In a remote corner of the Andes, more than 500 years ago, a young Inca girl met her tragic fate in the midst of a sacred ritual. Fast forward to 1995, and her well-preserved mummy, famously known as “Juanita,” emerged from the slopes of Peru’s Ampato volcano. This article delves into the remarkable story of this ancient sacrifice, the recent efforts to bring her back to life, and the mysteries that continue to surround her existence.
The Discovery of Juanita
Back in 1995, a team of archaeologists made a groundbreaking discovery on the northwest side of Ampato, a volcano near Arequipa, Peru. Among the harsh, high-altitude landscapes, they stumbled upon the mummified remains of a young Inca girl. Her vibrant alpaca wool garments, jet-black hair, well-preserved teeth, and nails offered a vivid glimpse into the past, despite her weathered facial features.
Juanita is believed to have been a girl aged between 13 and 15, living between the years 1440 and 1450 AD. Standing at a mere 1.40 meters tall and weighing 35 kilograms, she was a well-nourished youngster.
Unraveling the Mystery of Her Death
Thanks to modern technology and a CT scan, researchers managed to uncover the cause of Juanita’s demise: a fatal blow to her head. This insight paved the way for a unique artistic endeavor.
Renowned Swedish sculptor and archaeologist, Oscar Nilsson, used this data to painstakingly reconstruct Juanita’s facial appearance. He dedicated approximately 400 hours to meticulously model her visage.
Johan Reinhard, one of the archaeologists who first discovered Juanita, expressed his awe, stating, “Seeing this girl’s face is a different experience because it looks so incredibly real.”
The Sacrificial Ceremony
Juanita’s body was found atop Ampato at an astounding altitude of 6,400 meters during a discovery expedition led by Dr. Reinhard and Peruvian mountaineer Miguel Zárate. She was clothed in ceremonial attire, complete with a tunic and headdress, surrounded by ceramic objects, including bowls and figurines. Experts speculate that before the ritualistic sacrifice took place, she might have been sedated and made to kneel, possibly struck with a tool resembling the ceremonial “copa,” which was used during human sacrifices to appease the gods.
Understanding the Inca Sacrificial Tradition
Archaeologists believe that Juanita was a participant in a ritual called “capacocha,” a common practice in the Inca Empire. This ritual involved offering children and animals to the gods, typically in response to natural disasters, to strengthen the state’s power in distant provinces, or merely to appease the deities.
It’s likely that Juanita’s community viewed her selection as an honor. Additionally, the presence of nearby ash deposits raises suspicions that she might have been sacrificed following a volcanic eruption.
Juanita is not the only Inca Sacrifice
Intriguingly, Juanita is not the only Inca sacrifice to have been unearthed in the Andes. Over a dozen such remains, including three child mummies found atop the Llullaillaco volcano on the Chile-Argentina border, have been discovered. Subsequent testing revealed that one of the children, a 13-year-old girl, had been heavily sedated before her sacrifice. The children had also consumed alcohol and coca leaves, substances typically reserved for Inca elites.
The story of “Juanita,” the Inca Ice Maiden, is a mesmerizing journey into the world of ancient rituals and mysteries that continue to captivate our imagination. Her well-preserved remains, the meticulous facial reconstruction, and the insights into her sacrificial ceremony shed light on a fascinating chapter in Inca history.