This blog post is for those of you who often ask me questions about ancient Inca mummies. You’ll recall from my novel Missing in Machu Picchu that the revered mummified corpses of the Inca ancestors were known as mallqui. You might also recall that the Inca ruler Atahualpa was held as a prisoner by the Spanish in 1532 until his followers filled a room with gold in exchange for his freedom. The Spanish grew impatient waiting for the gold to arrive from Quito, so they garroted Atahualpa.
But the saga continues to this day. The 400-year-old mystery of what happened to Atahualpa’s corpse, his honorable mallqui, and the gold treasures are on the way to being solved by Tamara Estupinan, an Ecuadorean historian who has methodically been solving this mystery for over thirty years. For her, it all started with a hunch about the connection of the word mallqui and the name of the present-day hamlet of Malqui—and its connection to a four-thousand-page, four hundred-year-old leather-cover book that included the will of Atahualpa’s eldest son.
Just picture her, hunched over the four thousand pages, reading detail after detail for the last thirty-plus years, until she started piecing together the puzzle of the location of Atahualpa’s corpse—and possibly also—the hiding place of his gold. This historian is a bibliophile’s true role model!