Peruvian Mummies Still Talk

The Ice Maiden of PeruPeruvian mummies refuse to play dead. In fact, despite their now empty craniums and lifeblood that has long drained from their bodies, their hushed demands or whispers of love can still be heard by those who carry within them the mummies’ inherited DNA. But it is only a handful of their descendants who still honor the mummies’ enigmatic cries. Ages ago, the advice of Incan leader Manco Capac rang in all ears of the empire like a clap of thunder; even coming from a mummified sovereign, his powerful words rang true. Now the majority of the mummies’ descendants prefer to listen only to scientific and anthropological explanations for how and why the mummies continue to be rediscovered in glacial crevasses, musty caves, and cloud-swept volcanoes. Contemporary society listens only to scientific and anthropologic data pertaining to newfound mummies. We are intrigued to hear that the Ice Maiden’s stomach still contains the frozen food she ate and that she died of a blunt trauma blow. We listen to reports that tell us X-rays confirm the Chachapoya mummies of the Peruvian cloud forest had their internal organs removed, and we wait to hear about the methods used to preserve their skin. Although the scientific language of logic and reason has practically duct-taped the mummies’ own communication in the twenty-first century, the mummies’ visceral messages continue to hum in the bone marrow of a few of their descendants like a huayruru rattle shaking on a foggy night in the cloud forest or a lone pan-pipe tune ascending the frigid Andean peaks.

Every couple of years, the mummies’ faint echoes can still be heard as they resurface from their centuries-old slumber to remind their descendants that the venerable Incan ways must live on, that the tradition of paying respect to one’s ancestors demands adherence, that one must toe the line or face the consequences––no matter the time span. Since 5000 B.C., long before the Egyptian civilization mummified its rulers, Peruvian mummies have existed and lived side-by-side with those whose pulsating hearts and processing gray matter still flowed with energy, admiration, and loyalty for their mummified ancestors. It was this love and these fervent beliefs that kept the mummies alive in the collective memory of their descendants. In this exchange of love, respect, and energy, the living continued to hear the wisdom of their deceased elders––even if the mummies’ vocal cords no longer emitted any sound waves.

In the old days, before the Spanish raised havoc and tried to decimate the Incan civilization, the ancestral mummies––the mallquis––lived in glorious luxury in their own sumptuous palaces, dressed in gold, silver, and emeralds. Their attendants could still hear the mallquis commands and maintained them in the manner they were accustomed to when their hearts still pumped blood. The mallquis’ purple potatoes continued to be harvested, the black llamas sacrificed, and the holy huacas honored. They were paraded with pomp and circumstance during the important festivals, and although unspun cotton filled their cheeks, nostrils, and throats, themallquis sheer presence spoke volumes to the people.

The Spanish conquistadores did not hear a single word from the mummies, nor did they want to hear anything other than the tortured voices of their indigenous prisoners telling them where the gold, silver, and emeralds were hidden. Two steps behind the conquistadores stood the Catholic monks, hell-bent on demolishing the mallquis and anything else held sacred by the Inca. The monks wanted to extirpate the idols––the demons, as they called them. And, after they removed any valuables from the mummy bundles, only the cries of the mummies’ attendants and the centuries-old mummy ashes filled the air of the Spanish bonfires.

By the time American explorer Hiram Bingham arrived in Peru in 1910, the Incan shamans had escaped to the deepest cloud forest and into the most precipitous frozen peaks to hide the remaining mallquis. But money talks louder than any word, and some of the remaining mummies soon were escorted out of their hidden caves and onto a ship headed for the Ivy League and other East Coast institutions. The mummy bundles that had previously been cherished and loved by their attendants now were lying in the cold storage rooms of the American institutions, waiting to be prodded, inspected, X-rayed, and carbon-dated. For almost one hundred years they were disrobed of their finest vicuña textiles wraps, their skin, hair, and teeth examined to confirm, refute or speculate on this or that theory.

Then, in the 1990s, a new cry was heard from the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains: a frozen ice maiden had been uncovered—a mummy so perfectly preserved that the downy hair on her arms could still be detected, and a heart full of frozen blood waited to give further clues about diseases and viruses. Her physical perfection had earned her the privilege of being sacrificed in the capacocha ritual manner.

A few years later, the ever-present scavengers and thieves, thehuaqueros, found dozens of Chachapoya mummies hidden for centuries in the cliff-side caves of the cloud forest. The only thing they heard was the potential exchange of money for their black-market commerce in mummies. This is the lot of Peruvian mummies: scientists hear only the siren song of logical explanation, and anthropologists seek to find gems of previously unexplained artifacts, but only a select few hear the mummies’ pearls of wisdom.

This sweepstakes has ended. Please refer to our feature page for current opportunities.

To enter for a chance to win a hardcover copy of Missing in Machu Picchu by Cecilia Velástegui, make sure you’re logged in as a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment below.

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NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at beginning at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) June 14, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 8:29 p.m. ET on June 21, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010

Cecilia Velástegui is an international Latino Award-winning novelist of psychological thrillers with historical intrigue. Since her childhood high in the Andes, she's traveled to over 50 countries and now speaks four languages. She currently lives in California, at sea level, with two friendly alpacas. Her lastest novel is Missing in Machu Picchu, published by Libros Publishing on June 4th, 2013.


  1. Clare 2e

    NOTE: We had to switch page locations, but if you entered a registered comment on the previous page, IT WILL be counted in the sweepstakes entries– Sorry for any confusion!

  2. Lisa Richardson

    My kids and I would all like to read this! My grandson wants to be a DNA archaeologist!

  3. Jeffrey Tretin

    I love police procedurals set in foreign countries. This would be a first for me . Bel Canto is the only book I’ve read set in Peru.

  4. Robin Weatherington

    Looks Good

  5. Maya Amis

    It’s good to be reminded that we tend to forget the long-gone way of life in favor of cut-and-dried scientific discoveries.

  6. William Hamilton

    I have always wanted to visit Machu Picchu after my son’s experience of being chased by a wild turkey while hiking there. Look forward to this book.

  7. Kathy Chiocca

    Love stories with different locations. This would be a first for me set in Peru.

  8. mosaix

    Mummies,DNA and Science! Yes!

  9. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read this book

  10. Anna Mills

    This one is different! Great choice!

  11. vicki wurgler

    sounds so interesting

  12. Irene Menge

    This sounds like a great read. I love learning more about pre-Columbian civilizations and science and mystery added to the mix is so intriguing.

  13. Anita Yancey

    This books sounds so interesting. I would love to read it. Thanks for this chance.

  14. Anne Marie Carter

    I love to read various books about mummies.

  15. Barbara Bibel


  16. Patricia Nicklas

    This sounds like a fascinating read! Thanks for the giveaway

  17. Kent Johnson

    Sounds interesting. Can’t wait to read it!

  18. Vikki R

    The book appears to be an interesting read. Thank you

  19. Vikki Robinson

    Thie book appears it would be an interesting read. Thank you. This is a repost.

  20. Patricia Hill

    Looks like a book I would really like to read.

  21. Don Gentry

    What an amazing subject matter !

  22. Richard Deyarmond

    Mysteries involving archeaology are some of my favorites

  23. susan beamon

    I’ve read some of the science articles about the Inca mummies. To have a whole book dedicated to the subject would be wonderful.

  24. Barbara

    Looks like a great read, set in an interesting place!

  25. Pat Murphy

    Interesting topic. Mummies before Egypt. Sounds like a good read

  26. Stacia Schwartz

    Interesting! Is there a revival of traditional Inca religion in Peru, the way there is in some other parts of the world?

  27. Stacia Schwartz

    Interesting! Is there a revival of traditional Inca religion in Peru, the way there is in some other parts of the world?

  28. Jean

    I would love to read this!

  29. L L

    Interesting info

  30. Marisa Young

    Spooky and interesting. Should be a great read.

  31. Andrew Kuligowski

    Machu Picchu?? Sounds like a unique and great location for a murder mystery!! Please count me in!

  32. Julie McDonough

    This sounds great, Machu Piccu is such a special place. Thank-you for the opportunity to win this book, I would love to read it.

  33. Jessie Adams

    I’ve always been drawn to the mystery of Machu Picchu… All imaginings concerning the subject are of interest to me. Would love to read this narrative!

  34. David Holtzclaw

    This looks truly intriguing, & I’d be thrilled to win! Thanks for the opportunity!

  35. Heather Martin

    Fascinating subject.

  36. Jennifer Beers

    This sounds really interesting, would love to read more!

  37. Jennifer Beers

    This sounds really interesting, would love to read more!

  38. John Maline

    Good friends just there; would like to gift this to them!

  39. jjudyfl

    I would like to visit Machu Picchu, if only from my armchair. Perhaps that is the best way – no donkey to have to ride. (or smell)

  40. iris sachs

    I was a history major, and have a travel bookstore. This fits my interests.

  41. judy oliver

    I would like to visit Machu Picchu, if only from my armchair. Perhaps that is the best way – no donkey to have to ride. (or smell)

  42. Judith Bates

    I’d love to receive a mystery about Machu Picchu. We were there this spring and it is so awesome!

  43. John Clark

    Plenty of folks at the library I manage (me included) would really dig into this book.

  44. Vernon Luckert

    OK, I like this kind of book too!

  45. Lynn Jarrett

    I have always been fascinated by Machu Picchu and really look forward to reading AND winning this book. Thank you.[b] [/b]

  46. Beth Talmage

    Fascinating essay, fascinating book.

  47. Joanne Mielczarski

    I love to read murder mysteries!

  48. Jeffrey Malis

    Unique premise! I’m curious to read more. Thank you for the excellent excerpt and the opportunity!

  49. Linda Kish

    This sounds really interesting.

  50. Lisa Pecora

    This sounds so interesting. I’d love to read it!

  51. Lisa Davidson

    I love mummies so much, I think my favorite part of London was getting to see all the mummies at the British Museum

  52. Merikay Noah

    Okay, I may be sleeping with the light on after I read this but it will be sooo worth it!

  53. ravensfan

    Sounds very interesting. Would love to win this!

  54. Gwen Ellington

    I’m very interested in the potential of bringing frozen things back to life as I read Stephen P. Kiernan’s 1st novel, [u]The Curiosity[/u].

  55. Jacki Robertson

    Love reading about Machu Picchu. Have a friend who was just on vacation there and would love to share this with her.

  56. Steven Wilber

    count me in

  57. Deb Mosora

    This sounds interesting!

  58. Caryn Stardancer

    I agree that mysteries and police procedurals set in other countries give a reader an experience of the culture I enjoy. We plan to visit Peru next year so I look forward to this book.

  59. Judie McDonald

    Can’t wait to read!

  60. Mary Lauff-Thompson

    I love mummies!

  61. Erin Hartshorn

    What a beautiful post. I love the different voices people hear — or don’t hear.

  62. Buddy Garrett

    It sounds like a great read. Thanks.

  63. Amie Ward

    I am fasinated by this book. My father and motherr went to this area on a pleasure trip. My father truly believed in everything you wrote about. He is gone now but it would be another was to learn and connect with him.
    I also have a son who is interested in historical anthropogy in the early 20th century.
    I would be honered to be a winner of this book

  64. Allison Moyer

    Creepy…but fascinating.

  65. Saundra K. Warren

    Someone I haven’t read before

  66. Rosemary Simm

    Just imagine what life must have been like during the Incan civilization. To be able to read about such a lost time in history and and what is in the works for finding out more now is simply fascinating. I would love to read more about the culture and habits surrounding Peruvian mummies. Please add my name to the hat for a chance to win this book.

  67. marian boll

    This would be a great thing for my hubby to read. He is so very into history of any kind and loves researching for information.

  68. theresa norris

    Learn something new everyday I thought the Egyptian mummies where the only ones people wanted to steal.

  69. vickie dailey

    this sounds like a book I would really love to read. Love mysteries, mummies and exotic locales

  70. Amie Ward

    I would love to read a book about these mummies as well as a new author.

  71. Jackie Callanan

    Ohhh – interesting! Love the intro to this author’s research and thoughts on the subject – can’t wait to read more!

  72. paul sproul

    This should be a great read. Thanks for the give-a-way!

  73. Melissa Keith

    My MUMMY and I want to read this book. We love this contest!!

  74. Ed Nemmers

    I would love to read the work of Cecelia Velastegui!

  75. Brenda Elsner

    Sounds like an awesome book!! Would love to read it!!

  76. jane

    Sounds intruiging!

  77. Michael Lee Smith


  78. Sharon Haas

    My favorite reading subject!

  79. kathy pease

    Thank you for the great giveaway please count me in 🙂

  80. Susan Smoaks

    very interesting read, can’t wait to get my hands on it

  81. Tim Moss

    Mummies are cool.

  82. Heather Cowley

    Grandparents lived there for a bit, so I’m interested in everything Peruvian!

  83. Sand Lopez

    This sounds like a good one.

  84. Kimberly Roberts

    [color=rgb(128, 0, 128)]Would love to win a copy of this book! I think the mummies, Egyptians, Puruvians, Mayans, etc. are absolutely interesting beyond imagination. Thanks for this opportunity! :)[/color]

  85. lynette barfield

    Interesting. Would love a copy.

  86. Taylor Duncan


  87. Taylor Duncan


  88. Donna Bruno

    I’d love to win a copy of this; the setting will make it unusual for the genre!

  89. Clydia DeFreese

    I know nothing about mummies, although I love Elizabeth Peters books. So this should be very informative. Thanks for the contest.

  90. Cynthia Teer

    Please enter me.

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