SALTA, ARGENTINA – In Argentina, a museum unveils a long-frozen Inca Maiden…
Some of the best-preserved mummies date from the Inca period in Peru and Chile some 500 years ago. In 1995, the frozen body of a 12- to 14-year-old Inca girl who had died some time between 1440 and 1450 was discovered on Mount Ampato in southern Peru. Known as “Mummy Juanita” (“Momia Juanita” in Spanish) or “The Ice Maiden”, some archaeologists believe that she was a human sacrifice to the Inca mountain god Apus.
In the eight years since their discovery, the mummies, known here simply as Los Niños or “the children,” have been photographed, X-rayed, CT scanned and biopsied for DNA. The cloth, pottery and figurines buried with them have been meticulously thawed and preserved. But the bodies themselves were kept in freezers and never shown to the public — until last week, when La Doncella, “the maiden“, a 15-year-old girl, was exhibited for the first time, at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology, which was created in Salta expressly to display them.
Inca mummy “the maiden” a sacrifice to the gods?
As the story goes, three children, ages 6, 7 and 15, left their towns one day and set off toward the peak of a volcano. Accompanied by Inca priests, they walked for months or even years until they at last reached the Llullaillaco Volcano in northwestern Argentina. There, the priests got them drunk and buried them alive as an offering to the gods.
The Incas selected the two girls and one boy for their beauty and perfection. The girls wore tunics, fitted at the waist, and long braids in their hair. The boy donned a large headdress made of white feathers. The priests buried them with various objects that symbolized life in the communities: miniature gold statues, vessels, sandals and small bags of dried food.
This all occurred some 500 years ago, during the time of the Inca Empire. After uncovering the children’s bodies at 6,700 meters above sea level in 1999, the expedition group carefully reconstructed the details of the long walk and the objective of the sacrifice.
Archaeologist Christian Vitry says he was one of the 14 men and women who participated in the expedition, led by Johan Reinhard, a U.S. explorer for National Geographic Society and the principle investigator for The Mountain Institute. After studying Inca culture for years, Reinhard had strong suspicions that they would find human remains atop the volcano.
Vitry says that he and his fellow expedition members had to withstand difficult climactic conditions to reach their destination, with temperatures plummeting down to 40 degrees Celsius below zero and strong gusts of wind.
“When we established the final camp, at a height of 6,600 meters, a storm broke,” he says. “It lasted four days, and the tents were covered in snow.”
But at the peak, they were able to uncover the first body, a 7-year-old boy in a gray tunic, according to local media reports covering the expedition’s discovery. He was frozen in the fetal position with a brown and red blanket covering his torso. The researchers named him, “El Niño,” or, “The Boy.”