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Mummy Juanita: The story behind the Inca Ice Maiden sacrifice

The Inca civilization is known for its impressive engineering and architectural feats, as well as its unique religious practices. One of the most fascinating aspects of Inca culture is the practice of human sacrifice. In 1995, a team of archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of a young girl on Mount Ampato in Peru. The discovery shocked the world and immediately sparked interest among historians and archaeologists alike.

Mummy Juanita, also known as the Inca Ice Maiden, is a well-preserved mummy of a young girl who was sacrificed by the Inca people between 1450 to 1480. © Ancient Origins
The girl, now known as Mummy Juanita (Momia Juanita), or Inca Ice Maiden, or Lady of Ampato, was believed to be a sacrifice to the Inca gods over 500 years ago. In this article, we will explore the fascinating story behind Mummy Juanita, including the significance of the Inca practice of human sacrifice, the discovery of the mummy, and what we have learned from her well-preserved remains. Let’s journey back in time and learn about this remarkable piece of history.

Human sacrifice was an integral part of Inca culture, and it was believed to be a way to appease the gods and keep the universe in balance. The Incas believed that the gods controlled all aspects of life, and it was the responsibility of humans to keep them happy. To do this, they offered sacrifices of animals, food, and, in some cases, humans. Human sacrifice was reserved for the most important ceremonies, such as the Inti Raymi or the Festival of the Sun. These sacrifices were carefully chosen from the most physically perfect members of society and were typically volunteers.

The individual selected for sacrifice was considered a hero, and their death was seen as an honor. The sacrifice of Mummy Juanita, also known as the Inca Ice Maiden, is one of the most well-known examples of human sacrifice in Inca culture. She was a young girl who was sacrificed in the 15th century and discovered in 1995 on top of Mount Ampato in Peru. Her body was perfectly preserved due to the cold temperatures on the mountain.

It is believed that Mummy Juanita was sacrificed to the gods to ensure a good harvest and to prevent natural disasters. Researchers have suggested that she was a victim of an important Incan sacrificial rite known as Capacocha (Capac Cocha), which has sometimes been translated as ‘royal obligation’.

While human sacrifice may seem barbaric to us today, it was an essential part of Inca culture and played a significant role in their religious beliefs and practices. The Incas believed that offering the most valuable thing they had, human life, was the ultimate sacrifice they could make to their gods. And while we may not agree with the practice today, it is important to understand and respect the cultural beliefs of our ancestors.

The discovery of Mummy Juanita is a fascinating story that started in 1995 when archaeologist Johan Reinhard, and Miguel Zarate, his assistant, stumbled upon her remains on top of Mount Ampato in the Peruvian Andes. At first, they thought that they had found a frozen hiker, but on closer inspection, they realized that they had discovered something much more significant – an ancient Incan mummy.

This find was made possible thanks to the melting of Mount Ampato’s snowcap, which was caused by volcanic ash that came from the eruption of a nearby volcano. As a result of this melting, the mummy was exposed, and tumbled down the mountainside, where it was subsequently found by Reinhard and Zarate. During a second expedition up the mountain in October of the same year, the frozen mummies of two more individuals were uncovered in a lower area of Mount Ampato.

During the discovery, Mummy Juanita’s remains were so well-preserved that it was almost as if she had just died. Her skin, hair, and clothing were all intact, and her internal organs were still in place. It was clear that she had been sacrificed to the gods, and her body had been left on the mountain as an offering.

The discovery of Mummy Juanita was groundbreaking in the field of archaeology. It provided scientists with a rare opportunity to closely study the Inca culture and the practice of human sacrifice. It also gave us a glimpse into the life of an Inca girl who had lived more than five centuries ago. Mummy Juanita’s discovery and subsequent research have provided valuable insights into the Inca culture and their beliefs. It is a reminder of the importance of preserving history and culture for future generations to learn from and appreciate.