About 500 years ago a group of Incas marched hundreds of miles through the treacherous Andes Mountains to the top of a distant volcano, where they buried three children alive as part of a religious ceremony. In 1999, an expedition led by explorer Johan Reinhard unearthed the mummies atop Argentina's Mount Llullaillaco, finding that they were among the best preserved mummies ever discovered, with largely unscathed skin and facial features.
When University of Colorado researcher Steve Schmidt read about the mummies, he knew he had to visit the region — not to see the mummies, but to study microbes. Normally, bodies that old would have long ago decayed, in part by the action of microbes, so Schmidt reasoned that the microbes on the mountain, if there were any, must be pretty intriguing.
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