Ancient Inca Child Sacrifices on Mountaintops

by Antonio Kuilan

The practices of child sacrifices were common among the ancient Inca Empire. The  Incans performed a sacrificial ceremony in affairs such as a victorious battle, an epidemic, famine, birth of a royal son, the death of an emperor, or an annual event in the Incan calendar. These sacrifices were also performed in response to geological catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and droughts. In these ceremonial events, known as the capacocha, a child was sacrificed to please the gods – the ultimate sacrifice they could make.

A mummified Incan female sacrificed to the gods.
A mummified Incan female sacrificed to the gods.

The capacocha was a critical part of the Inca life and included rituals and feasts, lasting a period of days. Afterwards, the Inca priests embarked on a pilgrimage to the mountaintops to perform the sacrifice.

This paper will briefly examine the capacocha process and why the child sacrifices were carried out on top of the Andean peaks.


Inti - The Sun God
Inti – The Sun God

Capacocha has been translated as “solemn sacrifice” or “royal obligation,” and it is a sacrificial ceremony that is carried out to appease Inti, the Sun God, along with other deities. Though the Incan supreme god was the ‘creator god’ Viracocha, the Incas praised the Sun God who they believed nourished the land with its rays and from whom the royal family was thought to be descended from. The Incas were polytheists, believing in a number of other ‘nature gods’ that were crucial to the successes of their agriculture, such as the apus, or ‘mountain gods’.

Surviving Spanish chronicles tell us that sacrifices were common in all significant events of the emperor’s life: taking the throne, births of sons, death, and so forth. The capacocha was thought to prevent and overcome illnesses, ensure successful warfare, and provide healthy harvests. Capacocha were also performed when geological processes struck; an earthquake for example, would be a sign that the gods were angry. In short, it was thought that the appeasement of the gods could be attained by honoring them through a capacocha.

When the capacocha was performed, children were chosen because they were perceived as pure, and believed that adults did not possess the purity quality of children. Children from infant ages up until 15 years of age were used for the ceremony, but only those that exhibited physical beauty, health and their bodies free of irregularities were selected. Because the child would be thought of as a messenger to the gods and representing a connection from the Incas to the gods, children with exaggerated beauty were chosen.

Before initiating a capacocha ceremony, the Inca sent out requests throughout the locals, asking for tribute payments of gold, silver, cloth, llamas, shells, including children up to 15 years of age.

In the Inca world, it was considered to be a high honor to be sacrificed. Parents would volunteer and offer their own children, and it is even thought that the chieftains even offered their own as well, with the emperor deciding whether to accept or decline the chieftain’s children. Parents who offered their children were rewarded and given social prestige.

Although children of both sexes were chosen, it seems females were sacrificed more often.

Once children were chosen for the capacocha, they were brought from their village to Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, with family members, local chiefs, and priests accompanying the child. The child would be greeted by the emperor, followed by gran feasts and ceremonies. The child would be lavished with the finest cloths, gold, and silver – worshipped like royalty. The whole process was rich in symbolism.

After several days of feasting, the priests would begin their journey to a chosen mountaintop within the Inca landscape.

Sacrifice and Mountaintops

The towering mountains
The towering mountains

Why did the Incas choose mountaintops as the ultimate place for a child sacrifice? With the geography of Inca enveloped by skyscraping mountains, not only did it become common  that gods rested on the celestial realms on mountaintops, but that the mountain themselves are gods. Apus, or mountain deities, was thought of as the gods of nature’s forces that oversaw agriculture and livestock. They were viewed as the guardians of the Inca people, who pierced the skies above, where the sacred condor soars. Even the rugged ascent represented a way of nearing the sun god Inti.

The Inca priests began the arduous ascent to the mountaintop, a process that could  take months. Chiefs and people from child’s region came along to assist in carrying supplies and offerings. Sometimes, the child’s parents would come along. The journey would take them to elevations as high as 23,000 feet.

It was an incredible undertaking to carry out a capacocha on a mountaintop. Equipment was hauled on the backs of hundreds of llamas and people. Archaeologist Johan Reinhard discovered the remains of numerous rest stops along one mountain. The sites suggest the rest stops were stocked with water and supplies, such as large cloth based tents. This would have alleviated the life-threatening cold in the high elevations.

Coca leaves
Coca leaves

As they ascended, the air became thinner. To help the child stay alive until the area of sacrifice, they fed them coca leaves, which assisted their breathing.

When reaching the designated area on the mountaintop, a sacrificial structure would be waiting for them. Incans began building the structure beforehand. It consisted of a flat platform encased in stone walls, creating a tomb-like structure.

Here, priests would raise their wooden vessels toward the sun and asked for its  blessings. The sounds of flutes and drums filled atmosphere as priests sang and gestured towards the snow-capped mountains surrounding them. They laid out offerings that were brought with them; maize, beans, vessels with maize beer, figurines, pottery, and weaved linen were among the many items. They chewed coca leaves in honor and burned incense. The smoke rising signaled the people below of the capacocha climax and began singing. The ceremonies continued, and then the priest would begin to feed the child chicha, an alcoholic drink made of maize. This would be done in an attempt to ease the cold and remove the fear of dying.

The sacrificial method involved in the capacocha consisted of four ways: strangulation, suffocation, buried alive, or by a sharp blow to the head. Upon sacrificing the child, it would be placed in the platform and buried with elaborate offerings of silver, gold, textile, ceramic, shell, ceremonial pots, statues made of precious metals, and other artifacts, like carvings of llamas. The capacocha ritual was complete.


Believing that the mountaintops are gods and a place closest to the heavens, mountaintops were the prevalent areas for capacochas. The Incas believed appeasement of the gods were fulfilled this way. After the capacocha, the burial sites were regarded as huacas, a sacred revered place, remaining a holy place that housed a child in the realms of the Inca gods


Jane Goodall plagiarizes. A case of sympathethic plagiarism?

I love Jane Goodall.

Let me say that again: I love Jane Goodall.

I share the love that many others have for Dr. Jane Goodall, who is probably the world’s beloved primatologist, so I hope that my thoughts here are not interpreted as hate, but as an academic insight.

Recently, The Washington Post has called out Jane Goodall for plagiarism. They invited a botany expert to review her new book–Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants–but declined the task after encountering passages that were plagiarized. Most of the material were literally lifted verbatim from a variety of websites.

Jane Goodall has since admitted to the accusation and issued an apology:

“This was a long and well researched book and I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies. I hope it is obvious that my only objective was to learn as much as I could so that I could provide straightforward factual information distilled from a wide range of reliable sources.”

Even before the apology was issued, many fans were exclaiming, “we love you Jane, we forgive you!”

The same tune was being whistled in nearly every social site. Reading through some of the comments via a Huffington Post Facebook page that linked the Goodall story, I encountered a high school student who expressed that there is no forgiveness in school if you plagiarize and that “…she should be slammed.” A user claiming to be a Ph.D scientist replied to him, stating that the “…real world is a little different than your high school experience,” and that once he writes research papers and author books, “things can fall through the cracks” when handling references. He went on to say that it wasn’t a big deal and that he should wait until he “…obtain a level of education” that is on par with Goodall before opening his mouth. This user wielded his Ph.D and belittled the high school student.

Other users Like’d the Ph.D’s reply.

This angered me and probably triggered this post you are reading.

What kind of message is this sending to the younger generation? Hey kid, shut your hole, Goodall made a “mistake” and you are worthless? Or that it is ok to plagiarize once you obtain a certain level of education or status?

The high school student, and the comments of other college students are correct: You will be academically crucified when committing plagiarism.

Here are some of the consequences:

  • Failing the assignment
  • Failing the course, having to pay again and retake the course.
  • Reported to the Dean, receiving a grade of XF (indicates failed due to dishonesty).
  • The process of remediation/counseling in attempt to remove the dishonesty mark.
  • Being expelled from the University.
    Serious consequences that will haunt you further:
  • A permanent record on your transcript of your academic dishonesty. This record can and most likely affect your chances of getting into grad school.
  • Loss of funding, grants, scholarships, and/or financial aid.
  • Loss of academic reputation.
  • Losing the chance to land the job you want (high-end employers look at transcripts).
  • Loss of academic position or other position.

The consequences are immense. Is Jane Goodall immune? Here’s a snippet from The Washington Post’s original article:

“By academic standards, however, the content-copying of ‘Seeds of Hope’ is unacceptable, said Lena Struwe, a plant biology professor at Rutgers and director of the university’s Chrysler Herbarium, who publishes a blog called Botanical Accuracy. If a Rutgers graduate student turned in a paper containing similar infractions, she wrote in an e-mail after reviewing the examples, the student would be reported to administrators, punished and possibly expelled.”

What exactly did Jane Goodall plagiarize? According to the article, she lifted entire passages from websites such as Wikipedia, a tea site, and a tobacco site. Here’s one passage she used from a tobacco history page (the bold words indicate the words from the site):

““In South and Central America the Indians smoked tobacco in pipes of many shapes and sizes, often elaborately decorated. It was sometimes chewed or used as snuff to ‘clear the head.’ Tobacco was also used as a remedy for such varied conditions as asthma, bites and stings, urinary and bowel complaints, fevers, convulsions, nervous ailments, sore eyes, and skin diseases. Some tribes cultivate tobacco as an insecticide to protect themselves against parasites.”

You can find other examples via The Washington Post’s article, including those from Wikipedia. Wikipedia, wow, the first thing the majority of traditional professors advise students against is the use of Wikipedia as a source. Apparently, it’s ok for Goodall to “borrow” from the site.

Let me go back to the high school student/Ph.D scientist Facebook interaction for a second. The Ph.D guy blasted the student because of not having the level of education Goodall has. I love Goodall, but let’s not forget, she obtained an accelerated Ph.D WITHOUT having a Bachelors or a Masters degree, or any prior college experience. She was a mere secretary that had the good fortune to be sent to Gombe by Louis Leakey – whom also arranged for her Ph.D a few years later. Her adviser criticized her methods and told her she was doing her research wrong. Nevertheless, her adviser approved her thesis. In Goodall’s own words, “I didn’t want a Ph.D…; I spent as little time there as possible,” referring to her time at Cambridge University.

 Is it ever acceptable to forgive a Ph.D for plagiarizing?

What is intimidating is that Goodall stated this “…was a long and well researched book,” with “…excellent and valuable sources.” Does lifting passages verbatim from websites such as Wikipedia define a “well researched book” with “excellent” sources?

Let’s face it, “Jane Goodall” is now a brand, and will continue to be a brand long after her death. Slap that name on a book, event, or plush chimp, and it’s instant credibility…almost guaranteed to rake in sales. Like most brands, you must keep producing. Goodall is no exception. Was Goodall under some sort of deadline to produce the book? Did she exercise a lazy method and padded the book with web material?

Journalist, science writer, and author Jonah Lehrer was a plagiarist that when exposed, was forced to resign from The New Yorker, was terminated from Wired magazine, and the publisher pulled his book from the shelves – even offering customers there money back.

What makes Jane Goodall immune? Her orchestrated apology also stated that the book will go forth and that she will make sure that any second edition will be properly cited, though in the case of Lehrer, he was thrown into the lion’s den. I still can’t believe Goodall plagiarized, yet I still love her. What makes Goodall immune is her genuine charisma, her angelic passion for chimpanzees, and her soft spoken words that will tame a raging storm. She is the Mother Theresa of the Gombe forest.

The critical thinking neurons tell me that she should be penalized like every other to the core, but my heart sees her authentic kindness and wants to comfort her, gently patting her on the back, “there…’s ok, just a minor are so revered that the offense is excusable.”  I think most of us feel the same way. A case of sympathetic plagiarism.

Archaeology, Geology, and Science