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Last Updated: Friday, 7 September 2007, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Mummified Inca maiden wows crowds
The Inca Maiden sits in a specially chilled chamber

A mummy of an Inca girl, described as "perfect" by the archaeologists who found her in 1999, has gone on display for the first time in Argentina.

Hundreds of people crowded into a museum in the north-western city of Salta to see "la Doncella", the Maiden.

The remains of the girl, who was 15 when she died, were found in an icy pit on top of a volcano in the Andes, along with a younger boy and girl.

Researchers believe they were sacrificed by the Incas 500 years ago.

The three were discovered at a height of 6,700m (22,000ft) on Mount Llullaillaco, a volcano in north-west Argentina on the border with Chile.

At the time, the archaeologist leading the team, Dr Johan Reinhard, said they appeared "the best preserved of any mummy I've seen".

It is believed the Children of Llullaillaco, as they have come to be known, were sacrificed during a ceremony thanking the Inca gods for the annual corn harvest.

'Great mistake'

The mummy of la Doncella is on display in a chamber that is filled with cold air that recreates the sub-freezing conditions in which she was found.

Visitors told Argentine media they were impressed at the mummy's state of conservation.

"I'm amazed," one woman said. "You just expect her at any moment to get up and start talking."

But the exhibition has angered several indigenous groups who campaigned to stop the mummy from going on display.

Miguel Suarez from the Calchaquies valley tribes in and around Salta told the Associated Press news agency that the exhibit was "a great mistake", adding that he hoped visitors would show respect for the dead.

The Inca empire once stretched across much of western South America, including present-day Peru and Bolivia, and down to central Chile and parts of Argentina.

It collapsed in 1532 with the Spanish conquest.

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25 Mar 04 |  Science/Nature


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