The must-see attraction for visitors to Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) in Arequipa, Peru is without a doubt the Mummy Juanita, one of the world’s best-preserved corpses.
Her full head of dark hair is still intact and the skin on her hands and arms, discolouration aside, shows almost no decay. The mummy’s discoverer, Johan Reinhard, even made note of just how perfectly the mummy’s skin had been preserved, “down to visible hairs.”
As peaceful as she looks — a far cry from some of the more ghastly mummies that researchers have discovered —Juanita’s life was a short one that ended with her being sacrificed to the Inca gods.
Scientists estimate that Juanita was between 12 and 15 years old when she died as part of capacocha, a sacrificial rite among the Inca that involved the deaths of children.Translated as “royal obligation,” capacocha was the Inca’s attempt at ensuring that the best and healthiest among them were sacrificed to appease the gods, often as a way to stop a natural disaster or ensure a healthy harvest. Considering that Juanita’s body was discovered atop Ampato, a volcano in the Andes, her sacrifice very likely played into the Inca’s mountain worship.
Preparation For Death
Juanita’s life prior to her selection for human sacrifice probably wasn’t all that unusual. Her days leading up to her death, however, were very different from the lifestyle of a typical Inca girl. Scientists were able to use DNA from Juanita’s well-preserved hair to create a timeline of those days and deduce what her diet was like before capacocha.
Markers in her hair indicate that she was selected for sacrifice about a year before her actual death and switched from a standard Inca diet of potatoes and vegetables to the more elite foods of animal protein and maze, along with large quantities of coca and alcohol.
As Andrew Wilson, a forensic and archaeological expert, explained to National Geographic, the final six to eight weeks of life of Inca child sacrifices were one of a very intoxicated psychological state altered by the chemical reaction of coca and chicha alcohol.
Thus archaeologists believe that upon Juanita’s death, she was likely in a very docile and relaxed state. While the Incas would eventually perfect this drug mixture — which, coupled with the mountainous high altitudes, would cause the child sacrifices to fall into a permanent sleep — Juanita wasn’t so lucky.