrifice Among the Incas". Archaeoastronomy. 19: 1–43.