Preserving a frozen mummy is no easy task. There is no manual to turn to, and
few individuals have experience in this area. The handling of each new
discovery must rely on suggestions from others or the instincts of the moment.
In September of 1995, when Dr. Johan Reinhard discovered "Juanita" on Mt. Ampato in Peru, he knew the
potential importance of his find - a perfectly preserved 500-year old Incan
human sacrifice. Standing at over 20,000 feet, and pondering his next step,
Reinhard knew that it would be critically important to keep the mummy frozen
all the way back to a freezer at Catholic University in Arequipa. He knew
that any thawing could permanently damage this 500-year old treasure. But
removing her safely would be fraught with difficulties. Reinhard strapped
Juanita onto his pack for the hike back to high camp—1,500 feet below. But
with the air very thin, their bodies weak from lack of food, darkness
approaching, and an extremely tough climb ahead, Reinhard and his climbing
partner, Miguel Zárate, could not carry Juanita back to their high camp.
Instead, they were forced to leave her nestled between two ice pinnacles.
Early the next morning, Reinhard went back for the mummy while Zarate brought
their equipment down to base camp at 16,300 feet. Zarate then climbed back up
to meet Reinhard, took Juanita from him, and carefully cradled the 80-pound
mummy in his arms all the way down to base camp. At base camp the burro driver
helped strap the mummy on for the remainder of the slow decent. Worried about
the possibility of Juanita beginning to thaw as they reached lower altitudes,
Reinhard wrapped her in his sleeping bag for insulation. The temperature in
the sleeping bag hovered around freezing for most of the thirteen-hour journey
to the nearest village. And as fortune would have it, they spent their hours
of hiking at low altitude in the cool evening. Two days after discovering
Juanita, they reached the mountain village of Cabanaconde.
Now they worried not only about protecting Juanita, but about possible theft
of the valuable artefacts collected on the summit. The night bus back to
Arequipa would be risky for this reason. But time was their enemy—and
Juanita needed to be cared for—soon. So Miguel Zárate decided to bring
Juanita back alone on the overnight bus, while Reinhard stayed behind with the
artefacts. Zarate made it, and Juanita reached Arequipa the next morning. The
sleeping bag had protected Juanita well. Archaeologist Dr. José Antonio
Chavez of Catholic University reported that there had been minimal thawing.
Reinhard was relieved. He knew the consequences if Juanita had thawed too much
- the possiblity of rapid fungi growth and contamination. But because of
their tireless efforts, Juanita's body had remained almost as frozen as she had
been on the summit of Mt. Ampato.