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The erupting volcano of Sabancaya spewed out clouds of ash over a mile into the sky, blanketing even its higher neighbor Ampato. After three years the weight of melting snow finally caused a section of Ampato's 20,700' high summit ridge to collapse. As it swept into the crater below, the mix of ice and rock carried with it a cloth-wrapped bundle. Smashing against a boulder, the outer cloth of the bundle was torn open and objects were strewn over the icy landscape. But the most important part of the bundle remained intact-the frozen body of an Inca child. Since Johan Reinhard found the mummy in 1995, news of its discovery has reached more than a billion people. It has been the subject of TV documentaries in several languages, and front-page newspaper stories (e.g. NY Times), major stories in magazines (e.g. Newsweek and Time). But most importantly it was one of the best-preserved mummies ever found and the only body of an Inca female. It provides the proverbial time capsule, a human frozen in time, whose study has yielded results ranging from the best preserved DNA of its age to the first complete clothing of an Inca noble woman. During later expeditions Reinhard led to the mountain, three more Inca human sacrifices and several rare gold and silver statures-clothed in finely woven miniature textiles-and other artifacts added to the discovery's significance. The original mummy, now known by the name of the "Ice Maiden" was chosen by Time magazine as one of the world ten most important scientific discoveries for 1995. Dr. Reinhard's work at Ampato and on subsequent expeditions to other Andean peaks resulted in his finding ten Inca human sacrifices and the richest collection of Inca artifacts ever made. The physical hazards of high-altitude archaeology, the insight his discoveries yield on the lives and culture of the Inca, the intrigues and strange, even cult-like, activities surrounding the mummies once they were displayed around the world, provide a human dimension to his science that Dr. Reinhard recounts in his book. The excavations and the excellent preservation of the mummies and artifacts found with them have meant that scientists from an array of fields-biologists, botanists, chemists, pathologists, ornithologists, nutritionists, and historians-continue to be fascinated by them.Rarely is it possible to have such a combination of adventure and discovery together with important "firsts" in the field of science. Rare still is to have them be about a topic that cuts across age and cultural boundaries, causing headlines around the world. The discoveries have opened up completely new areas of research about the past and have impacted dramatically on the countries where they occurredand not least of all on the lives of the people who made them.
Johan Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, has made more than 100 ascents over 17,000 feet and discovered more than 40 Incan ritual sites in the course of two decades as a high-altitude archaeologist in the Andes. He is associated with several research institutes, universities, and museums in both North and South America, has written a children's book and numerous scholarly books and articles, and won a Rolex Award for Enterprise in the field of exploration. He lives in Arlington, Virginia. From the Trade Paperback edition.