the inca ice maiden – juanita

13 Nov



Arequipa is the second larget city in Peru and attracts tourist with many beautiful churches and a number of interesting museums.

A visit to the museum ‘Santuarios Andino’ is a must. You’ll find out a lot about the inca culture and their customs (which were not always as innocent as I would have thought).

In September 1995 an antropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian partner Miguel Zarate discovered a perfectly preserved frozen body of a 12-13 year old girl during an ascent of Mt. Apato. The body was found in a crater and apparently had fallen down from an Inca site about 200 metres high above. On the discovery of the original site where the body of a girl had been buried, they also found different offerings including food items, crockery and statues. The research confirmed that the body of a girl was about 500 years old and the Incas had sacrificed her as an offering to the Gods. Because she had been buried at the height of more than 5000 metres her body had frozen and was completely preserved including her hair, internal organs, blood, tissues and her garments. Only her face, which was exposed to the sun after she had fallen down the slope, was desiccated. Juanita, as the ice-maiden was named, was dressed in clothes of high quality, with a shawl of alpaca wool that was held together by a silver clasp. As other Inca human sacrifices (there has been a number of them found in Peru, Chile and Argentina) she was dressed in the best clothes and probably was a member of noble, even royal family. You can see her body kept in a special refrigerator with a constant temperature of – 20 degress celsius in the Satuarios Andinos museum.

The ice maiden herself - Juanita

During their less than 100 year reign, the Incas sacrificed several children. The chosen ones had to be beautiful, not physically deformed, come from a noble (often royal) family and be innocent. Many of them were chosen at birth and during their shorter or longer life waited for their opportunity, their privilage, to be sacrificed. If the Incas thought the Gods had been cross with them (whether it was because of frequent rains, earthquakes or other natural catastrophes) they sacrificed one or more children. For the kids and their families it was a great privilege. Or that’s what we are led to believe. The celebration of the offering always took place at the summit of one of the high mountains. The children had to walk all the way to the top, they were often exhausted and suffering from altitude sickness and, I want to believe, they often didn’t know what was happening. During the celebration they were given an intoxicating drink made of coca leaves and when they fell asleep, or unconsciouss, they were given a tap on their foreheads with a rather heavy staff. The act of offering was nearly complete. They just had to put a child (dressed in the clothes made of the best materials, with an elaborate headdress) in the grave, where they always sat in the fetal position, and surround him/her with other offerings. Girls were often given crockery and boys statues of people and vikunas (animal similar to a lama) made of copper, silver or gold.

La Doncella - the young girl preserved in a museum in Salta, Argentina

La Doncella – is another well preserved frozen body of aproximately 15 year old girl sacrificed by the Incas that we have seen in a museum in Salta, Argentina. She looked like she was asleep. I was expecting her to get up any minute and walk away. Otherworldly!

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Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Peru, South America


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