Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at ancient Inca funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about ancient Aztec funeral traditions and ancient Mayan funeral traditions, among others.
Ancient Inca Death Beliefs
The ancient Inca believed in biological death and social death. Biological death was when the body was buried or mummified. While social death was when the deceased remained in the minds, souls, and lives of the living. This was mostly done with Inca rulers. They did this until they either forgot about them or another ruler took over. Or sometimes they never forgot about them.
They mummified and preserved the bodies, so they could remove them for significant events, such as marriage ceremonies. They also consulted them for advice and offered them food as if they were still living. The mummies of Inca rulers even had servants and still owned their property from when they were alive.
Like the Aztec, the ancient Inca believed in human sacrifice, specifically children. They freeze-dried and mummified them. Then they put them in mountaintop shrines or other sacred locations. They believed this reinforced the Inca control over the provinces they’d taken over. They also thought children were the most physically healthy, so they would best please the gods.
The ancient Inca had their own way of embalming their dead to preserve their bodies. They did desiccation, also known as extreme drying, or freeze-drying. The desert-like climate in some areas of South America helped with this process. They also used alcohol to preserve and treat the bodies. Earlier Inca used salt and removed bodily fluids before burial.
They either mummified or buried the dead. The mummies were put in the fetal position and wrapped in layers of cloth. They also wrapped them with food, tools, and other items. Then they put them in cave burial chambers that could be reopened to either add more mummies or take them out for a special event.
They put the mummies of Inca rulers in sacred locations and worshiped them. They also buried them with valuable items such as fine jewelry and pottery. Many people also left gifts for them.