Main | Story Previews

Johan Reinhard is featured in "Iron Man of the Andes" in the January/February 2000 ADVENTURE.

related web-sites
small arrowAndes Expedition: Searching for Inca Secrets
Click through a virtual autopsy of the Inca Ice Maiden mummy. Or return to the peaks of South America with Reinhard.

small arrowDr. Johan Reinhard's Journeys
Reinhard's home page offers images from expeditions, links, classroom exercises, and more.

small arrowExplorers' Bookmarks: Johan Reinhard
Find out where he surfs the Web.

small arrowThree Inca Mummies Found on Volcano in Argentina
See National Geographic's multimedia press release on the 1999 find.

small arrowWebcast: The Mummies of Peru
Listen to Reinhard's 1997 lecture at National Geographic Society headquarters.

related products
small arrowKids Book: Discovering the Inca Ice Maiden
Reinhard recounts his breakthrough discovery. (Preview this book.)

November 1999

Reinhard's article "Frozen in Time" features jaw-dropping photos of the latest mummies.

January 1997

See Reinhard's "Sharp Eyes of Science Probe the Mummies of Peru."

June 1996

Get Reinhard's blockbuster story of "Peru's Ice Maidens."

March 1992

Reinhard served as photographer and writer for "Sacred Peaks of the Andes."

q and a
Johan Reinhard
Anthropologist and "Inca Mummy Man"
Age: 55
Home: Franklin, West Virginia
Time Spent at Home: Four Months a Year
Favorite Place: The Himalaya
    "Nobody makes frozen-mummy freezers!"

It's no great surprise that Johan Reinhard reveres Richard Burton ("the explorer not the actor") for his "intellectual curiosity combined with physical action." Athleticism plus intellect, after all, is the formula for Reinhard's own success.

In a time of exploration by electronic proxy, Reinhard's a guy who goes there: diving for artifacts on the bottom of Lake Titicaca, searching for lost tribes of the Himalaya, and, most famously, wresting frozen Inca mummies from the world's highest archaeological sites.

  What do you think went through the heads of Inca children who had been selected for sacrifice?

A fear of the unknown and a desire that someone else had been selected. Yet this fear would have been coupled with a certain pride and a firm belief that they were joining the gods.

  What's your recipe for leadership?

Listen and be fair, and make the reasons for actions clear to all.

  The article says you spend your evenings apart from the expedition. Why?

As expedition leader, at the end of the day I need time to write up notes, think over strategy, examine/clean gear (still and video cameras, a computer, etc.), recharge batteries (both material and human), and make calls and send/receive e-mail. Plus, I often work with the same team members, and know them well. Evenings are when they need downtime.

  Have you ever feared for your life?

I've had a number of close calls. They proved to me that if a person isn't very smart (and he couldn't be if he's had as many close calls as I have), he'd sure better be lucky.

  Do you ever long for the settled life?

After every expedition! But I soon return to my senses.

  Do you worry that your finds will lure more looters to the high Andes?

Yes, but I know that the publicity also makes it more likely that the sites will be scientifically excavated and the finds preserved for future generations. Many of these sites have already been looted, and looting will increase irrespective of publicity: People in the Andes are desperate for ways to make money, and mountain climbing is becoming more common.

  Are people still making offerings to the mountains?

Yes. Many indigenous people make simple offerings—coca leaves, foods, herbs, special objects you can buy in a local market—on a regular basis. And in some areas major pilgrimages are undertaken on special occasions to worship the mountains.

  How do you answer critics who claim that you're disturbing the dead or disrespecting other cultures?

All the high-altitude sites will eventually be looted, so the alternative to excavation is losing the remains forever. Through scientific excavations, we document how the various items fit together and preserve them. Also, we work with local people, who want these places excavated, to save their cultural heritage. Disrespect would be to allow the sites to be destroyed, to stand against the customs and wishes of the local culture.

  Once excavated, how are the mummies stored?

They are kept in museums and labs in cities close to where they were found. We place them in freezers, with temperature and relative humidity controlled. Initially, the freezers are standard ones for foods, as nobody makes frozen-mummy freezers! But for long-term storage and exhibitions, specially built climate-controlled units, with alarms, computer monitoring, etc., are necessary.

  Have your experiences with ancient and far-flung faiths affected your own beliefs?

They have led me to be more tolerant and respectful of different religions and also to try to take the best from them.

  You're known for having a short fuse, according to the article. Is that a fair characterization?

Only relating to a few hot-button issues—or so I like to think. Otherwise, I think I have a very long fuse. If, as rarely occurs, the fuse leads to an explosion, it is usually over quickly and leaves no craters.

  What has been your greatest reward?

Having new insights into the past while discovering unique objects. Seeing the positive results of so many years of work, especially the pleasure it has given many of my friends. And seeing how excited children get about the discoveries.

  What's left for you to accomplish?

I once listed all the projects I wanted to do, and it hit me that I could never do them all, even if I had all the money in the world and lived to be a hundred. But I would still like to write a couple more books, finish my research on sacred mountains in the Himalaya, conduct underwater archaeology in Indonesia, and... finish this [interview].


Photograph by Johan Reinhard; portrait by Robert Clark


bottom nav line
bottom nav line ngadventure