INTERVIEWER: Popularly known as Mummy Juanita, the finding of a young Inca girl sacrificed more than 600 years ago made headlines. Dr Chris Van Gils, a specialist in the Inca Culture, is with us today to tell us more about this famous mummy. Good morning, Dr Van Gils. First of all, why is this discovery so significant?
CHRIS: Well, analysing her internal organs, hair, skin, and blood provided scientists a glimpse into the cultural and societal practices of the Incas of the time. It is not the mummy itself, but what we can learn from it.
INTERVIEWER: I see. But let’s start by the beginning. Who was Juanita?
CHRIS: Juanita was a young girl. She was probably between 12 to 14 years old. She seemed to be in excellent health. Biopsies of bone, muscle and other tissues
confirmed that the girl had enjoyed good nutrition and had healthy, mature
bones. The mummy was found wearing clothes resembling those of Cusco’s
elite, of the nobility. Specialists in textiles were especially impressed with the
fine alpaca wool of the girl’s garments. She wore a boldly striped dress,
encircled by a belt, and her shawl was fastened with a silver pin. Her attire
was similar to that of the female statuettes buried with her.
INTERVIEWER: Are you suggesting that Juanita was no ordinary girl?
CHRIS: Probably not. Her attire, along with the geographical location of the sacrifice, suggests to archaeologists that the young girl was part of Cusco’s nobility.
Furthermore, by analysing her hair, scientists were able to determine that she
ate maize and animal meat prior to the sacrifice, both of which were part of the
diet of the elite.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting. Tell us a bit about the discovery. She was found near Arequipa in Peru, right?
CHRIS: Exactly. In September 1995, American anthropologist Johan Reinhard climbed the volcano Mount Ampato in Arequipa located at about 6,300 meters above sea level. He, along with his Peruvian climbing partner Miguel Zárate, came across a bundle inside a crater, most likely fallen from an Inca burial site at the summit. The two men took the frozen bundle to the Catholic University of
Santa Maria in Arequipa. It weighed about 40 kilos and included the mummy
and numerous burial items including pottery, shells, and small llama figures.
The body of the sacrificed girl was given the name Juanita, and is also known
as the Lady of Ampato and the Inca Ice Maiden.
INTERVIEWER: So, after her death, sometime between 1450 and 1480, Juanita would sit alone in the mountains until she was uncovered by these two men.
CHRIS: That’s it. The thin, cold air near the summit of Mt. Ampato left the mummy incredibly intact. Reinhard once said in an interview that the doctors had been shaking their heads and saying Juanita sure doesn’t look 500 years old but could have died a few weeks ago.
INTERVIEWER: Amazing. But the fact that it was discovered is also surprising.
CHRIS: If it weren’t for volcanic activity, it’s possible that the mummified young girl would have continued to sit in on the frozen mountain top for centuries to come. But because of the volcanic activity warming the snow, Mt. Ampato’s snow-cap began to melt, pushing the wrapped mummy and her burial site down the mountain.
INTERVIEWER: And was this the only mummy found in the area?
CHRIS: No. In fact, Reinhard returned to the mountain a month later and found two more mummified children, this time a boy and girl. It is believed these may
have been companion sacrifices to the more important sacrifice of Juanita.
This is corroborated by a Spanish soldier who witnessed similar sacrifices in
1551 and wrote about them.
INTERVIEWER: OK. So, tell us about these sacrifices.
CHRIS: These sacrifices among the Inca that involved the deaths of children were known as Capacocha. Capacocha can be translated as “royal obligation” and it was the Inca’s attempt at ensuring that the best and healthiest among them were sacrificed to appease the gods, often as a way to stop a natural disaster like an earthquake, or simply to ensure a healthy harvest. This sacrificial rite was also performed to celebrate events such as battle victories, or the death or birth of Inca royalty. Considering that Juanita’s body was discovered atop Ampato, a volcano in the Andes, her sacrifice very likely played into the Inca’s Mountain worship.
INTERVIEWER: What did scientists discover about her death? How did she die?
CHRIS: Well, you can imagine a girl with long black hair and a graceful neck, dressed in fine alpaca wool, knelt on a cold, windswept summit in the Andes. She was in the presence of Inca priests and surrounded by offerings of pottery, coca leaves and golden figurines.
INTERVIEWER: I visualize one of the sacrifices we have watched in an Indiana Jones’ movie.
CHRIS: Sort of. In fact, experts say that Juanita was probably docile.
INTERVIWER: Did she want to die? Did she not fight?
CHRIS: Juanita’s days leading up to her death were very different than the lifestyle of a typical Inca girl. Scientists know what she ate before she died. Markers in her hair indicate that she was selected for sacrifice about a year before her actual death. She had switched from a standard Inca diet of potatoes and vegetables to the more elite foods of animal protein and maize, along with
large quantities of coca and alcohol. The final six to eight weeks of life for Inca
child sacrifices was one of a very intoxicated psychological state altered by the
chemical reaction of coca and alcohol. Archaeologists believe that when she
died, she was likely in a very relaxed state.
INTERVIEWER: In other words, she was drugged before she died.
CHRIS: That’s right. Radiologist Elliot Fishman discovered that Juanita’s death was brought about by a massive haemorrhage from a blow to the head. Her
injuries were “typical of someone who has been hit by a baseball bat.” After
the death blow, her skull swelled with blood, pushing her brain to the side. Dr
Fishman said the girl probably never regained consciousness, but might have
lived several hours before dying. Observations of the position of the feet
indicate that the girl was probably kneeling when struck, he said, and the
posture suggested that her head was bent forward at the time.
INTERVIEWER: One last question, Dr Van Gils. Was this ritual frequent? Juanita
wasn’t the only child sacrificed, was she?
CHRIS: All in all, experts estimate that there may be hundreds of Inca children
mummified in the mountain peaks of the Andes still waiting to be discovered.
INTERVIEWER: Dr Van Gils, thank you for joining us today.