Johan Reinhard’s discovery of the 500 year-old Inca Ice Maiden could have been his life’s high point, but he was not satisfied with this achievement. He was convinced that better preserved mummies were yet to be found, and he was determined to rescue the cultural patrimony of the Andean people.
When he won his Rolex Award, Johan Reinhard was a freelance anthropologist, archaeologist and writer with excellent credentials but almost no funding. One of the few scientists interested in working at extreme altitudes, the Rolex Award allowed him to pursue his Andean research, paving the way for his startling discovery of one of the best preserved bodies from pre-Columbian times, Juanita, the Ice Maiden, on Peru’s Mount Ampato in 1995.
The Ice Maiden was discovered by chance; it had its own kind of drama. It was at the beginning of an incredible adventure, and I knew it was an important discovery the moment I saw it.
Yet Reinhard was not satisfied. He made more than 200 gruelling ascents over 5,200 metres, uncovering at least 50 high-altitude ritual sites, and his Andes expeditions of 1996–1999 led to the discovery of 14 more Inca human sacrifices. Among the most important were the three he found in 1999 near the summit of Argentina’s Mt Llullaillaco, the world’s highest archaeological site. They were the most perfectly preserved mummies ever found ─ better preserved than the Peruvian Ice Maiden - and were chosen as one of the 10 most important scientific discoveries that year by Time magazine.
Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, is a senior research fellow at the Mountain Institute in the United States. Museums have been built in Argentina, Bolivia and Peru to exhibit his finds.
Height in metres of the peak on Mt Llullaillaco where Reinhard found three frozen mummies in 1999
Publications written by Reinhard, including six books
The Ice Maiden Juanita’s age when she died from a blow to her head