Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Andean Icewoman Volume 49 Number 1, January/February 1996
by Angela M.H. Schuster

The frozen mummy of a 12- to 14-year-old Inka girl, most likely a sacrificial victim, has been found near the summit of a 20,700-foot-high mountain in southern Peru. The 500-year-old remains were discovered last September, 200 feet below a stone platform/sanctuary atop the Andean peak Nevada de Ampato, by Johan Reinhard, a research associate of the Field Museum in Chicago and the Catholic University in Arequipa, Peru. "Though the local population knew the mountain was sacred to their ancestors, they had no idea that there was a sanctuary on its summit, which is usually covered with a thick ice cap, obscuring any possible remains," said Reinhard. Ash from a recent eruption of the nearby Sabancaya volcano had landed on the ice cap and, heated by the sun, had melted it. A second climb to the summit in October yielded two more sacrificial victims, one male and one female, 100 feet down the slope, along with remains of a camp used by the sanctuary's builders and priests. "We think that when the ice melted, the platform collapsed, sending the mummies tumbling down the mountain to an ice field below," said Reinhard.

Several small female figurines in gold, silver, tumbaga (a gold and copper alloy), and spondylus shell were found near the mummy. A few others were buried in the layers of wool and cotton cloth in which the mummy was wrapped. The 2.5-inch spondylus shell and 6.25-inch gold figurines were clad in miniature multicolored garments and headdresses, while a 3.5-inch silver figurine wore all white.

The most important aspect of the find, said Reinhard, is that the bodies were frozen, not freeze-dried like those found on mountaintops in Chile and Argentina. "Because the organs are intact, we have a rare opportunity to study Inka diet and health." The mummies are currently undergoing study by an international team of researchers at the Catholic University in Arequipa.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America