Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Museo Santuarios Andinos – Sanctuary Museum and Cusco Coffee Company.

We are running late and although we had wanted to go to one of the other churches in the city for mass at 10 am, we had to go to the cathedral again for the 11 o clock service. Luck was with us and the Cardinal from Arequipa conducted the mass. It was very formal and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. From there we went to tour the Sanctuary Museum. Officially known as the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria Museo Santuarios Andinos, the Sanctuary Museum, is indeed a sanctuary dedicated to the preserved mummified remains of a young Inca girl and the artifacts found at her “grave”. Although there are other exhibits specializing in the Incan culture and there are other mummies, the most famous and talked about one in the collection is the “ice princess” Juanita. The frozen body of the girl is only on display between May and December and then she is stored in a dark vault in an attempt to prolong the state of her body which is now in a state of decay. Her remains are thought to be around 500 years old when she was found by climbers at the summit of the volcano Ampato in 1995. She was reckoned to be between 12 – 14 years of age when she was sacrificed in a ritual at the top of the volcano as part of an offering to appease the gods. Discovered in almost perfect condition in September 1995 after the eruption of the nearby Sabancaya Volcano melted ice on the peak, she is now kept at the university where her remains are being studied by a team of scientists. Because her body was so well preserved by the glaciers, mitochondrial studies of her DNA have been possible, telling scientists not just about her health at the time of death but also her genealogy and how possibly other Incas lived, ate and the type of bacteria and viruses that affected them. All of this is narrated at the beginning of our tour in a 20 minute documentary complete with amazing photography from the archaeologists who found her. After the film, we are taken by an extremely well qualified and informative student guide who leads us through dimly-lit rooms filled with artifacts that were found with Juanita’s mummified body. Wood carvings, gold, silver and other metal statues, amulets, ceramics, pottery and articles of clothing that she was wrapped in are all carefully and artfully placed in glass cases under small spotlights and wall sconces. The finale, so to speak, is in the final room where Juanita’s remains are located. Well preserved by ice on the volcano, she is now well preserved in a carefully monitored glass-walled exhibition freezer for us to view her. Poor thing. They know she died from a massive blow to the head after being sedated and left at the top of the mountain where snow and ice kept her virtually intact and in remarkable condition. Although a little theatrical in their presentation, the museum is a testament to the sacrifice ritual of the Inca Empire and thanks to the discovery of the mummy, scientists are getting a unique opportunity to study the Incan culture. In addition, although we have seen other mummies in various stages of preservation, this is a chance to view one of the better preserved. And it was fun. Unfortunately no photography is allowed so the mystery of the tour remains intact. On the way back to the motorhome, we stop off at Cusco Coffee Company for a snack. Well known and extremely popular, the Starbuck style coffee shop has comfortable couches and chairs to relax in. My latte was excellent as was the hot chocolate that Tom got. We also shared a huge orange muffin and a slice of black forest cake which were also very good. It was a great place to relax after being on our feet for over an hour and to chat about “Juanita, the ice princess”.

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