...until 1995, when archaeologist Johan Reinhard and Miguel Zarate discovered her.
Nearly 500 years old, Juanita the "Ice Maiden" is preserved today at the Museo Santuarios Andinos here in Arequipa. We went to see her on my most recent "Be a Tourist Day."
She is considered to be one of the most important archaeological finds in South America in recent years, mainly because she was so well preserved.
Only 13 years old, Juanita was sacrificed to the Incan gods atop the volcano Mount Ampato, 20,932 feet above sea level (shown in the photo below). She remained frozen under a layer of snow and ice, until a nearby volcano began to erupt in 1990, melting the ice that had kept her hidden.
Fatefully, experienced archaeologist Reinhard and mountaineer Zarate came upon Juanita before any treasure hunters did. It took them 64 hours to take her down from the mountain and into Arequipa, fighting against time to keep this piece of history preserved.
All the clothing and offerings that accompanied her sacrifice are well preserved in the museum. There are gold and silver figurines, 500-year-old Incan textiles, offerings of corn and coca leaves and other articles--all in great condition.
One of the tourists I was with asked if they eventually plan to return Juanita to her sacred resting place after studying her, out of respect for the Incan traditions. The guide answered that her body would surely be destroyed by the mountain or by treasure hunters, and she was safer in Arequipa. I thought it was a worthwhile question.