Archaeologists reconstruct face of Incan ‘Ice Maiden’ mummy killed in ritual sacrifice

‘I thought I’d never know what her face looked like when she was alive’

Vishwam Sankaran
Thursday 09 November 2023 11:19 GMT

Archaeologists unveil reconstructed face of Peru’s most famous mummy ‘The Ice Maiden’

The face of Peru’s most famous mummy has been reconstructed nearly 30 years after it was found.

The mummy is of a teenage girl ritually sacrificed in the Inca empire over 500 years ago. It was discovered in 1995 near the snow-capped Ampato volcano at an altitude of over 6,000m (19,685ft).

Extensive research has since gone into the life of “Juanita”, one of the many names by which the mummy is known.

A bust of the girl was unveiled in 24 October after the reconstruction process was completed. It reveals the girl likely had black eyes, tanned skin and pronounced cheek bones.

Researchers first obtained a replica of the skull of the “Inca Ice Maiden”, another name given to the mummy.

Swedish forensic artist Oscar Nilson then used computed tomography (CT) scans of Juanita’s skeletal remains, skull measurements and DNA analysis to help create the bust.

“I thought I’d never know what her face looked like when she was alive,” said Johan Reinhard, the US anthropologist who found the mummy.

The face, reconstructed using three-dimensional technology, of a girl who was sacrificed over 500 years ago

Previous research suggested Juanita was sacrificed between 1440 and 1450 AD at a time when she was between 13 and 15 years old.

The Inca empire lasted from around 1200-1533 AD and is once known to have stretched over 4,000km across modern-day Peru and Chile.

They were known to have practiced a ritual called capacocha which involved sacrificing humans along with other offerings like precious metals, ceramics and textiles.

La Doncela (The Maiden) is an Incan mummy that was found at Mount Llullaillaco in Argentina in 1999. The girl died 500 years ago during a ritual sacrifice.

The ritual was done to please deities and protect the community from disasters like droughts and earthquakes.

Remains of other sacrificed children of the civilisation suggested some chewed hallucinogenic plants and psychotropic stimulants to reduce their anxiety before the rituals.

Researchers said Juanita was likely about 1.4m tall, weighed around 35kg and was well nourished when she was sacrificed.

Experts believe the ritual was carried out with a severe blow to her head.

This was also corroborated by researchers at Johns Hopkins University. They said Juanita likely died from a blow to her right occipital lobe, based on insights from a CT scan.

Scientists continue to investigate different aspects of Juanita’s life.

They are finding out about her likely diet and are probing the other objects found next to her, including her ceremonial clothing, other ceramic objects, and gold and silver figurines.

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