Considered by his subjects as Son of the Sun, and therefore divine, when an Inca sovereign died, his body had to be carefully mummified and preserved for eternity. We know of the care and reverence paid to these royal mummies thanks to several chroniclers who, after the conquest, left detailed descriptions of them and the rituals that surrounded them. It is the only information we have, since, unfortunately, the mummies of the deceased Inca kings have never been located.
We do not know for sure what techniques were used to achieve the mummification of the rulers, although we have some reference to it such as that of the Jesuit Blas Valera: “When the king died they removed his intestines and embalmed his body with the balm brought from Tolú” . Researchers now believe that the mummies were prepared with Tolu balm (a resin named after the Peruvian region where it comes from), menthol, salt, tannin, various alkaloids, saponins, and resins.
And although the mummies have not been preserved, we do know from some descriptions what they looked like. Father José de Acosta, who had the opportunity to see the body of the Inca Pachacuti around 1590, describes it as follows: “The body is so well preserved, and with a certain resin, that it seemed alive. The eyes were made of bread of gold so well placed that there was no need for the natives … His hair was gray and none of it had disappeared, as if he had died that very day, although in reality his death had occurred more than sixty and eighty years before”.
The chronicler Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala made a series of engravings in which he showed many of the traditions of the Inca people. It shows the transfer on a litter of the mummy of an Inca ruler, dressed in his best clothes. 1583-1615.
Apparently, when a king died, his body was squatted on a seat, with his knees bent under his chin, bits of gold in his mouth, cuffs and chest, and he was dressed in magnificent robes. After a month, after the mandatory funerary ceremonies –which included human sacrifices: the wives and main concubines of the monarch and some child or young man of the local nobility–, the body was placed in its final resting place, usually the palace in the one who had lived, in the care of servants.
Each king had his own butler, who saw to feeding him; In addition, some women took care that the insects did not settle on the deceased and could spoil the mummy, and they also took care of dressing, washing and giving him a drink (the Incas thought that it was necessary to dress and provide food and drink to the mummies of their ancestors to preserve the cosmic order and thus be able to guarantee abundant harvests and the fertility of livestock).
INCA MUMMIES PROCESSION
These mummies were hidden from view of all, except on special occasions, when they were taken out in procession and taken to the Coricancha or Temple of the Sun, in Cuzco, the capital, where they were placed on a small throne. Deceased Incas also visited other dead rulers and participated in public banquets where they “drank” and toasted their descendants. They also granted audiences to their successors, who consulted them on any aspect of the Tahuantinsuyu government, and could even act as ambassadors of the reigning Inca, and were sent to negotiate treaties or any other type of political and military management to any corner of the Empire.
Every winter solstice, a ceremony in honor of the sun god Inti takes place in Cuzco, a festivity that already took place in the ancient Inca Empire. One of the scenes recreated is the procession in which the deceased Incas are moved to participate with their successors in the celebration.
WHERE ARE THE MUMMIES OF THE INCAS?
With the arrival of the Spanish, some faithful servants took the mummies of their monarchs to a safe place so that they could not be desecrated, and there they continued to be secretly venerated. In 1558, Juan Polo de Ondegardo was appointed mayor of Cuzco and among his objectives was to locate the mummies of the Inca kings. He was successful in searching for it, as he discovered the mummies of various rulers and their coyas (queens).
The corregidor gathered them all in his house and there the chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega was able to see them, who narrates the encounter as follows: “In the room I found five bodies of the Inca rulers, three males and two females. The bodies were perfectly preserved [ …]. They were dressed as they had been in life. They were buried in a sitting position, their hands crossed across their chest, the left over the right, and their eyes lowered, as if searching the ground […] .] The bodies weighed so little that any Indian could carry them in his arms on his back from house to house.”
After this visit, the bodies were sent to Lima, and Viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza ordered them to be kept in the Royal Hospital of San Andrés, where the Jesuit José de Acosta was able to see and describe them. From that moment there are very few mentions of these bodies; the last one dates from 1638. Centuries later, in 1937, José de la Riva-Agüero led an investigation to find out if, indeed, the mummies were still in the hospital or what had become of them. Several crypts were discovered, but none of them contained mummies.
In 2001, another archaeological expedition tried to find the whereabouts of the elusive mummies. Using ground-penetrating radar, they found a vaulted underground crypt under the hospital and a pit filled with colonial-era garbage. In 2005, these places were excavated, but no trace of mummies was found. Were the royal Inca mummies buried here? Were they ever moved to another location? Are they still hidden in some corner of the hospital? For now these questions remain unanswered and the fate of the mummies of the great Inca rulers remains an enigma.