Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden

Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden

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Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden

Momia Juanita is the name given to an Incan girl from the 15th century was discovered in Peru in 1995. This is also known as ‘the lady of Ampato’ and the ‘Inca Ice Maiden,’ the first as a dormant volcano located in the Andes, on top of Mount Ampato, and the second as its skeleton was frozen on the mountain due to its frigid temperatures.

Researchers proposed that Mummy Juanita was a survivor of a large Incan sacrificial ritual, known as Capacocha and often interpreted as a royal obligation. Momia Juanita ‘s medical research has uncovered some fascinating facts concerning her life and death.

The discovery of Momia Juanita was made by the archeologist Johan Reinhard and his assistant Miguel Zarate on September 8, 1995. This discovery was made possible due to the melting of the snowcapping of Mount Ampato, caused by volcanic ash from a volcano eruption in the area.

Mummy Juanita before unwrapping her body.
Mummy Juanita before unwrapping her body.

The mummy was uncovered due to melting and tumbled down the cliff, where it was later discovered by Reinhard and Zarate. During a second expedition up the mountain in October of the same year, the frozen mummies of two more individuals were uncovered in a lower area of Mount Ampato.

According to researchers, Momia Juanita was only between 12 and 15 years old when she died. The two individuals discovered a month later were also children, and it has been speculated that they may have been companion sacrifices to Mummy Juanita’s on the top of the mountain.

According to researchers, Momia Juanita was sacrificed as part of a rite known as Capacocha. This rite required the Inca to sacrifice the best and healthiest amongst them. This was done in an attempt to appease the gods, thereby ensuring a good harvest, or to prevent some natural disaster. Based on the location where the girl was sacrificed, it has been suggested that the ritual may have been connected to the worship of Mount Ampato.

When Momia Juanita was discovered, she was wrapped up in a bundle. Apart from the remains of the young girl, the bundle also contained various artifacts, including numerous miniature clay statues, shells, and gold objects.

These were left as offerings to the gods. Archaeologists have proposed that these objects, along with food, coca leaves, and chicha, an alcoholic drink distilled from corn, would have been brought by the priests as they led the girl up the mountain.

Left side: Reconstruction of what her burial may have looked like. Right side: Mummy Juanita.
Left side: Reconstruction of what her burial may have looked like. Right side: Mummy Juanita.

The latter two would have been used to sedate the child, said to be a common practice used by the Incas before they sacrificed their victims. Once the victim was in this intoxicated state, the priests would carry out the sacrifice.

In the case of Momia Juanita, it was revealed with radiology, that a club blow to the head caused massive hemorrhage, resulting in her death.

Another scientific analysis that revealed interesting information about Momia Juanita’s life is the isotopic analysis of her hair, which was made possible as it was so well preserved. This analysis provided researchers with information about the girl’s diet.

It indicates that this girl was selected as a sacrificial victim about a year before her actual death. This is marked by a change in diet, which was revealed through the isotopic analysis of her hair.

Before being chosen for the sacrifice, she had a standard Incan diet, which included potatoes and vegetables. This changed, however, about a year prior to the sacrifice, as it was found that she began to consume animal proteins and maize, which were the foods of the elites.
Now, Mummy Juanita is being housed in the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa, a city not far from Mount Ampato. The mummy is kept in a special case that carefully maintains the temperature and humidity within it, to ensure the preservation of these remains for the future.
Now the mummy is kept in a special preservation case.
Now the mummy is kept in a special preservation case.
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Jessica Saraceni has been a part of Histecho Since 2018, drawn to the site for its quirky character and through Articles about the Mysteries of earth and human behavior. previously, she was an assistant editor and Research fellow at Archaeology magazine, where she gained an appreciation for the field work. A master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental science from the Center for Archaeological Research, the University of Texas at San Antonio. She enjoys all forms of exercise; reading works by her favorite author, Haruki Murakami; and playing with her sons.

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