The Dead Wives Club

Thursday, July 01, 1999
Four years ago archeologists in Lima, Peru, dug up a puzzling burial site belonging to a society called the Lima Culture, which flourished from A.D. 400 to 1200. The site seemed to tell a familiar story of Inca burial practices: the wives of a wealthy man had been sacrificed after he died. But the Inca came to power hundreds of years later. Last summer, physical anthropologist Michael Dietz at the University of Missouri and Peruvian archeologist Isabel Flores looked at the skeletons and graves at the Huaca Pucllana pyramid and concluded that the Inca may have inherited much of their sacrificial tradition from the Lima.

The graves belonged to an elite man and six women who may have been his wives. He had been interred on a bed of cane and covered with fine cloth. Placed nearby were six women lying with their arms crossed and their hands partially covering their faces. Grooves on their pelvic bones indicated they had delivered children, contributing to Dietz's theory that they were wives who had been executed to join the man in an afterlife.

The women were unhealthy and inbred, with deformed hips and vertebrae and extra teeth. Inbreeding was characteristic of elite pre-Columbian classes. Elite men, the only ones who could afford multiple wives, usually married into one family. A man often married a woman and her sisters or cousins. Dietz suspects that the Huaca Pucllana wives were either drowned, strangled, or buried alive--methods favored by Inca executioners. But Dietz says the Inca had a few original ideas: "Sacrificing 12-year-old girls might have been new for them."
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