In the centre of Arequipa, in the Catholic University’s Museum of Andean Sanctuaries (Museo Santuarios Andinos) lies a very special treasure that helps us to understand about the past. In particular, it helps us to understand about the Inca culture and how they viewed the world. This special treasure is a frozen mummy of an Inca girl who was sacrificed to the Inca gods sometime between 1450 and 1480. She is called ‘Momita Juanita’ (Spanish for “Mummy Juanita”), after the archeologist who discovered her on the high slopes of the volcano Mount Ampato, not far from Arequipa. She is also known as the Inca Ice Maiden and Lady of Ampato and Lewis the Lion was intrigued to find out more. Who was she? Why was she found on the volcano? And just how did she die?
The first part of Lewis the Lion’s visit to the museum involved watching a video all about the discovery of Juanita. Lewis the Lion wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the museum due to the delicate nature of the objects and so here is a link to see some pictures of Juanita on Google Images.
Juanita was only discovered in 1995 (just 17 years ago) by anthropologist, Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate. It is unique and rare find due to the well-preserved nature of the body. The cold heights at the top of the mountain had preserved it in time and it was only following a nearby volcanic eruption that the ice around her had started to thaw and expose her to the elements. She is now stored in a specially designed acclimatised glass case and as a result, Lewis the Lion found the temperature in museum a bit on the chilly side!
So, did Lewis the Lion find the answers to his questions? Read on to find out…
Who was Juanita?
From the clothes she was wearing and the objects that she was found with, Juanita would have been specially chosen for sacrifice from the moment she was born and scientists think she was about 12 years old when she died. She would have been brought up in a privileged house in Cusco with other such chosen children and it would have been a great honour for her family. If the children had not been sacrificed by the age of 17, they were free to leave the house.
Why she was found on the volcano?
The Andes mountain range is volcanically active and the Incas believed that by offering human sacrifices, it would help to appease the gods of nature. For this reason, Juanita would have been led from her house in Cusco, perhaps with other children, by the priests and taken to the highest point on the volcano that they could reach to be offered to the gods.
And just how did she die?
Lewis the Lion learned that the scientists had done a full body scan to find out just that. It appeared that she died from one single blow to the back of the head. However, the chosen children were given a special maize based drink called chicha which contained poison so that it would disorientate them before being sacrificed to the mountain gods by the priests. They were probably already very weak after the long walk, the altitude and the freezing temperatures on top of the mountain.
Lewis the Lion was quite upset at the thought that children would ever have been killed in this way and was just grateful that this didn’t happen anymore in 2012!
What questions would you have liked to ask if you were going to see the mummy Juanita for the first time? Would they be different from Lewis’ questions?
Maybe you can do some research to find out more ?
Click on the link if you wish to watch a short video on You Tube explaining more about the discovery of Juanita.