Final Moments of Incan Child Mummies' Lives Revealed

Three Incan children who were sacrificed 500 years ago were regularly given drugs and alcohol in their final months to make them more compliant in the ritual that ultimately killed them, new research suggests.

Archaeologists analyzed hair samples from the frozen mummies of the three children, who were discovered in 1999, entombed within a shrine near the 22,100-foot (6,739 meters) summit of the Argentinian volcano Llullaillaco. The samples revealed that all three children consistently consumed coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived) and alcoholic beverages, but the oldest child, the famed “Maiden,” ingested markedly more of the substances. Coca was a highly controlled substance during the height of the Inca Empire, when the children were sacrificed. Read more.

Peru, c. 1970.

This is the photograph that means photography to me. There is a large print of this hanging in the hallway in the family home. We’ve moved a few times, but it’s always been hung. For a few years, it hung on the wall in my apartment during my undergraduate.

I’ve spent over 30 years looking at this photo. I know that woman’s hands as well as anything else in my life. The shape of her rings. The texture and dried green color of the coca leaves.

The influence on my own work is obvious. I can’t get close enough to hands. The only thing more expressive about a person is their eyes. I am always looking for this shot.
Snow of the Andes: Bolivia's coca dilemma
Bolivia fights to maintain its traditional use of the coca leaf as drug trafficking threatens national customs.

Bolivia is the third largest coca and cocaine producer in the world.

The country has a long history of using the coca plant for many of its traditional medicines, in food and in daily consumption.

It is something Bolivians, young and old, have chewed for centuries. The plant is one of the most important agricultural commodities in the country.

Since the election of Evo Morales in 2006, many of the laws that had for generations outlawed coca farming have been thrown out in recognition of the plant’s important role in the country’s heritage and the economy of the indigenous people.

But this has also created an opportunity for those wanting to exploit the new laws for cocaine production. This growing industry is not only using endless acres of the coca plant fields. It is also threatening the traditional way of life.

After decades of a US-backed drug war, the country decided in 2008 to expel the US Drugs Enforcement Administration. That was sparked by an indigenous social movement that sought to revindicate the coca farmer - deeming him an integral part of society, so long as his produce was sold for traditional use.

Today, coca-growing unions control production and the United Nations celebrates their progress. But there are signs that the country has become an international drug trafficking hub. And that not all may be as it seems.

How to chew coca leaves?!

YOU SNORT THEM UP YOUR NOSE! No, of course not. Although many people make the mistake, the centuries-old tradition of chewing coca leaves has nothing to do with cocaine. In their natural form, coca leaves provide nothing more than a mild stimulant, akin to coffee. Brewing the leaves into tea is popular among all levels of Bolivian society, but among the working class, and especially for those whose labor is physically demanding, coca is chewed.

While “chewing” is the popular term for it, the leaves should never actually be munched upon. Instead, they’re placed one-by-one into the cheek, forming a small ball which generates saliva, and which you just leave there. Because the stems of the leaves can hurt the inside of your cheek, you should remove them first. This is a real art form — I’ve seen guys who remove the stems by sliding the leaves between their two front teeth. Others have a complicated, lick-fold-tear method.

After you’ve got a good amount of leaves squirreled away inside your cheek, you need to activate their alkaloids inside them to feel any effect. Some people use bicarbonate powder, but a more pleasant option is lejía: a sweet-tasting combination of ash and flavor (often, banana). A tiny nip every fifteen minutes or so, and the mild stimulant effects of the coca can last for hours.

Chewing coca leaves acts as an appetite suppressant, helps with altitude sickness, provides energy and improves digestion. It also mildly numbs your cheek. It’s impossible to get “addicted” to chewing the leaves, and they don’t provide any sort of high. Making cocaine out of coca leaves is a very complicated, chemical process, and chewing the leaves is no more an act of “drug consumption” than eating a poppy-seed bagel.

While we were on the ferry over to the Isla del Sol, we were subjected to a monologue from a self-impressed British guy wearing colorful over-sized sunglasses and a shark’s tooth necklace. All the awesome places he’s been! All the incredible things he’s done! He had a bag of coca with him, and shoved a handful into his mouth, actually chewing it like a cow chews grass. As he did so, he bragged about how awesome coca was and how he felt an instant buzz. We had to turn our heads. Please, don’t be that guy.

The Unfairly Maligned Coca Leaf

More Information about Bolivia here: Bolivia Blog

A girl plays in a bed of coca leaves on Sept. 25 in the village of Trincavini in Peruís Pichari district. Pichari lies on the banks of the Apurimac river in a valley that the United Nations says yields 56 percent of Peru’s coca leaves, the basis for cocaine. Coca is central to rituals and religion in Andean culture but in recent decades has become more associated with global drug trafficking.
(Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press) #


Peruvian chocolate made with coca leaves: My friend recently returned from a trip to Peru and she brought me back some chocolate made with coca leaves to try.  Aside from its obvious use (cocaine) coca can be used to help with altitude sickness by being added to tea or candy (or just chewed straight-up).  This one tasted like leaves and made me feel like I’d had five coffees. 

what does coca taste like?

runawaydragons replied to your post: Flutie y La Aventura del Peru: Respect the coca

I have always wondered what it tastes like. I loved studying Peru, and long before I ever heard of cocaine, I learned about coca. The upside about being homeschooled!

At first, it tastes like… leaf. Like, if you’d picked a maple leaf off the stem and stuck it in your mouth.

When you start to chew it, coca leaf can be extremely bitter, unless you sprinkle a bit of sugar or stevia on it to kickstart the alkaloid catalysis. When chewing the leaf, I found it impossible to taste anything besides the bitter, but that may just be me.

Coca candy is usually mixed with something sweet – honey, toffee, etc – so that usually overwhelms the coca flavor, at least at first. Coca tea is, as Zuko would say, hot leaf juice; you have to steep it for a very long time to taste the coca.

Still, I was able to pick out more of the coca taste with candies and tea – and, funny enough, coca tastes like Coca-Cola, just without any sweetness or fizz. (Makes sense, since Coke is made with coca extract.) The closest you can get to the taste is really, really flat Coke (though that will still have the syrupy super-sweetness).

While in La paz we decide to pay a visit to a witch doctor who reads your future through coca leaves, I had previously had a reading from a slightly bogus one in Africa who wore a Brazil jersey under his ‘doctors uniform’ so I was curious to see what one would have to say on a different continent, Supposedly I am destined to work in commerce (hmm not sure about that) and I am going to meet a younger man and have four children…intresting, I guess we shall see what the future holds!