Momia Juanita (or Mummy Juanita) is the name archaeologists give to the mummy of a young girl, living in the famous Inca empire of the 15th century, discovered in Peru in 1995. Other names are “Lady of Ampato” (Lady Ampato) and “Inca Ice Maiden” (Inca ice fairy).
The reason, people give the young maiden mummy such names for two reasons: First, because she was found on the top of Mount Ampato, an inactive volcano in the Andes. Second, because the mummy is very well preserved due to the extremely low temperature on the top of the mountain.
Researchers suggest that Momia Juanita’s mummy was the victim of an important Incan sacrificial ritual known as Capacocha (Capac Cocha), which is sometimes translated as “royal duty”. Scientific analyzes of Momia Juanita have also revealed many interesting details about her life and death.
For most of the mummies found around the world so far, scientists have to work hard to find, dig and even spend a lot of money, but Momia Juanita’s mummy was discovered according to by chance, full of surprises.
On September 8, 1995, archaeologist Johan Reinhard and his assistant Miguel Zarate accidentally discovered Momia Juanita’s mummy while surveying the terrain. This discovery was made possible thanks to the melting of snow on the summit of Mount Ampato. The cause of the snow melt is volcanic ash generated from an erupting volcano nearby.
Momia Juanita mummy before being removed from the wrap.
The melting snow exposed Momia Juanita’s mummy and fell onto the mountainside, where it was found by Reinhard and Zarate. During their second expedition up the mountain in October of the same year, they discovered two more mummies in a lower area of the Ampato Mountains.
According to the researchers, Momia Juanita was only about 12 to 15 years old when she died. Two mummies discovered a month later were also children.
The barbaric crime of a sacrificial ritual
According to researchers, the little girl Momia Juanita was sacrificed as part of a ritual known as Capacocha. This ritual required the Incas to sacrifice their best and healthiest for the gods.
This sacrifice was performed to appease the gods, thereby ensuring a bountiful harvest, or averting some natural disaster. Based on the location where the little girl was buried, it is thought that the ritual may have been related to the worship of the mountain god Ampato.
Illustration by painter Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (1615). This image depicts the Capacocha ritual – Image source: National Gallery of Denmark.
When Momia Juanita was discovered, her entire body was wrapped in a wrap. In addition to the young girl’s remains, the bundle contained many other artifacts, including many small clay figurines, seashells, and gold objects. These were placed as offerings to the gods.
Archaeologists have predicted that these objects, along with food, coca leaves, and chicha, an alcoholic beverage distilled from corn, were carried by the priests as they led the girl up the mountain.
The image recreates the burial place of Momia Juanita.
The two mummies found later may have been carried away with Momia Juanita to calm her nerves. This is believed to be a common method used by the Incas when they sacrificed someone to the gods.
When the victim is unconscious, the shaman will perform the sacrifice. In the case of Momia Juanita, an X-ray of the mummy showed that she had been hit in the head by a hard object. The blow was so strong that it caused massive bleeding that could lead to death.
Another scientific analysis that reveals interesting information about the life of Momia Juanita is isotope analysis of her hair. Because the mummy is quite well preserved, scientists have been able to do this.
This analysis provided the researchers with information about the girl’s diet. Accordingly, this girl was chosen as a scapegoat about a year before her death. The evidence is a change in diet, revealed through isotope analysis of hair.
Before being chosen for sacrifice, Momia Juanita had a standard Inca diet, consisting of potatoes and vegetables. However, this changed, about a year before her death, she began to eat animals and corn, which were the food of the elites.
Today, Momia Juanita’s mummy is housed at the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa, a city not far from Mount Ampato. The mummy is kept in a special environment, temperature and humidity are strictly controlled to preserve it well, for future research.
Momia Juanita’s mummy is currently preserved in a glass case at the Museo Santuarios Andinos.
Source: Ancient origins