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Buffy The Vampire SlayerThe Real Inca Mummy Girl has beend found on Mt. Ampato in Peru
By Rossella Lorenzi
Tuesday 4 October 2005, by Webmaster
Juanita and the Inca Mummies
It was cold, very cold, when Juanita climbed Mount Ampato and said goodbye to the world. Wrapped in a shawl of finely woven alpaca wool, she remained on that volcanic peak in the Andes for five centuries. And she would have rested undisturbed for many more years, if the hot ash of a nearby volcano had not melted her grave away.
Juanita, a 12- to14-year-old girl, had been the victim of the capa cocha, the Inca’s child sacrifice ceremony to mountain gods. The Incas, one of the most powerful civilizations of the western world before Spanish invaders destroyed it in 1532, believed that the Ampato god supplied water and withheld avalanches in return for human sacrifices.
According to archaeological explorer Johan Reinhard, who found her during a National Geographic expedition in 1996, Juanita was happy when she died - to be sacrificed was a great honor for an Incan. When Reinhard found her in the kneeling position, with one hand clutching her alpaca shawl, the girl had a peaceful expression. All around her were ritual offerings such as pottery, bags of maize, and gold and silver figurines. Though her face, exposed to sun, was dried out, at the time of her discovery Juanita was the best-preserved mummy from pre-Columbian times found in the Americas. Juanita, or the Ice Maiden as she is also known, was so remarkably preserved because the deep freeze had almost totally prevented the body from decaying - most bacteria and fungi can’t survive in extreme cold.
"The most interesting biological aspect was the fact that she was very well frozen," says bioanthropologist Sonia Guillen, director of the Mallqui ("mummy") Center in Ilo, Peru. "Archaeologically, the whole context was impressive as it allowed a direct confrontation between ethnohistorical and archaeological data."
The discovery would have hardly hit the headlines if it weren’t for the fact that Juanita’s body was frozen, containing soft tissue and frozen blood - a godsend for scientists. DNA analysis promises to yield an unprecedented wealth of information about Incan physiology.
For now, radiologists and pathologists at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., have been able to reconstruct Juanita’s final moments. The condition of her head, muscles, bones, stomach and posture give a dramatic account of her last hours.
Before she started her long trek, the girl ate a meal of vegetables. As she arrived at the ceremonial platform at the sacred summit, she was weak and fatigued - certainly dazed from the altitude and several cups of chica, a powerful alcoholic beverage.
The priest placed her in a kneeling position. It was cold on Mount Ampato, very cold. Juanita wrapped herself in her shawl. A hard blow to her head ended her life. "She may have felt honored to be sacrificed, imagining perhaps that she was entering a glorious afterlife with the gods in a palace in a mountain," said Reinhard, as he announced the discovery. She now rests in a high-tech museum case in Arequipa, Peru.
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