On our first day in Arequipa we had two goals: see Juanita, the 12-year old Inca ice princess recently found near a glacier and find a toasted bagel with cream cheese for our 12-year old daughter. Our daughter is keeping a list of the foods that she misses most from home and a toasted bagel with cream cheese is high on the list. Among other things, she has “drink tap water,” “eat real pancakes with real maple syrup,” “eat real cheese” (those of you from France, you can lower that supercilious eyebrow now) and “eat clean and big strawberries.” We went to a place that our guidebook described as a “Starbucks-style” coffee house searching for that elusive bagel, but had no luck. After eating a tasty lunch, we visited Juanita.
Juanita is the frozen body of an Inca girl who lived to be approximately 12-14 years old and she died sometime between 1440 and 1450. She was discovered on Mount Ampato (part of the Andes cordillera) in Southern Peru in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner Miguel Zarate. Juanita was remarkably well-preserved after 500 years, due to being encased in a glacier for most of that time. In September 1995, during an ascent of Mt. Ampato (20,700 ft), Reinhard and Zárate found a bundle inside the crater that had fallen from an Inca site on the summit. Owing to melting caused by volcanic ash from the eruption of nearby volcano of Sabancaya, most of the Inca burial site had collapsed down a gully that led into the crater. To their astonishment, the bundle turned out to contain a remarkably well-preserved body of a young girl. In addition, they found—strewn about the mountain slope down which the body had fallen— many items that had been left as offerings to the Inca gods; these included statues and food items. A couple of days later, the body and the objects were taken to Arequipa. The body caused a sensation in the scientific world due to its well-preserved condition.
Pointing out the similarities in gender and age to our daughter, we learned about what her life could have been like as Juanita. We summarized the advantages: she would be buried with expensive artifacts and jewelry, could wear a very expensive vicuña wool garment and spend eternity with the gods. As for the disadvantages, well, there’s the death thing. During the height of the Inca Empire, sacrifices were common as way to appease the mountain gods who controlled nature. Children from all over the empire were gathered for selection in Cusco and only the most beautiful, innocent and perfect child would be chosen for the honor of going to live with the gods.
We visited Juanita at the Museo Santury on a beautiful spring day in Arequipa and she was in pretty good shape for a young girl over 500 years old. While her skin was a leathery brown, her hair was shiny and black and pulled into a tight pony-tail. The right side of her face is slightly marred due to a couple of weeks of sun exposure (the time between being jarred loose from the glacier and being discovered). For half the year she sits in the fetal position in a refrigerated glass case in Arequipa; the other half of the year she is on tour.
Anthropologists and historians have deduced that Juanita and the presiding priests walked 150 miles from Cusco and climbed the chilly Ampato volcano for the sacrificial rites. At the summit, she would have been extremely cold and was probably given a libation that put her to sleep. When the ceremony was over, she was struck with one precise blow just above the right eye that killed her instantly.
After learning all this, my daughter respectfully declined consideration for the role of sacrificial virgin. We decided to go hunt for the toasted bagel and cream cheese instead.