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mummyPreserving a Mummy
by Brad Puffer

Mummies of the World | The High Mummies | Preserving a Mummy | Sarita's Land

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.

mummy 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.


Photos: (1,2) courtesy The Mountain Institute.

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