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Inca Ice Maiden


Note: I am indebted to Johan Reinhard, anthropologist and author for his guidance in revising this page.


Juanita (also known as "The Ice Maiden") was discovered on the top of Mount Ampato near Arequipa, Peru, on September 8, 1995 by Johan Reinhard and his assistant, Miguel Zarate. She was 12 to 14 years old when she was sacrificed and is believed to have died about 500 years ago.

Although she was frozen in the frigid temperatures on Mount Ampato, her body was discovered because a nearby volcano had caused Ampato's snowcap to melt. Her burial site, which had collapsed and cascaded down the mountain slope, also revealed many items left as offerings to the gods. Two other children's bodies were discovered on Ampato during a second expedition in October 1995. Another mummy was found on a subsequent expedition in November 1997; it was buried approximately a mile from the site of Juanita's discovery.


What's special about her

1. She was very well-preserved when she was discovered. At the time, she was the best preserved of all Inca mummies found in the Andes. [Although some concerns about her preservation have been raised over the years, her body is still in good condition. One concern was raised in August 2006, when a tourist (who was actually a scientist at the Smithsonian Institute) suspected a problem with the humidity control in Juanita's display case. He did not realize, however, that her body was being sprayed with purified water to help preserve it and maintain an atmosphere of 90% relative humidity. Still, his unfounded concern was reported to the press as if a problem existed. Another concern was raised by Hilda Vidal of the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History in Lima, shortly before Juanita was scheduled to go to Japan. According to Vidal, Juanita's skin had begun to turn color: from her natural beige shade to a darker brown, a sign of trouble. (A similar problem was noted with Ötzi the Ice Man, whose skin quickly molded over when exposed to bright lights and poor storage conditions; rigorous controls were instituted to reverse the damage.) Nonetheless, no damage to the mummy's skin or coloration was ever noted beyond this one report in 1999.]

2. She has made two trips outside Peru: a visit to the United States in 1996 and a multi-city 13-month tour of Japan in 1999. In the US, Juanita received an advanced CT-scan before she was exhibited at the National Geographic Society. During her month-long display, her special storage chamber (newly built by the Carrier Corporation) was monitored to make sure that her body would be well-preserved.

3. In 1996 President Clinton saw a photo of Juanita and reportedly said, "If I were a single man, I might ask that mummy out. That's a good-looking mummy!" According to the Associated Press, Peruvian scientists at the time called his remark "tasteless."

4. Her removal from Ampato to a museum in Arequipa caused quite a controversy locally. The mayor of Cabanaconde, the Peruvian village located near the site of Juanita's discovery, demanded the return of her mummy. "They charge admission at all the museums to see her," Mayor Antonio Jiminez told reporters, "but we have not seen a penny of the profits, even though she is out ancestor. If the mummy were here, we might get some tourists." The problem, according to the Associated Press, is that Cabanaconde does not have the necessary facilities for the continued preservation of Juanita. Scientists would also need a special laboratory to conduct further testing on the mummy; Cabanaconde lacks this resource as well.


Where to see here

Juanita is on display at the Museo Santuarios de Alturain Arequipa, Peru. The museum is located in the city center, just off the Plaza de Armas at La Merced 1001. The museum maintains a website (in Spanish), with links to information about Juanita and a gallery of photos about Juanita, her possessions when she died, and the location of her death.


More information about Juanita


Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes by Johan Reinhard is the best book on the subject of Juanita for adults. The Washington Post called it "incredible…compelling and often astonishing" and The Wall Street Journal described as "… part adventure story, part detective story, and part memoir—an engaging look at a rarefied world." And Amazon: "It's a riveting combination of mountaineering adventure, archaeological triumph, academic intrigue, and scientific breakthrough which has produced important results ranging from the best-preserved DNA of its age to the first complete set of an Inca noblewoman's clothing." Additional information is available in Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures.

Other books on related topics:




Frozen Girl (Redfeather Books) is an eloquently written book which would make a perfect nonfiction book to use for an entire classroom. It's a high-interest book, but the focus is on the text, not the 15 photos/drawings. Using information he obtained from a series of interviews with Johan Reinhard (one of the discoverers) and a number of scientists, Getz tells the story in an engrossing, straightforward way, but stops along the way to give more details about Juanita's clothing, for example. A good bibliography and index accompany the book. Highly recommended!



Ice Maiden Of The Andes explains the discovery of a frozen Inca mummy on a mountain in Chile. A sturdy hardcover and part of a series (Time Travelers) about mummies intended for school libraries, this book would be a welcome addition to a classroom library or as part of a unit on researching the Ice Maiden. The book is well-organized and written in a lively manner by Buell. Photos are minimal, but there are enough to give the reader a good visual picture. A timeline, glossary, further reading, and index are added pluses.  For older readers, 9+. 


Discovering The Inca Ice Maiden by Johan Reinhard is filled with photographs (from the National Geographic Society; this is a National Geographic book)  which clearly illustrate in full color all of the stages in Juanita's discovery and scientific analysis. For children 10 and up.