Mummy Series: Inca Mountain Mummies

Found in tombs in various parts of the world, a mummy is a dead body whose skin and organs have been preserved either by natural or man-made processes. It could have been preserved on purpose or just because of the conditions where the person died.

  • The artificial mummification process is still not known completely, meaning if the body was mummified by being treated or dried with some product
  • Natural mummification would be due to windy, dry mountain air, desert air, and/or freezing temperatures. A desert, bog, or arid mountain terrain would be a perfect setting for natural mummification.

An example of a natural process would be the case of the Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden, a body found mummified in the frozen mountains of Peru.

History of the Inca Mummies of Peru

Incan mummies date back to 1438 to 1532 during the reign of the Inca Empire.  Both artificial (man made) and natural mummies have been found from that era.

Inca Mummies
Inca Mummies / Incan Mummies / Inca Ice Mummy Tombs

Peruvian mummy at the Carmo Convent (Lisbon) 

Three Types of Mummy Tombs

There are three very basic types of mummies found in Peru. First is the logical division between the rich and slave classes, but what we might term a third class also exists:

    1. Mummies of a ruler, which is usually a king or prince, was one class.
    2. The second type was mummies of people that were sacrificed.
    3. The third type of mummies were from the “Cloud People”


Peruvian Mummy Tombs
Inca Mummies / Incan Mummies / Inca Ice Mummy Tombs

Peruvian mummy from Nazca, Peru

Tombs of the Ruling Class?

When a ruler died, he supposedly would be dressed in fine royal clothing with gold and silver on his chest, mouth, and hands.

He actually would be positioned on a throne with his knees up to his chest and his arms across his chest.hands.

It is interesting that, to this day, a lot of the resting places of Inca rulers have not been found. Their tombs were presumably in Cuzco, Peru.

What happened? Apparently, during their search for gold, the Spanish conquerors robbed these tombs and ordered the bodies of the rulers to be destroyed and burned.

Was this to cover up their grave robbing? Who knows. But in any case, the traces of the history of many known rulers have been erased from the archeological records.

Mummy Tombs of the Lower Classes?

The mummies of sacrifices of people of the lower castes are usually found in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. Children that were sacrificed used the natural mummification process. Juanita, the Ice Maiden is an awesome example.

Incan Mummies
Inca Mummies / Incan Mummies / Inca Ice Mummy Tombs

Hands of Juanita, the “Ice Maiden,” Peru

Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden

In 1995 on top of Mount Ampato close to Arequipa, Peru, a twelve-to-fourteen year old girl was found who had been hidden in the snow for five hundred years!
Archeologists knew she had been sacrificed rather than died a natural death because two other bodies were next to hers along with offerings to the gods. Juanita, the Inca Ice Maiden, is the best preserved mummy found to date. Unfortunately, Juanita’s mummy may be lost after lasting for so many years untouched. Due to the extensive testing of researchers, the passage of time, and the stress of the mummy being taken from country to country, Juanita has started to deteriorate no matter how much advanced technology is being applied to preserve her.

Other Inca mummies found recently here in Peru have been also in great physical shape with little deterioration. Some even have their internal organs along with well preserved burial items. The manner of burial and the accompanying relics help to explain the religious beliefs, cultures, and traditions of the area in which they have been found

The Cloud People – Peruvian Mummy Tombs

There is one other interesting class of mummies, the Cloud People in Northern Peru.
They were first brought to light in 1996 from mummy tombs that were nearly five hundred years old. Why were they termed the “cloud people mummies”? The reason they received their name was because the discovery was made in a cloud-covered forest in the Peruvian Andes.

Because of vandals from years ago, some of the wrappings destroyed parts of the body and wrappings.  The mummification process was not known. The internal organs were removed and the skin was embalmed and they chose one of the driest places in the jungle to preserve the bodies. X

To learn more about Inca ice mummies, please visit NOVA, National Geographic, Burlington News , and the Guardian.

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