National Geographic : 1999 Nov
last of the excavations and gathered our tools, the wind dropped, and the Andes treated us to one of the most beautiful sunsets imaginable. I had arranged for dry ice to be brought to the mountain base to keep the mummies frozen on the two-day trip to Catholic Univer sity. There, Juan Carlos Romero, the governor of Salta Province, and Antonio Lovaglio, the minister of education and culture, made sure that we had the necessary materials to preserve the mummies in a temporary laboratory. ULL ANALYSIS of the bodies and the textiles and artifacts associated with them will take years, but some find ings are already in. CT scans of the bodies showed that their organs are nearly perfect. They also appear to have a large quantity of blood frozen in them, which is likely a first. "It opens up a whole new window of research," says Arthur Aufderheide of the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Duluth. "We can search for antibodies that would indicate which diseases infected the children." By teaching us how some diseases have developed over the centuries, this knowl edge may even help combat diseases today. To test the children's DNA, we took tis sue samples by needle biopsies. "The mito chondrial DNA couldn't be better," says Keith McKenney of the Institute for Biosciences at George Mason University in Virginia. "What we know for now is that they were not siblings or closely related on the maternal side." Their mitochondrial DNA sequences make it possi ble to identify modern-day relatives. When I examined the younger girl, whose face and charred shoulder had become engraved in my mind, I saw details I'd missed in the emotional moments on the summit. Two braids were parted on either side of her face. Her mouth was slightly open, exposing her teeth, and her hands and feet were tucked into her clothes, as if she had been cold. Along with the two other children sacrificed on Llullai llaco, this gentle Inca girl has given us a rare opportunity to deepen our understanding of the lives and times of her people. Scientists from numerous fields have yet to begin their studies, and eventually I hope to report again on these extraordinary discoveries. For an online Andes expedition with Johan Reinhard go to www. nationalgeographic.com/andes.