Frozen, Mummified "Ice Maiden" Discovered

On this day in 1995, anthropologist Dr. Johan Reinhard discovered the well-preserved frozen mummy of a sacrificed 15th-century Inca girl known as the Ice Maiden. The mummy was found on Mount Ampato, in the Andes, where Reinhard led expeditions from 1992-1996. The find is considered of a great scientific importance due to the nearly perfect condition of the mummy with the girl’s internal organs virtually intact.

The Ice Maiden was once a young Inca girl, who was killed in her early teens by a violent blow to her head. She was buried on the summit of present-day Peru’s Mount Ampato as a ritual sacrifice to the mountain god to ensure rain for crops and protection from natural disasters. In the Inca culture, such human sacrifice was a great honour as, upon death, the sacrificed person entered the realm of the gods.

Mount Ampato, at 6,310 metres, is one of the highest peaks of the Andes running along the west coast of South America. Prior to the discovery, the spewing of ash from a nearby volcano melted Ampato’s snowcap, and caused an avalanche to slip down from the summit, thus exposing the cloth-wrapped mummy on the ice. Near her were artifacts including textile fragments, pottery shards, and a doll-like shell figurine, as well as llama bones and corn. Reinhard went on to discover further Inca human sacrifices at high altitude sites across the Andes, but none captured the public imagination like the Ice Maiden–even TIME magazine named the discovery one of the most important of 1995.

A year after she was recovered, the Ice Maiden traveled to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland to be examined. She was considered to have been healthy at the time of her death, with fine teeth, and it appeared that her final meal had consisted of vegetables. After Baltimore the Ice Maiden was displayed to the public at the National Geographic Society and later in Japan. She now rests in the climate-controlled Museo Santuarios Andinosin, in Arequipa, Peru alongside her clothes, leather slippers, and ornaments.