Teenage Mummy the Inca Ice Maiden ‘Brought Back to Life’
‘Juanita’, Peru’s most famous mummy, an Inca girl sacrificed in a ritual on an Andean hill 500 years ago, has had her face reconstructed in the form of a silicone-made bust. Also known as the ‘Inca Ice Maiden’, the young woman's remains underwent a natural mummification process, safeguarding her hair, fingernails, and the vibrant robes she donned on her final day. In 1995, the mummy was discovered at an altitude of over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) on the snow-covered slopes of the Ampato volcano.
Remodelling: Bringing Juanita Back to Life
“I thought I’d never know what her face looked like when she was alive,” said Johan Reinhard, the U.S. anthropologist who found the mummy in 1995. “Now 28 years later, this has become a reality thanks to Oscar Nilsson’s reconstruction,” he said.
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Oscar Nilsson put in 400 hours of work to model the face, he revealed in an email exchange with Associated Press. It was worked upon by Polish and Peruvian scientists, in partnership with Nilsson, who is renowned for facial reconstructions. The mummy was unveiled during a ceremony at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa on Tuesday.
According to Nilsson, the process unfolds in two steps. He will first immerse himself in his subject's world, examining details like an archaeologist to gather extensive data and reconstruct her likely appearance. Even in cases without a preserved face, he can estimate the thickness of facial tissue covering the underlying bones. He employs a range of tools, including CT scans, DNA analysis, and knowledge about diet and health, to make informed conjectures about the individual's facial features.
The reconstructed Juanita, the mummy found on Ampato volcano in 1995. (Universidad Catholica de Santa Maria)
After that, he began creating those facial features. He used a 3-D printer to make a replica of the Ice Maiden's skull and attached wooden pegs to guide the placement of each handmade muscle sculpted from plasticine clay. He carefully added the eyes, nose, and the fine, thread-like tissues that make up a human face, one at a time. Once he finished the sculpture, he created a silicone mold of it and added hundreds of individual hairs and pores in brown and pink shades, a process that took ten weeks to complete.
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Close up of the reconstructed face of the sacrificed Inca girl Juanita the Ice Maiden. (Universidad Catholica de Santa Maria)
The Fate of Juanita
As per anthropological research, Juanita met her fate through sacrifice during the years 1440 to 1450 AD, when she was approximately 13 to 15 years old. Her stature measured 1.40 meters (55 inches), with a weight of 35 kilograms (77 pounds), indicating that she was well-nourished. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University, who conducted a CT scan, identified the probable cause of her demise as a profound impact to the right occipital lobe.
She was discovered with her hands serenely resting on her lap, and her head gently bowed forward. According to experts, it is believed that she had only consumed alcohol and drugs in the days preceding her final moments, reports The Daily Mail. She was then probably made to kneel, before the blunt force trauma to her head.
Juanita Mummy, or Lady of Ampato (Universidad Catholica de Santa Maria)
Capacocha: Inca Sacrificial Ritual for the Gods
It is theorized that the Inca selected children for their exceptional beauty and then offered them in a ceremony known as a capacocha. However, these children were not sacrificed to appease the gods with offerings; rather, they were chosen to "enter the realm of the gods and reside in paradise alongside them."
The term "capacocha" roughly translates to "royal obligation" in the Quechua language. It was a unique and elaborate form of child sacrifice conducted by the Inca culture for religious and political purposes. The Inca carefully selected children for capacocha, and they were typically chosen based on their physical beauty, purity, and sometimes noble lineage, thus seen as an honor for the family.
These children were considered to be pure and unspoiled – Juanita clearly fit the mold here with high and pronounced cheekbones, black eyes, and tanned skin. This elaborate ritual held a pivotal role in upholding the Inca Empire and was marked by grand feasts and processions that accompanied the chosen children, The National Geographic.
Through toxicological and forensic examinations of the remains of a toddler and four victims aged six to seven, all of whom are part of the exhibition, researchers discovered that these children received attentive care in the months leading up to their sacrificial ritual. In the weeks preceding their deaths, they were consistently provided with a diet that included coca leaves, the ayahuasca vine, and alcohol. This was not meant to intoxicate them, but rather to keep them calm and free from anxiety as the scheduled sacrifice approached.
Gaps in the historical record do exist, due to European records being the first understanding of this complex ceremony. Despite the gaps, the discovery of over a dozen Inca children at high-altitude archaeological sites, including Ampato and other mountains, offers insights into the practices and events surrounding these rituals.
Top image: Left; The 500-year-old Inca child mummy before unwrapping her body. Right; the reconstruction of Juanita the Inca Ice Maiden by Oscar Nilsson. Source:
By Sahir Pandey
Blakemore, E. 2023. This Inca girl was frozen for 500 years. She just got a new face. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/premium/article/ice-maiden-ampato-inca-mummy-facial-reconstruction.
Briceno, F. 2023. Experts reconstruct the face of Peru’s most famous mummy, a teenage Inca sacrificed in Andean snow. Available at: https://apnews.com/article/peru-mummy-face-reconstruction-3052c25426b5393dc93fa36861516b63.
Liberatore, S. 2023. Face of Peru's most famous mummy REVEALED: Archaeologists reconstruct look of the 'Inca Ice maiden' who was sacrificed in a ritual more than 500 years ago. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-12671023/Peru-famous-mummy-facial-reconstruction-Inca.html.
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Catholic University of Santa Maria, Arequipa, 2023. UCSM presenta la reconstrucción del rostro de la Dama del Ampato en 3D. Available at: https://www.ucsm.edu.pe/ucsm-presenta-la-reconstruccion-del-rostro-de-la-dama-del-ampato-en-3d/