Part of the morbid allure of mummies lies in their surreal out-of-time physicality. Mummies from around the world offer people a glimpse into the literal, tangible past, bringing history to life in a way no written chronicle can. And when it comes to making ancient life seem real, few human relics can match the impact of the Inca mummy girl Juanita.
Mummy Juanita – also known as Juanita the Ice Maiden – was discovered in the Andes in 1995. Uncannily well-preserved (even her organs and the contents of her stomach were intact) she immediately captivated researchers. She's believed to have been an Inca child, sacrificed to appease the gods around the year 1450. She was a mummy long before she was found. Nevertheless, if it hadn't been for the volcanic eruption that effectively dislodged her resting place, she might never have been discovered at all.
Today, Juanita has been relocated from her icy tomb. She sits on display at the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries in Arequipa, Peru, where she seems to greet visitors from across the centuries.
She Was A Healthy Teen When She Died
The superb condition of Juanita's corpse and the artifacts buried with her reveal fascinating details about her life. Tests indicate that she likely died between 1440 and 1450, and at any point between the ages of 12 and 15. Further studies suggest she was in generally excellent health, with "a good and well-balanced diet," though she had fasted for one day prior to her sacrifice.
Even Juanita's clothes were well preserved. The red tunic she was wearing, as well as her llama skin and alpaca wool shoes, indicate that she likely came from nobility, and that she may have lived in the city of Cuzco.
She Suffered From Blunt Force Trauma
Blunt force trauma is an ugly way to go. Nevertheless, there were far worse ways to die in the Incan Empire. According to experts, victims were also sacrificed via "strangulation... asphyxia, or burying the victim alive."
Juanita's official autopsy report determined that she died due to a blow to the head, and mentions the "massive craniocerebral injury" that "destroyed and collapsed" not only the upper and frontal parts of her skull, but also her facial bones.
She Was Likely Drunk And Drugged Before Her Sacrifice
According to historians, the Incas often attempted to alleviate the trauma of imminent sacrifice in a rite known as capacocha. As National Geographic explains it, children were customarily given chicha, a potent alcoholic drink distilled from corn, to "ensure intoxication."
She Was Found Holding Her Umbilical Cord, Which Revealed More About Her Genealogy
Juanita was found holding her umbilical cord, which had likely been saved specifically for the occasion of her sacrifice. The stem cells contained therein revealed a wealth of information about her genealogy, and established (via genome) that she likely hailed from a very rare group of native peoples.