The reconstructed head and torso of Peru’s most famous mummy was revealed in a ceremony Tuesday, unveiling what experts believe the teen girl might have looked like when she was alive.
Produced by a team of Polish and Peruvian scientists who worked with a Swedish sculptor specializing in facial reconstructions, the silicone-made bust portraying the teen girl with pronounced cheekbones, black eyes and tanned skin was presented in a ceremony at the Andean Sanctuaries Museum of the Catholic University of Santa Maria in Arequipa, The Associated Press reported.
National Geographic explorer Johan Reinhard first discovered the well-preserved mummy, dubbed the “Ice Maiden of Ampato” or “Juanita,” at an altitude of about 19,685 feet, near the summit of the dormant Ampato volcano during a 1995 expedition of the Andes. It is believed the girl likely was sacrificed in the Andes Mountains more than 500 years ago in a ritual meant to appease the Incan gods
The mummified girl, believed to have been around 13 to 15 years old when she was killed, had her hair, fingernails and colorful robe worn on her last day mostly preserved, but her face had weathered away with time by the time she was found, according to National Geographic.
“I thought I’d never know what her face looked like when she was alive,” U.S. archeologist Reinhard told the AP. “Now 28 years later, this has become a reality thanks to Oscar Nilsson’s reconstruction.”
Experts used digital scans of the mummy and other painstaking archeological and forensic analysis to bring her face back and construct the bust replica to be included in a new museum exhibit in the Andes. Scientists believe the girl was sacrificed with a blow to the head in a ritual ceremony seeking divine relief from natural disasters amid the Incan Empire’s rule that extended across western South America along the Pacific coast and Andean highland until the Spanish invaded in 1532, according to Reuters.
Nilsson, a Swedish archaeologist and sculptor who specializes in 3D facial reconstructions of ancient humans, told the AP that it took him “about 400 hours of work” to model the face.
Dagmara Socha, a Polish bioarchaeologist at the University of Warsaw’s Center for Andean Studies, said at the ceremony that the first step in achieving Juanita’s face was “to obtain a replica of the skull.”
Then “body scans, DNA studies, ethnological characteristics, age, complexion” were used in the facial reconstruction, the university said in a statement.
Anthropological studies say Juanita was sacrificed between A.D. 1440 and 1450. She was 55 inches tall, weighed 77 pounds and was well nourished. The probable cause of death was a severe blow to the right occipital lobe, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University who performed a CT scan.
Reinhard, who has uncovered more than 14 Inca human sacrifices high in the Andes, including three children in an icy pit at Argentina’s Llullaillaco volcano, said scientists have been investigating aspects of Juanita’s life, such as her diet and the objects found next to her.
“These findings have helped us better understand her life and the Inca culture,” he said. “Now we can see what she really looked like, which makes her even more alive.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.