She was discovered in southern Peru in 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard. Also known as the Lady of Ampato and the Frozen Lady, Juanita was taken on tour in the United States in 1996 and in Japan in 1999 before she was returned to Peru.
The mummy was remarkably well-preserved after 500 years, making her one of the more important recent mummy finds; indeed, this discovery was chosen by Time magazine, in 1995, as one of the world's top ten discoveries.
According to Reinhard, when found in Mount Ampato (part of the Andes cordillera), the mummy weighed approximately 80 pounds. Reinhard and his partner then realized that the heavy body mass was due to freezing of the flesh. This preservation allowed biological tests to be run on the lung, liver, and muscle tissue. These offered new insights into Inca health and nutrition during the reign of the Sapa Inca Pachacuti.
Johan Reinhard had made various ascents in several mountain ranges, such as the Himalayas (in Nepal) and the Peruvian Andes. As an archaeologist, he had studied Machu Picchu, Chavín, and the Nazca Lines. He became very familiar with the Peruvian heights and the region's native inhabitants. He and his partner, Miguel Zárate, a guide from Arequipa, regularly climbed the mountains that were legendarily the homes of the Apus, mountain spirits that Peruvians have feared and worshipped since the time of the Inca.
In 1995, during an ascent of Mt. Ampato, Reinhard and Zarate found, inside the summit crater, a bundle that had fallen from an Inca site owing to melting caused by volcanic ash from the nearby volcano of Sabancaya. To their astonishment, the bundle turned out to contain a remarkably well-preserved mummy of a young girl. In addition, they found—strewn about the mountain slope down which the mummy had fallen&mdash many items that had been left as offerings to the Inca gods; these included statues and food items. A couple of days later, the mummy and the objects were taken to Arequipa. The mummy was initially kept in a special refrigerator.
The mummy caused a sensation in the scientific world due to its well-preserved condition. Between May and June of 1996, it was exhibited in the headquarters of National Geographic Society in Washington D.C., in a specially acclimatized conservation/display unit. In its June, 1996, issue, [[National Geographic]] included an article dedicated to the discovery of Juanita, and in 2005, Johan Reinhard published a detailed account in his book The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the Andes (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society). See pictures :http://thecolcaspecialist.blogspot.com/2009/06/pictures-of-snow-maiden-juanita.html
The young girl's body was taken to the United States and underwent a virtual autopsy in the laboratories of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. The mummy was subjected tomographies and X-ray examinations. Scientists reached the following conclusions:
she had died at the age of 14, between approximately 1440 and 1450;
she had had a stature of 1.40 meters;
she had weighed 80 pounds at the time of death;
she was slender in build and body shape;
she had not suffered of any illness;
she had had a perfect denture and strong bones;
she had had a good and well-balanced diet;
she had fasted one day before the sacrifice;
she had a 5cm fissure in the skull; and
she had died from blunt force trauma to the head
It is believed by some archaeologists that the Ice Maiden was in fact a human sacrifice to the Inca mountain god (Apus). The Ice Maiden was then buried by the Inca priests atop Mount Ampato (20,700 feet, or 6,309 m) in Peru, and left undisturbed until discovered by Johann Reinhard in 1995.
These discoveries seem to support the theory that during the Inca empire, human sacrifice rituals were still practiced, contrary to the common theories of some archaeologists and historians who deny it. Indeed the mummy was, in Reinhard's opinion, "a young sacrifice victim killed by Inca priests to appease the gods, especially the gods of the mountain." However, what indeed is indicated is that during this epoch, neither anthropophagy nor necrophagy were practiced; on the contrary, both were punished.
Konrad Spindler has said that Juanita is "the best conserved human being from America", adding that she is "the first woman found in Andes closer to Cuzco [...] she could have been from Cuzco and had arrived alive to the snowy mountains and then sacrificed in a couple".
The scientists of Maryland's Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) performed laboratory tests on Juanita's body and were able to recover the heart tissues of the young girl. These tests served to identify her DNA and compare it with the Human Genome Project.
The studies demonstrated that Juanita had a close relationship with the Ngoge tribe of Panama and with old Taiwanese and Korean races. During five years, those involved in the Human Genome Project had compiled samples of blood of every nation of Earth, allocating the groups of DNA geographically. According to that world sample, "the human race descended from the trees of northeast Africa and spread through all the corners of the world".
Juanita is now housed in the Museum of the Universidad Católica de Santa María of Arequipa, Peru. She is currently encased in a special glass box at a constantly cold temperature to continue preserving her body. The interior of the urn is kept at a temperature between -19.2 °C and -19.5 °C to avoid the dehydration of her body.
In the same museum are "Urpicha" (palomita, "little dove" in Spanish, a mummy found on the volcano Pichu Pichu of Arequipa); "Sarita" (found on the Sarasara volcano, between Arequipa and Ayacucho), and five other mummies found in El Misti volcano, also near Arequipa.