Numerous legends of the mummy's curse are whispered in archaeological circles، most without any substance behind them، but a team of Chilean researchers may have just discovered evidence to back it up: toxic red pigment on the clothing of two ancient maiden mummies that could cause mercury poisoning in those who study the dead، Forbes reported.
In a new article just out in the journal Archaeometry، a research team led by Bernardo Arriaza of the University of Tarapacá has identified the presence of a red mineral in the burial of two young women -- ages 9 and 18 -- at the site of Cerro Esmeralda in the city of Iquique in northern Chile. Dating to around 1399-1475 AD، the girls were found to be finely dressed، with a number of silver ornaments and ceramic vessels.
Based on the quantity and quality of these burial goods، the researchers hypothesize that this might have been a ritualized human sacrifice called capacocha carried out by the Inca state. "Capacocha sacrifices،" Arriaza and colleagues explain in their paper، "were performed in commemoration of historical events in the life of the Inca emperor or in response to natural catastrophes." Interestingly، in the case of this burial at Iquique، it "was found at a lower elevation than many other capacocha sacrifices reported in the literature، which are normally found at higher elevations."
Even more odd than the location of this burial was the presence of a bright red powder in one of the textiles of the mummies. Red was a very popular color and prized by people in the ancient Andes for millennia; however، the raw material used to create it was most often an iron oxide like hematite because it was easily found in geological deposits. It wasn't hematite، though، that the researchers found on these mummy maidens.
Arriaza and colleagues instead report that "the new chemical analyses that we obtained showed that cinnabar was present in the clothes of the Cerro Esmeralda mummies." Unlike hematite، from which we can extract inert iron، cinnabar is a mineral that contains abundant amounts of mercury. "This toxic material is a special and foreign funerary offering in northern Chile،" the archaeologists note، because it almost certainly came from the Huancavelica mine just north of Lima، Peru، over one thousand miles away from where the mummies were discovered.