Weird History All About The Cotton King And Other Incan Mummy Bundles  

Jodi Smith
11 items

The preservation of Egyptian mummies was a religious ritual meant to provide those who had passed with their worldly possessions as they journeyed into the afterlife and reincarnation. Many other ancient societies practiced mummification as well. In the Incan civilization, bodies were interred with food, bowls, and other items meant to assist the departed on their postmortem journey. The wrapping of the body and its personal effects in cotton (and/or other fabrics) concluded a rite that came to be known as the Incan mummy bundles.

Not relegated solely to royalty, Incan mummification included other high-ranking members of society as well as common folk and was often the result of human sacrifice. Some of the sacrifices were preserved on the frozen mountains where their lives ended, their offerings of food and provisions packed beside them. Perhaps the most stunning discovery of this kind was the Lima mummies that make up an Incan cemetery in Peru.

Called Puruchuco, the cemetery held the "Cotton King," a mummy wrapped in 300 pounds of the titular textile. The Cotton King mummy provided the most epic example of the Incan burial process, presenting mysteries that remain unsolved to this day.

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Photo:  Houghton Mifflin

The Cotton King's Bundle Included A Child And More Than 70 Artifacts

Discovered by archaeologists in their 1999 pursuit to preserve an Incan burial ground named Puruchuco, the Cotton King was wrapped in 300 pounds of the material from which he earned his name. The Cotton King is thought to have been a ruler of the Incan people based on his bundle, which contained a headpiece created from multiple colorful feathers - a sign of cultural importance - as well as oyster shells that adorned his covering.

A child also shared the intricate shroud with the Cotton King, as did 70 artifacts from his highness's life. The Cotton King wore sandals - a sign of wealth - and was buried alongside animal furs, food, and a variety of other high-value items. 

The Inca Likely Mummified Everyone - But The Rich And Powerful Still Got Special Treatment

Egyptian mummification was mainly practiced on kings and queens, as well as the society's very wealthy. In stark contrast, the Inca Empire provided mummification to all members of its community - even those sacrificed to the gods. Human sacrifices were preserved by natural elements found on the mountaintops where they passed. Other Incans were freeze-dried or preserved by corn alcohol, with their remains later contorted into the fetal position and surrounded by their bundling material - baskets, textiles, or ceramics.

Nonetheless, the Inca process and the burial bundle still differed according to social status. Those of great wealth or power (i.e., emperors) were more likely to find themselves bundled with precious metals and stones and wrapped in exotic fabrics. This more elaborate mummification process didn't end there, according to Ancient History Encyclopedia:

Rather than the simple desiccation method, royal mummies got the deluxe treatment of entrails and organ removal, embalming, and skin tanning; they could even be set for eternity in a life-like posture.

Inca warriors took their shields with them into the afterlife and were honored with colorful headdresses made from feathers. In 2011, a mummy buried with tools such as spindles and needles was found in an undisturbed tomb in Peru. Based on the items found with the body, scientists concluded that she worked as a weaver during her life.

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Photo:  Internet Archive Book Images/Wikimedia Commons/No Restrictions

Important Incans Were Buried With A Separate False Head Attached To Their Bundle

One discovery made during the excavation of the mummy bundles was that some bodies had false heads appended to them. This was an adornment provided only to the most elite of the Inca Empire. Sometimes, the heads had fake hair, masks, or even false eyes designed to suggest an appearance of life.

The mummies found with false heads also appeared larger than the other bundles. Those bestowed with heads were composed of more expensive materials than the others and contained artifacts like jewelry or shields.

Mummified Emperors Were Worshipped And Treated As If Still Alive

When the Spanish entered the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco, in 1533, they found a king and queen mummified upon their thrones. Alongside the pair sat all of their worldly wealth and possessions, as well as servants keeping flies from gathering on their desiccated bodies. 

The mummies of Inca royalty were treated as if they were still alive. They even took part in parades, leaving their thrones as attendants carried them behind the current rulers. Their families still sought them out for advice and blessings.

Wealth, however, did not travel down the family line as an inheritance. Instead, it remained buried with its mummified owners - at least until the conquistadors looted it during their sacking of the empire.