Frozen Inca Mummy Goes on Display

Known as La Doncella, the mummy sits literally frozen in sleep.

The mummy of an ancient Inca girl sits literally frozen in sleep at a museum in Argentina.

The mummy, called La Doncella or The Maiden, is that of a teenage girl who died more than 500 years ago in a ritual sacrifice in the Andes Mountains.

The girl and two other children were left on a mountaintop to succumb to the cold as offerings to the gods, according to the archaeologists who found the mummified remains in Argentina in 1999.

La Doncella was found dressed in a ceremonial tunic and adorned with a headpiece, tokens of her new status as a messenger to the heavens. The girl had also drunk corn liquor, likely to put her to sleep, scientists say, and her mouth still held fragments of coca leaves, which the Inca chewed to lessen the effects of altitude sickness.

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard, who co-led the expedition, described the discovery at the time as "the best preserved of any mummy I've seen." (National Geographic News is a division of the National Geographic Society.)

The discovery of La Doncella revealed rich details of ancient Inca life, such as the girl's finely braided hair, said Reinhard. In this regard, La Doncella even rivals Reinhard's previous discovery: a frozen mummy dubbed the Ice Maiden that he and a colleague found on a Peruvian peak in 1995.

"The discovery of the three mummies [in 1999] … was the highlight of my life, or certainly [of] my work in the Andes," Reinhard told National Geographic News in 2005. "These mummies were far better preserved … than the Ice Maiden."

The High Country Archaeological Museum in Salta, Argentina, unveiled La Doncella, the oldest of the three victims, for its first public viewing on September 6.

The museum is displaying the mummy in a refrigerated, low-oxygen environment to reproduce the high-altitude conditions that allowed for its remarkable, natural preservation.

The mummies of the other two children remain in storage for further study, museum officials said.