The Incan Mountain Mummy, Mamia Juanita

This story is part of our Mummy Stories collaboration with students of Dr Katie Clary from Coastal Carolina University in the USA. Find out more here:

I had always been weary of genetic testing as a tool for uncovering ancestry. My mind was flooded with concerns about accuracy, about what my genetic data would be worth to a nefarious company, and even if my private health information could be leaked to hackers. Clearly, these same issues were not a concern for my mother as last Christmas she decided that she wanted to uncover the secrets of our family’s origins through the use of one of these DNA analysis services. Our ancestry had been somewhat of a mystery to our family; my father had never known his own father and he barely knew his mother’s family origins. It was a similar situation on my mother’s side, she knew much about her matrilineal line of Italian immigrants, but she also did not know the origins of her own father.

After collecting a few specimens from the insides of my cheeks and waiting about two months, we discovered something quite interesting. Apparently, my family on my mother’s side was related to indigenous Peruvians in South America. The DNA analysis showed that four generations back we see our most recent Peruvian ancestor. Not only did this ancestry test show that we were of Peruvian descent, but it told us that we were genetically related to the siblings of the most famous mummy in Peru, an Incan girl given the name Momia Juanita (Mummy Juanita).

Discovered in 1995, Momia Juanita was a girl born in the 15th century in the Incan Highlands.[1] The nature of her burial and analysis of her body indicated that she was likely sacrificed as a part of a ritual called “Capacocha.”[2]Archaeologists believe that she was between the ages of 12 and 15 when she died. [3] The Incan civilization did not practice ritual mummification, but her body was preserved as she was buried in ice heaps on the top of the dormant volcano, Ampato.[4] Researchers found that within the last year of her dying, her diet had changed significantly which reflects the accepted theory that she was in fact a ritual sacrifice.[5] After the ice she was buried in melted, her grave site was uncovered and she was found with several other artifacts.

Little is known about the reality of human sacrifice rituals in the new world, as the mere existence of these rituals were utilized by the Spanish and Portuguese as a way to dehumanize the indigenous peoples occupying the lands they wished to conquer. The conquistadors often dramatized these rituals in an attempt to justify their own harsh conquests.[6]What we do know from archaeological evidence is that when prisoners of war were not available to be sacrificed, communities would often sacrifice their own members. Momia Juanita was well fed for at least a year prior to the ritual.[7] There is also evidence to show that she was sedated before the person performing the sacrifice struck her with a blunt force object to the head.[8] In the modern world, we do recognize that these sacrifices were brutal and ultimately unnecessary for the success of their civilization; the propagandization of these rituals perpetuated by colonial powers would do much more harm to the Incans than any single sacrifice truly did.

I believe that where she rests now, is where she belongs.

The body of Momia Juanita is currently being held at the Museo Santuarios Andinos, a part of the Universidad Católica de Santa María in Peru. The exhibit is on display to the public, her body is adjacent to the various other artifacts found around the tomb.[9] The exhibition room is quite small, and only displays about nine other Incan artifacts. I wonder how differently she would have been showcased if her body was discovered only one hundred years prior. I presume that many enterprising archaeologists (if they made this discovery) would have sent her away to Paris, New York or London to fill out a sensational exhibition on Incan culture. I believe that where she rests now, is where she belongs.


Brandon Peck is an undergraduate at Coastal Carolina University, currently studying History and Anthropology.



Gabbert, Wolfgang. “Human Sacrifice, Ritualised Violence and the Colonial Encounter in the Americas.” Chapter. In The Cambridge World History of Violence, edited by Robert Antony, Stuart Carroll, and Caroline Dodds Pennock, 3:96–116. The Cambridge World History of Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. doi:10.1017/9781316340592.006.

Mingren, Wu Dhwty. “Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden.” Ancient Origins. Ancient Origins, March 25, 2018.

[1] .Wu Dhwty Mingren, “Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden,” Ancient Origins (Ancient Origins, March 25, 2018), [2] Ibid. [3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Wolfgang Gabbert, “Human Sacrifice, Ritualised Violence and the Colonial Encounter in the Americas.” Chapter. In The Cambridge World History of Violence, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2020 [7] Wu Dhwty Mingren, “Mummy Juanita: The Sacrifice of the Inca Ice Maiden” [8] Ibid. [9]