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Home > Blog > Salta's 500-year-old child mummies

Salta's 500-year-old child mummies

Drawing her last breath over 500 years ago, the six-year-old girl sits upright with her braided hair parted and eyes closed in sleep, her lips open to appear as if about to speak of her Inca relatives that buried her alive on a freezing mountain top.

She is the Girl of Lightening, her frozen body is one of the best preserved Inca mummies ever found, and she sits on public display at the High Mountain Archaeological Museum in Salta, Argentina.

I gasped when I saw her right up close behind the glass. And so did the handful of other visitors to this neat little museum in the main square of this sleepy, sunny town that is the main hub of Argentina's mountainous north-west region.

She and two other child mummies were discovered in 1999 at the 6,730m summit of the Llullaillaco Volcano. Only one is displayed at one time to help retain their remarkable preservation to give a shocking glimpse of the Inca Empire that sacrificed them as an offering to their gods.

In just half an hour, the story of the three noble Inca children and the determined team that battled icy blizzards to recover them is brought to life and serves as a striking and horrific introduction to the people that ruled an empire that stretched across modern day Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru until the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th Century.

The three Children of Llullaillaco were found with an extraordinary collection of gold, silver statues, textiles, pots and feathered headdresses that the Inca nobility abandoned as offerings in a sacred ritual after making an arduous journey of hundreds of miles across the empire.

The Incas believed mountains to be gods that protected their communities and built shrines at their peaks for religious rituals. There are 200 mountains across the Andes known to have archaeological remains, and as one of the highest, Mount Llullaillaco was probably one of the most important.

My visit to the museum was an unmissable stop in Salta, before exploring the region, Argentina's most northerly province alongside Jujuy. 

The whole region has strong indigenous roots and many people there often say they have more in common with their Bolivian neighbours to the north than their countryfolk to the south.

The area is more prosperous than much of Bolivia, with a thriving wine-growing industry that rivals the larger Mendoza region further south. 

I can vouch for the wines, which I sampled at several of the bodegas provide tours, tastings and magnificent lodgings. The wine region is perfect base to explore the spectacular rocky gorges, deserts and volcanoes, much of which are by-passed by visitors.

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