A young girl, barely over fifteen, curls up atop an icy mountain. She can barely tell where she is, only that she is cold. The coca leaves, which are now used for cocaine, keep her sedated as she lies there. The Inca priests who brought her here hope this will appease the gods that have struck their village.
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She will not live to find out.
This girl, known as “The Maiden,” was found by anthropologist Johan Reinhard in 1995 atop an Argentinian volcano.
It is believed she was brought there by local Inca priests, and either left to die of exposure or killed by the priests themselves. Her body was perfectly preserved from the ravages of time by the ice, looking no different than when she was left there five hundred years ago.
Yet, despite being found almost twenty years ago, scientists are still finding out more about this tragic girl.
The coca leaves were recently found between her teeth, and she had a bacterial infection similar to tuberculosis when she died. And that infection is where hope lies.
By studying the bacteria, scientists hope to find new ways to fight reemerging or new illnesses. Symptoms can be identified and the DNA that creates the infection might help create proper antibodies and other treatments. So even five hundred years after her sacrifice, the Maiden is saving lives.
This is even more poetic, considering around the time of her death the Americas were ravage by the worst plague in history. Over ninety percent of the native populations were extinguished by diseases from across the Atlantic. The Black Death was put to shame by the damage caused by European diseases.
The Maiden can be seen at Catholic University of Santa María in Arequipa, Peru, where she has stayed since 1996.
But this one sacrificed or abandoned little girl might hold the key to preventing such disasters in the future.