Five centuries ago, in the waning years of the Inca empire in Peru, a girl with long black hair and a graceful neck, dressed in fine alpaca wool, knelt on a cold, windswept summit in the Andes. She was in the presence of Inca priests and surrounded by offerings of pottery, coca leaves and golden figurines.
As she bent her head, a powerful blow was delivered, cracking her skull above the right eye and causing death by intercranial bleeding - one more ritual sacrifice of a virgin to the mountain god of Nevada Ampato.That is the conclusion of scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore after their post-mortem examination of a mummy discovered last September in the ice on the 20,700-foot Mount Ampato, near Arequipa, Peru. The well-preserved remains of the girl were naturally mummified in the arid, freezing environment and had been entombed in ice.
The scientists described their findings in telephone interviews Tuesday and at a news conference in Washington, where the still-frozen mummy went on display at the National Geographic Society. The mummy, enclosed in a refrigeration unit, will remain on exhibit through June 19 and will then be returned to Peru for further scientific study.
Last week, scientists at Johns Hopkins conducted a computerized tomagraphy (C.T.) examination of the mummy, producing 670 images of the bones, organs and other internal structures of the body. This revealed the crack in the skull and a leftward displacement of the brain, which the examiners said was clear evidence that the girl had died from a blow to the head.
"The cause of death was intercranial bleeding," said Dr. Elliot Fishman, a radiologist at Johns Hopkins.
Fishman said the girl probably never regained consciousness from the blow but might have lived several hours before dying in the burial pit. Observations of the position of the feet indicate that the girl was probably kneeling when struck, he said, and the posture suggested that her head was bent forward at the time.
The examiners found that otherwise the girl seemed to be in excellent health. She was probably 12 to 14 years old. Her bones showed no obvious signs of malnutrition. "She had the best set of teeth that I've seen in some time," Fishman said.
Biopsies of bone, muscle and other tissue specimens confirmed that the girl had enjoyed good nutrition and had healthy, mature bones, said Dr. Edward McCarthy, a paleopathologist at Johns Hopkins.
The mummy, buried in a sitting position, was discovered by Dr. Johan Reinhard, a research associate at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and at the Mountain Institute in Franklin, W.Va., and Miguel Zarate, a Peruvian mountaineer. A second trip to the top of Mount Ampato, a dormant volcano, yielded the frozen bodies of two more human sacrifices, though they were in poorer condition than the Ampato maiden.
Dr. Konrad Spinder, an Austrian scientist who examined the mummy, said it was much better preserved than the 5,000-year-old "Iceman" found a few years earlier in the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border.
Specialists in textiles were especially impressed with the fine alpaca wool of the girl's garments.