Over 500 years ago, a teenage Inca girl died during a ritual sacrifice high in the Andes Mountains in present-day Peru.
Now, an artist has created a reconstruction of what the so-called “Inca Ice Maiden” might have looked like when she was still alive. Archaeologists unveiled the lifelike silicone bust this week at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa, Peru. It’s now on display as part of a temporary exhibition at the museum, where the mummy is also housed.
Archaeologists discovered the mummy—also nicknamed “Juanita” and “Lady of Ampato”—in 1995 on the towering Ampato volcano northwest of Arequipa. Though the girl’s colorful alpaca wool robes, dark hair, teeth and fingernails were well-preserved, her face had been exposed to the elements and had largely disappeared.
Since then, researchers have been studying the girl’s remains to learn more about her life. They think she was between 13 and 15 years old, dying sometime between 1440 and 1450 C.E. She was roughly 4-foot-6 in and weighed around 77 pounds.
From a CT scan of the mummy, they were able to glean the cause of death: a fatal blow to the head.
Oscar Nilsson, a sculptor and archaeologist in Sweden who specializes in facial reconstructions, used this information to help envision what the girl looked like in life. All told, Nilsson estimates he spent around 400 hours carefully modeling her face, reports Franklin Briceño for the Associated Press (AP).
“Seeing her face like when she was alive, it’s a different experience because it seems so real,” says archaeologist Johan Reinhard, who was part of the team that discovered the mummy in 1995, to Reuters’ Pocho Torres and Carlos Valdez.
Archaeologists think the girl was sacrificed during an Inca ritual called capacocha.
“Capacocha mostly involved the sacrifice of children and animals who were offered to the gods in response to natural disasters, to consolidate state power in far-flung provinces of the Inca Empire or simply to please the deities,” writes National Geographic’s Erin Blakemore.
Archaeologists say the girl’s community likely considered her selection an honor. Because they found ash nearby, they suspect she may have been sacrificed after a volcanic eruption.
Researchers have found the remains of more than a dozen Inca human sacrifices in the Andes, including three child mummies on top of the Llullaillaco volcano at the Chile-Argentina border.
Testing later revealed that one of the children, a 13-year-old girl, was heavily sedated at the time of her death. In the months leading up to their sacrifice, all three children had consumed alcohol and coca leaves—substances that were typically reserved for the Inca elite.