María Constanza Ceruti

In 1999, high altitude archaeologist María Constanza Ceruti and colleague Johan Reinhard led a team on an expedition to Mount Llullaillaco located on the border between Argentina and Chile. The mission was to explore unusual ruins on one of the tallest peaks in the Andes, one of the driest places on Earth. After days of battling extreme weather conditions, they reached an Inca site where human sacrifices were performed 500 years ago.

At 22,000 feet in elevation, this was the highest archaeological site in the world and the working conditions were grueling in the cold thin air. What Ceruti and the team found there stunned them and the world—the perfectly preserved frozen bodies of three Inca children who were sacrificed to the mountain gods.

After a month of thoroughly documenting the site, the team descended the mountain with the mummies and a treasure trove of artifacts. The mummies were studied with non-invasive techniques to learn about Inca religious and sacrificial practices. How did the children live and what did they eat? How did they die? The mummies are now housed in a museum that preserves and displays them to the public while also educating modern day Andean people about their past.

In this interview Dr. Ceruti describes her work finding and studying the mummies found on Mount Llullaillaco and her thoughts on the culture that produced them. She also discusses the impact of the Franciscans on the Inca and her personal devotion to St. Francis of Assisi. The interview was conducted in St. Augustine, Florida, at the Flagler College Franciscan Conference in March 2014.