Lady on ice – 500-year old mummy of an Inca woman found preserved by ice in South American mountain

Lady on ice – 500-year old mummy of an Inca woman found preserved by ice in South American mountain – Brief Article

Chana Freiman

This woman looks pretty decent for someone who’s been dead for 500 years! She’s “Icewoman,” a mummy scientists recently discovered on a mountain in South America. The woman’s body had been buried in ice, says Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist who helped make the discovery. But the ice melted when a nearby volcano deposited darkgray ash in the area, he says. “Ash absorbs heat from the sun,” he explains.

Reinhard and a partner had been exploring the Andes Mountains for ancient artifacts when they came upon the Icewoman.

“We saw mummy lying on top of the ice!” Reinhard says. Statues found nearby identified the woman as an Inca, a member of a South American culture that flourished some 500 years ago.

“She was very well preserved,” Reinhard says. Ordinarily, the tissues and organs of dead bodies decay: They shrivel up as decomposers like bacteria and fungi consume them. But many decomposers can’t live in ice. That’s why food in your freezer keeps for so long.

In fact, ice keeps things so well that scientists recently found the ice-preserved body of a 4,000-year-old man (see SW 1/24/92, p. 8). By studying the organs and cells of the Iceman and the more-recent Icewoman, scientists may be able to learn more about their ancient past – and their relationship to modern humans.

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