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500-yr-old Incan Girl Called the “Princess Mummy” Finally Returns Home

Ian Harvey

About one hundred and thirty years ago the Michigan State University Museum received a gift of a five hundred year old princess mummy, a young Incan girl from Bolivia.  During her life she lived near the modern city of La Paz and has finally returned home with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy and William A. Lovis, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Michigan State University.

The mummy, called Ñusta, a Quechua Incan word for “Princess”, was returned to the Bolivian Embassy in January of 2019 by US Art, known for its fastidious transportation of fine art objects, and then taken to South America to be reburied in her homeland.

Dr. Lovis emphasizes that it is not known if she was really a princess but the way in which she was buried may offer a clue.  Ñusta was found in a chullpa or stone tomb with offerings of several different types of plants, pouches, a pair of sandals, beads and a small clay jar according to federalnewsnetwork.  She was found dressed in garments made from the hair of either a llama or alpaca both of which are native to the region and have been domesticated for hundreds of years. She has feathers in her hands; still has a few teeth and her dark hair looks as though it was just been styled and plaited into braids.

She was found in a sitting position as though she had been propped up in a corner with her legs tucked up and her hands in her lap.  Dr. Lovis claims that chullpa were reserved for the elite members of the tribe.  Ñusta appears to have been about eight years old when she died and it is very possible she was a religious sacrifice which would further elevate her status.

Ethnically she was Aymaran, from a civilization that appeared after the fall of the Tiahuanaco people and thrived between 1200 to the late 1400s making her lifetime very close to when Columbus sailed from Spain and the Incan conquest by the Spaniards in 1572.

DNA samples will be tested to definitively indicate the age of the girl and her funerary objects.  It will also reveal what type of food she ate though it is probable that her diet consisted of the maize, beans, cocoa and grasses that were found with her.  According to The Sun Dr. Lovis remarked, “While I am now quite pleased and personally gratified that the physical transfer is complete, my continuing goal, in retirement, is to make the information we acquired available to Bolivia and other interested audiences and to continue my collaboration with the National Archaeology Museum in La Paz.”

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Scientists from Idaho State University, the Idaho Museum of Natural History, Michigan State University, the University of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania State University have all cooperated in researching and returning the mummy. Archaeology.wiki tells us Anthropologists Samantha Blatt of Idaho State University and Amy Michael from the University of New Hampshire are studying the structures in the enamel and roots of her teeth to determine the status of her health and if there were any health stress events during her life.

Amy Commendador, Manager of the Earl H. Swanson Archaeological Repository at the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University is studying Ñusta’s hair to determine her diet and any migration which may have taken place close to her end.

Related Article: The Spooky Peruvian Mummies with Hair

Bolivian Culture Minister Wilma Alanoca claims that while many archeological finds taken illegally have been returned this is the first example of human remains reintroduced into Bolivia. Ñusta’s funerary items are on display in La Paz for Dia de los Natitas – the Day of the Skulls; a celebration that honors the dead on November 9th similar to the Day of the Dead on November 1st and 2nd in Mexico.

Ñusta has been temporarily placed into refrigeration at the National Museum of Archaeology of Bolivia near the Prado in La Paz until she and her possessions are properly buried.