Monday, 3 November 2008

Frozen Inca Mummy Goes On Display

The mummy of an ancient Inca girl sits literally frozen in sleep at a museum in Argentina. The mummy, called La Doncella or The Maiden, is that of a teenage girl who died more than 500 years ago in a ritual sacrifice in the Andes Mountains. The girl and two other children were left on a mountaintop to succumb to the cold as offerings to the gods, according to the archaeologists who found the mummified remains in Argentina in 1999. National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard, who co-led the expedition, described the discovery at the time as "the best preserved of any mummy I've seen."

The High Country Archaeological Museum in Salta, Argentina, unveiled La Doncella, the oldest of the three victims, for its first public viewing on September 6, 2008. The museum is displaying the mummy in a refrigerated, low-oxygen environment to reproduce the high-altitude conditions that allowed for its remarkable, natural preservation. The mummies of the other two children remain in storage for further study, museum officials said.

A close look reveals the stunning preservation of La Doncella, the naturally mummified body of a teenage Inca girl on display in an Argentine museum.

The discovery of La Doncella and two other mummified children on a mountaintop in Argentina in 1999 revealed rich details of ancient Inca life, such as the girl's finely braided hair, said anthropologist Johan Reinhard, who co-led the expedition that made the find. In this regard, La Doncella even rivals Reinhard's previous discovery: a frozen mummy dubbed the Ice Maiden that he and a colleague found on a Peruvian peak in 1995.

"The discovery of the three mummies [in 1999] … was the highlight of my life, or certainly [of] my work in the Andes," Reinhard told National Geographic News in 2005. "These mummies were far better preserved … than the Ice Maiden."

Argentina's Llullaillaco volcano, where the frozen bodies of three mummified Inca children were found in 1999, towers to some 22,100 feet (6,700 meters).

The excavation of the mummies at the mountain's peak was the world's highest archaeological dig, according to anthropologist Johan Reinhard.

An archaeologist unwraps the frozen mummy of La Doncella on a mountain in Argentina in 1999.
La Doncella was found dressed in a ceremonial tunic and adorned with a headpiece, tokens of her new status as a messenger to the heavens. The girl had also drunk corn liquor, likely to put her to sleep, scientists say, and her mouth still held fragments of coca leaves, which the Inca chewed to lessen the effects of altitude sickness.

Archaeologists carry the 500-year-old mummies of three Inca children down Argentina's Llullaillaco volcano in 1999.

The researchers wrapped the frozen bodies in layers of plastic, snow, and foam insulation to keep them cold and maintain their exquisite preservation. The mummies were taken to the city of Salta for study, where one of them is now on display for the first time at a local museum.

Three figurines festooned with colorful feathers and woven garments were found alongside the bodies of La Doncella and two fellow victims at the top of an Andean volcano. The three Inca children were left to freeze to death as a sacrifice to the gods, anthropologist Johan Reinhard said. "[They] weren't being sacrificed to feed the gods,"
Reinhard told National Geographic News in 2005. "They were being sacrificed to enter into the realm of the gods. It was considered a great honor. "These children didn't die in the sense that we think: They went to live in a paradise with the gods. … It was a transition into a better life, one that these children were greatly honored [to have]."

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