Face-to-face with Peru’s famed Ice Maiden

Face-to-face with Peru’s famed Ice Maiden

The frozen body of the teenage Ampato Ice Maiden or “Juanita,” buried for over 500 years, now has a face.

A photo of the forensically reconstructed likeness the Ampato Ice Maiden mummy Juanita juxtaposed with the actual mummy

The project to reconstruct the face of the girl, sacrificed by the Inca, started in 2018. It was an international endeavor, conducted in Sweden, Poland, the United States and Peru.

The Discovery on Mount Ampato

The story began in 1995 when renowned high altitude anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate, discovered the frozen remains of the young maiden on Mount Ampato, located in the Caylloma province of Arequipa, Peru. Situated at an altitude of 6,318 meters above sea level, the mummy was found in remarkably good condition, preserved by the freezing temperatures.

Electrifying Face-to-Face Encounter for World Renowned Researcher

Reinhard says it is difficult to express his feelings when he laid eyes on Juanita’s reconstructed likeness. He recalled when he first laid eyes on the mummy at an altitude of over 20,000 feet. He thought it a pity that her face was so desiccated because the burial shroud covering it was torn.

“It was exactly the face that was most exposed and therefore most difficult to kind of be able to replicate,” Reinhard told reporters. “Twenty-eight years later it’s been done and it’s been done in a magnificent way.”

As technology advances, we will learn even more about Juanita, Reinhard added.

Unveiling the Face: A Five-Year Research Project

For over two decades, numerous studies unraveled mysteries surrounding the Ampato Ice Maiden. Isotopic analysis of her hair revealed facts about her diet and overall health. For example, Juanita’s dietary habits underwent a significant transformation prior to her selection for sacrifice. Initially, she followed the customary Inca diet, consisting of potatoes and vegetables. But around a year before the sacrifice, the research revealed, animal proteins and corn were incorporated into her diet — food of the Inca elites.

Five years ago the Center for Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw and the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa embarked on the ambitious project to reconstruct her appearance, employing an array of forensic techniques.

The Scientific Process

To reconstruct the face of the Ampato Ice Maiden, the scientists used cutting-edge methods such as laser scanning, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and DNA analysis. These techniques provided invaluable insights into the teenage girl’s physical attributes.

The Role of Oscar Nilsson: A Swedish Archaeologist and Artist

Central to the face reconstruction process was the expertise of Oscar Nilsson, a Swedish archaeologist and artist renowned for his 3D facial reconstructions of ancient humans. Working with the data obtained from the scientific analyses, Nilsson meticulously created a three-dimensional model of the Ampato Ice Maiden’s skull. This model served as the foundation for the subsequent addition of soft tissues and muscles, resulting in an uncannily lifelike representation of the Inca girl’s face.

The Anthropological Analysis

In order to ensure accuracy and authenticity, the researchers conducted an anthropological analysis of local individuals, taking into account typical female facial proportions. By combining these features with the scientific data gathered, Nilsson was able to construct a realistic portrayal of the Ampato Ice Maiden’s appearance.

Insights into the Life of the Ampato Ice Maiden

The facial reconstruction adds a new layer of understanding about what we already knew of the Ampato Ice Maiden’s life. According to that evidence, she was sacrificed between A.D. 1440 and 1450, at the age of 13 to 15, as part of the Capacocha ritual — a ceremony to honor Inca deities. The cause of her death was determined to be a severe blow to the right occipital lobe, as revealed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University who performed a CT scan.

The Exhibition at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum

To share the remarkable story and the reconstructed face of the Ampato Ice Maiden with the public, a temporary exhibition has been set up at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa.

This exhibition offers visitors a unique opportunity to connect with Inca culture and experience the journey from Cusco to the Ampato mountain through virtual reality holograms.

Replicas of ceremonial objects and artifacts found with the mummy are also on display, allowing visitors to engage with the rich history and significance of the Capacocha ceremony.

A Glimpse into the Past

Through the collaboration of international experts and the use of advanced scientific techniques, we can now glimpse the face of a young girl who lived centuries ago. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to unravel even more secrets about the life and culture of the Inca people. The Ampato Ice Maiden serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring mysteries that lie buried in the past, waiting to be discovered and explored.

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Authored by: PeruTravelTrends

A Peru Tour Operator and Travel Agency: Since 1994 creating wonderful vacation experiences for adventure travelers and holidaymakers in Cusco, Lima, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca, and all around the Andean region.

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