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As Peru Heads to the 2018 World Cup, Its Star Striker Has Three Inca Mummies to Thank

This June, for the first time since 1982, Peru’s national soccer team,
popularly known as Los Incas, will compete in the FIFA World Cup. The
squad is headed to Russia in no small part because its captain and star
striker, Paolo Guerrero, got lucky in the qualifiers on an indirect free
kick that Colombia’s keeper palmed into his own net. For a few weeks at
the end of last year, however, it looked as though Guerrero’s luck had
run out. In early December, FIFA announced that he had violated the
governing body’s anti-doping regulations by testing positive for
benzoylecgonine, a chemical byproduct of the metabolism of cocaine,
the active alkaloid found in the leaves of the Andean coca plant. FIFA banned Guerrero for a year, meaning that he would miss the World Cup.

Guerrero (whose name, in Spanish, means “warrior”) fought the ban,
saying that he had merely drunk a tea that included coca leaves—a common
enough beverage in Peru, though Guerrero lives in Rio de Janeiro, where
he plays for the soccer club Flamengo. But his claim paved the way for
his Brazilian lawyers to mount an even more interesting defense,
introducing FIFA to its oldest, and highest, character witnesses ever:
the Children of Llullaillaco, three mummies named for the icy,
twenty-two-thousand-foot-tall volcano in Argentina where they were left
by the Incas, five hundred years ago.

It was a creative choice, to say the least, but also cruelly ironic. The
Children of Llullaillaco were the objects of a capacocha ritual, in
which the Incas required that subject peoples yield some of their
children to an empire that was as long as the continental United States
is wide. Capacocha children were cultivated for a year or more before
being escorted to peaks in the Andes on the
occasion
of the
ascension or death of an emperor, or a natural disaster. When they
arrived—having climbed higher than any European would ascend until the
nineteenth century—they were killed or left to freeze as…

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