In 1440, a girl who was no more than between 12-15 years old was chosen to appease the gods of Mount Ampato in southern Peru. Her well-preserved body would be discovered on September 8, 1995 by Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist, and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate. It is believed that she was sacrificed some 500 years ago.
She was discovered on Mount Ampato thanks to a nearby volcano which had caused Ampato’s snowcap to melt. Her burial site would collapse and cascade down the mountain, revealing the many items she was buried with as offerings to the gods. These included statues and food items.
It would be 16 years after her discovery that she would be named Juanita, after Johan who had discovered her. Since then, Mummy Juanita who is also known as the “Inca” Ice Maiden and Lady of Ampato has been on display at the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa, Peru
What Makes Juanita a Spectacle
What makes Juanita so special is how well-preserved she was when she was first discovered, making her one of the best-preserved of all Inca mummies ever found in the Andes. Although some concerns have been raised over the years about her preservation, she remains in relatively good condition when you consider the fact that she is five centuries old.
She is dressed in elegant clothes made with the finest textiles from the Inca capital city of Cuzco. Adorned with jewelry, she is wearing a cap made from the feathers of a red macaw. This led people to believe that she may have come from a noble family as she also showed signs of excellent health, something only nobility would have.
It is believed that she was led to Mount Ampato summit where she was ordered to sit on a blanket. She was likely struck in the head by the priest who was leading the sacrificial ceremony. Evidence shows that she died of blunt trauma to the head as radiologist Elliot Fishman observed a two-inch fracture in her skull along with a cracked right eye socket. The blow to the head would have caused a hemorrhage that would have filled her skull with blood.
You can view Juanita at Museo Santuarios Andinos where she lays in a glass case with her hands folded and knees bent towards her chest. Incredibly, she still has all her hair and her skin, while leathery, still shows the muscles in her arms. Even her fingernails are intact.
Thirteen Other Mummies
After Juanita’s discovery, more mummies would be recovered from the area – thirteen in all. While Juanita was killed with a blow to the head, the others were strangled or simply buried alive. They too were buried along with items to carry them to the other world such as food, coca leaves, and small statues.
Museo Santuarios Andinos
The museum where Juanita is exhibited is located in Santa Catalina 110, Arequipa, Peru. If you would like to visit Juanita, visit Museo Santuarios Andinos between May to December as she is rotated with another mummy from January to April. Or it’s best to contact the museum before visiting to ensure she is on display.
The other mummies are displayed on rotation at the Museo Santuarios de Altura in Arequipa, where they lay in glass containers kept at -20 degrees to keep them well-preserved.