This Ancient Child Sacrifice Found Perfectly Preserved In Ice Is Fascinating

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 Mummy Juanita, AKA the Inca Ice Maiden. 

In 1995, internationally-renowned anthropologist Johan Reinhard, along with his climbing companion, Miguel Zárate, discovered the ice mummy Juanita in the Andes. Uncannily well-preserved - even her organs and the contents of her stomach were intact - Juanita 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 Was Laid To Rest

    She Was A Healthy Teen When She Was Laid To Rest
    Video: YouTube

    The superb condition of Juanita's remains and the artifacts buried with her reveal fascinating details about her life. Tests indicate that she likely passed 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

    Juanita's official autopsy report determined that she passed due to a blow to the head, and examiners documented the "massive craniocerebral injury" that "destroyed and collapsed" not only the upper and frontal parts of her skull but also her facial bones.

    According to The Journal of Contemporary Anthropology, the Incan Empire also sacrificed victims via other customary methods, including "burying the victim alive after being ritually inebriated."


  • She Was Likely Drunk And Drugged Before Her Sacrifice

    She Was Likely Drunk And Drugged Before Her Sacrifice
    Video: YouTube

    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 make sure the sacrifices were fully intoxicated.

    They were also sometimes given coca - the plant used to make cocaine - to chew, and studies have indicated that Juanita was likely sedated in a similar fashion before the ritual.

  • She Was Found Holding Her Umbilical Cord, Which Revealed More About Her Genealogy

    She Was Found Holding Her Umbilical Cord, Which Revealed More About Her Genealogy
    Photo: Courtesy Photo Johan Reinhard / Hillary Medal Winners / Fair Use

    When anthropologists discovered Juanita, they found her holding what's believed to be her own umbilical cord. Experts propose that the cord had likely been saved specifically for the occasion of her sacrifice. The stem cells contained therein revealed a wealth of information about her genealogy.

    Through the extensive analysis of the cord, researchers established (via genome) that she likely hailed from a very rare group of native peoples. 

  • She Was Probably Chosen For Sacrifice Before Birth

    According to some experts, many Incan child sacrifices were selected at birth. According to decorated travel writer Margie Goldsmith, the "healthiest, strongest, and most attractive child" was generally chosen for the "honor" of slaughter. Candidates who came from nobility, as Juanita likely did, were given special precedence over members of the working class.

    This might explain why Juanita's umbilical cord was preserved along with her body: it suggests a fate that was already irrevocably established.

    Why Juanita was sacrificed remains a mystery. Scholars believe that her type of ritualistic end was meant to appease the mountain gods, thereby ensuring rain, good crops, and protection. But the necessity of sacrifice could also be triggered by other major events, like natural disasters or the unexpected passing of prominent leaders, which were seen as indications of the gods' displeasure.

  • The Explorers Who Found Juanita Almost Gave Up

    Explorer Johan Reinhard and his crew were on an expedition to the Andes Mountains to try and find any sort of Incan artifact on the mountains. He originally visited the Andes in the 1980s and had vowed to do more research about Incan culture. In 1995, he brought his team to Mount Ampato to continue his exploration.

    They searched for a week and nearly gave up before Reinhard decided last minute to climb the summit of Llullaillaco. He saw some dirt that looked like "fill" dirt, or dirt that people had walked on habitually. He followed it, and from there found a rare type of sea shell that had a llama carved into it. Then he knew he had found an important site, and not far from there, Juanita was waiting.