Juanita: The Lady of Ampato

The Beautiful Inca maiden


In the year 1446, a beautiful Inca girl had led a simple life as a peasant. But one day, an assembly of priests made a surprising visit to her house. Her parents were told that she had been selected to serve Apu, the Mountain God. The family had no choice but to obey. The 12-year old girl bid her parents farewell and was taken away.

For the next two years, the girl lived a life of luxury. She resided in a temple, attended by priestesses (acllas) who clothed her with the finest garments. They also fed her exquisite meals: llama meat, guinea pigs, corn, etc. Such elitist upbringing was complemented with a first-rate education. She often accompanied the priests, who mingled with rulers and other learned Empire officials. Other times, she assisted the priestesses in weaving textiles and brewing chicha de jora.

It was no coincidence that Juanita was embraced by the elite. She was incredibly beautiful. She had the facial features of a princess from an exotic land. The most powerful Lords may not have resisted her charms.

But one day, the Hamp’atu, a volcano adjoining her city, started fuming. She was seized by the priests and taken to the mountain’s peak.

An Astonishing Discovery

On September 18, 1995, Anthropologist Johan Reinhard visited the mountain Ampato (or Hamp’atu), in Arequipa, Southern Peru. The Sabancaya, a neighboring mountain peak, had registered some volcanic activity. Reinhard just wanted to shoot near-range photos of Sabancaya. Accompanied by Peruvian guide Miguel Zarate, Reinhard climbed Ampato’s summit (at 20 thousand feet altitude).

They both saw that Sabancaya’s heat and ashes had spread over Ampato’s layers, melting the ice cap. Reaching the peak, Reinhard glimpsed a colorful oval object among the icy rocks. After unburying the bundle, they found a frozen mummy. As an archeologist, Reinhard had escalated peaks all over the globe for 23 years. So far, he had found nothing.

After 23 years, Reinhard made the discovery of his life in a touristic expedition. And he only carried a photo camera at hand. Arrangements were made to transport the mummy to the United States for further investigation.

Johan Reinhard named the mummy «Juanita.»

The Lady of Ampato

During Inca times, volcanic activity was a bad omen: the Apu deity was furious. In order to appease His anger, a beautiful maid was offered as a sacrifice. This is what happened to Juanita. A day before the ritual, she was ordered to fast. Then, led by an entourage of priests and acllas, Juanita was taken to Ampato’s peak. During the climb, Juanita had consumed coca leaves and drank chicha de jora. By the time the ceremony started, she was heavily intoxicated. Then, the priest killed her by striking her head with an object.

Once in the United States, Juanita caused astonishment in the scientific world. Her body had been perfectly preserved after five centuries. She underwent a CT scan in John Hopkins University hospital and was analyzed by a team of specialists. Further genetic studies uncovered the reason for Juanita’s exotic beauty. Her genes had patterns that revealed links with ancient tribes of Taiwan and Korea.

In 1996, the prestigious National Geographic published a special edition about Juanita. That same year, she was exhibited in Washington D.C, where more than 100,000 people came to see her. Three years later, Juanita toured around Tokyo and also captivated Japanese audiences.

Time Magazine named Juanita as one of the world’s top ten discoveries.

Half a millennium later, Juanita’s mystical beauty prevailed. It still had the magic to astonish a former U.S president and, also, a Nobel Prize laureate. When President Bill Clinton saw her, he said: «If I were a single man, I might ask that mummy out. That’s a good-looking mummy!» But the most fascinated was Peruvian Nobel Prize Mario Vargas Llosa. The Nobel laureate wrote: «As soon as I saw her, I was moved; taken up by the beauty of Juanita. If it were not for what people might say, I would have stolen her and installed her in my house as if she were the mistress of my life.»

Juanita is currently exhibited in the «Santuarios Andinos» museum in Arequipa. Her body is maintained in a controlled chamber for further preservation. Despite the years, Juanita keeps captivating world audiences. The museum director said that Juanita is visited by more than 80,000 tourists per year. In touristic season, more than 12,000 tourists show up every month.𝔖

Image Source: Andina

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