Loading Map...

Juanita the Ice Princess

Written on: Saturday November 17th, 2007

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Arequipa, Peru

Author: Julie


We had spent the previous day in bed, relaxing after our trip to the Colca Canyon but today we had planned to make the acquaintance of a girl named Juanita.

After a nice breakfast of eggs and pancakes at our hostel we made our way to the Museo Santuarios Andinos near the Plaza. We paid our entry fee of 15 soles each and proceeded to the video room to learn about the life of Juanita, the ice princess. In 1995, during an ascent of Mt. Ampato, anthropologist Johan Reinhard and Peruvian guide Miguel Zarate found inside the summit crater a bundle that had fallen down from an Inca site when the ridge had collapsed due to the melting caused by volcanic ash that has fallen from the nearby erupting volcano of Sabancaya. To their astonishment, the bundle turned out to contain a remarkably well-preserved mummy of a young girl. In addition, they found?strewn about the mountain slope down which the mummy had fallen?many items that had been left as offerings to the Inca gods, such as statues and food items.

A couple of days later, the mummy and the objects were taken to Arequipa; the remains of the mummy were initially kept in a special refrigerator. The mummy was remarkably well-preserved for 500 years, According to Reinhard, when found in Mount Ampato, the mummy weighed approximately 80 lbs. Reinhard and his partner then came to the realization that the heavy body mass was due to the mummy's flesh being frozen. This was an extraordinary discovery because it allowed biological tests to be run on the lung, liver, and muscle tissue, revealing new insights on Inca health and nutrition during the reign of Sapa Inca Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui.

This young girl's body was taken to the United States and went through to a virtual autopsy in the laboratories of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The mummy had tomographies taken, as well as X-ray examinations. Scientists reached the following conclusions about Juanita:

  • she had died at the age of 14, between approximately 1440 and 1450;
  • she had had a stature of 1.40 meters;
  • she had weighed 80 pounds at the time of death;
  • she was slender in build and body shape;
  • she had not suffered of any illness;
  • she had had a perfect denture and strong bones;
  • she had had a good and well-balanced diet;
  • she had fasted one day before the sacrifice;
  • she had a 5cm fissure in the skull; and
  • she had died from bluntforce trauma to the head

It is believed by some archaeologists that the Ice Maiden was in fact a human sacrifice to the Inca mountain god (Apus). The Ice Maiden was then buried by the Inca priests atop Mount Ampato (20,700 feet, or 6,309 m) in Peru, and left undisturbed until discovered by Johann Reinhard in 1995. They think she had been chosen because she was the most beautiful, most perfect child of her tribe. She would have been taken from her home at an early age, accompanied to Cusco by a large court and greeted by the Inca in person who transmitted his divinity to her. From that point, she would have been fed the best foods, given the best medical care, and dressed in the most beautiful clothes.

These discoveries seem to support the theory that during the Inca empire, human sacrifice rituals were still practiced, contrary to the common theories of some archaeologists and historians who deny it. Indeed the mummy was, in Reinhard's opinion, "a young sacrifice victim killed by Inca priests to appease the gods, especially the gods of the mountain." However, what indeed is indicated is that during this epoch, neither anthropophagy nor necrophagy were practiced; on the contrary, both were punished.

She is currently encased in a special glass box at a constantly cold temperature to continue preserving her body. The interior of the urn is kept at a temperature between -19.2 C and -19.5 C to avoid the dehydration of her body. In the same museum are "Urpicha" (palomita, "little dove" in Spanish, a mummy found on the volcano Pichu Pichu of Arequipa); "Sarita" (found on the Sarasara volcano, between Arequipa and Ayacucho), and five other mummies found in El Misti volcano, also near Arequipa. From January to April, Juanita is taken out of exhibit and one of the other mummies replaces her in the museum. During this time, she is moved to a colder, darker freezer which helps in her preservation. They also use this time to continue their scientific research by taking additional samples from her skin and preserved organs.

After the video, we had a guide walk us through the museum to see the artefacts that had been found with Juanita and the other mummies. There were beautifully weaved clothes, jewellery, and pottery. These were gifts to the gods that were buried with the children. Last, we entered a slightly dark room and there she was in a large glass box. She was partly covered in frost but many details were visible including her fingernails, hair, and face. You could see how there was a dent in her forehead on one side where they had clubbed her to death. She was sitting with her knees up to her chest and appeared tiny because of this position. We were both glued to the glass windows, staring at this little girl who was so human looking yet not. Knowing she had lived such a long time ago was hard to comprehend.

We finally were pulled away by our guide and the tour ended. One minute we were staring at her and the next we were outside in the bright sunlinght.

3 soles = 1 dollar

Note: Parts of this blog was copied directly from Wikipedia.org