Amazing Juanita Mummy “The Ice Maiden”

Juanita the Ice Maiden, also known as the Lady of Ampato, or Juanita Mummy is the the well-preserved 500-year-old frozen body of an Incan girl who was sacrificed as an offering to the Inca gods when she was probably 11-15 years old. Her body was naturally mummified due to the freezing temperatures and dry windy mountain air, making her one of the best-preserved mummies ever found.

Juanita Mummy


The Juanita Mummy was discovered in September 1995 near the summit of Mt Ampato by an expedition led by American archeologist Johan Reinhard. (Ampato is a dormant 6,288-metre (20,630 ft) stratovolcano in the Andes of southern Peru, about 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Arequipa.) A nearby volcano, Sabancaya, was erupting at the time and the resulting hot volcanic ash melted the snowcap near the summit of Ampato, revealing the bundle containing the frozen mummified body.

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The fast melting ice caused most of the Inca burial site, including the body, to collapse down into a gully that led into the crater. As a result, part of Juanita mummy’s clothing was slightly damaged, as was part of Juanita’s face that was exposed to the air. They also found many items that had been left as offerings to the Inca gods strewn about the mountain slope down which the body had fallen. These included statues and food items. A couple of days later, the body and the items were transported to Arequipa. The frozen mummy was named ‘Juanita’ after Johan Reinhard (this is the Spanish, feminine version of his name).

In October 1995 and December 1997, Reinhard and Peruvian archaeologist Jose Antonio Chavez directed expeditions that led to the recovery of two further mummies, a girl and a boy, further down the mountain side. Reinhard published a detailed account of the discovery in his 2006 book entitled, The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes.

The Body

Juanita Mummy in Peru
Unwrapped Juanita Mummy

The Juanita Mummy was wrapped in a brightly-colored burial tapestry (or “aksu”). Her head was adorned with a cap made from the feathers of a red macaw, and she wore a colorful woolen alpaca shawl fastened with a decorative silver pin. She was fully clothed in garments resembling the finest textiles from the Inca capital city of Cusco. These were almost perfectly preserved, providing valuable insight into sacred Inca textiles and how the Inca nobility dressed.

The fine clothing, in addition to evidence of excellent health and that unlike the other mummies she was sacrificed at the summit of Ampato, suggests that she may have come from a noble Cusco family. Found with her in the burial tapestry was a collection of grave goods: bowls, pins, and figurines made of gold, silver, and shell.

Unlike other high-altitude Inca mummies, Juanita was mummified by ice and thus her remains and garments were not desiccated like that of mummies found in other parts of the world. Her skin, organs, tissues, blood, hair, stomach contents and garments are extremely well-preserved, offering scientists a rare glimpse into Inca culture during the reign of the Sapa Inca Pachacuti. Analysis of her stomach contents revealed that she ate a meal of vegetables 6–8 hours before her death.[1]

Cause of Death
Radiologist Elliot Fishman concluded that the Juanita Mummy was killed by blunt trauma to the head.[2] She has a cracked right eye socket and a two-inch fracture in her skull. The blow caused a massive hemorrhage, filling her skull with blood and pushing her brain to one side.[3]


Capacocha was the Inca practice of human sacrifice, mainly using children. Children were selected as sacrificial victims because they were considered to be the purest of beings. These children were also physically perfect and healthy, because they were the best the people could present to their gods. The victims may be as young as 6 and as old as 15.

The Incas performed child sacrifices during or after important events, such as the death of the Sapa Inca emperor or during a famine. The region where the Juanita Mummy was found is home to numerous volcanoes, some of them currently active. Investigations have shown that the nearby volcano Misti erupted between 1440 and 1450 [4]; around the time that Juanita was sacrificed. Therefore it has been suggested that Juanita was sacrificed there to appease the mountains after the eruption.

The children were chosen months or even years before the sacrifice pilgrimage. Their diets were those of the elite, consisting of maize and animal proteins. They dressed the children in fine clothing and jewelry and escorted them to Cusco to meet the emperor where a feast was held in their honor.

The Incan high priests took the victims to high mountaintops for sacrifice. As the journey was extremely long and arduous, especially so for the younger victims, coca leaves were fed to them to aid them in their breathing so as to allow them to reach the burial site alive. Upon reaching the burial site, the children were given an intoxicating drink to minimize pain, fear, and resistance, then killed them either by strangulation, a blow to their head or by leaving them to lose consciousness in the extreme cold and die of exposure.[5]

Tourism: Visiting Juanita Mummy

The Juanita Mummy is on display at the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa, Peru (La Merced 110). Multilingual tours consist of a video followed by guided tour of the burial artifacts and culminating with a respectful viewing of Juanita herself [6]. At the time of writing, the tour cost S20. The guides are students working for tips. Juanita is on display from May to November, but from December through April one of the other child sacrifices found in the area is displayed in her place.


  1.  “Ice Maiden Virtual Autopsy”. Andes Expedition – Searching For Inca Secrets. National Geographic. 1997. Retrieved 19 May 2011.
  2. “Ice Mummies: Frozen in Heaven” (Television series transcript). NOVA. PBS. PBS Airdate: November 24, 1998. 
  3.  “Fatal Head Injury: Cracked Eye Socket and Skull Fracture”Andes Expedition – Searching For Inca Secrets.
  4.  Reinhard, Johan (November 1999). “A 6,700 metros niños incas sacrificados quedaron congelados en el tiempo”. National Geographic: 36–55.
  5.  South America on a Shoestring (11th edition)(2010). Lonely Planet. p.801
About the Author

Founder of Karikuy, an organization in Peru that brings travelers to visit and explore the country. Julio also runs the Karikuy Volunteer program and is the editor of this blog. Julio likes to write about his adventures in Peru as well as Peruvian folklore, mysteries and secluded locations.

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