A 500-year-old mummy of an Incan girl has been returned to Bolivia some 129 years after it was donated to the Michigan State University Museum, marking what an official says is the first time human remains of archaeological importance have been repatriated to the Andean country.
Known as Ñusta, a Quechua word for “Princess,” the mummy amazes many because of its excellent state of preservation: Its black braids seem recently combed and its hands still cling to small feathers.
Experts say the mummy originally came from a region in the Andean highlands near La Paz during the last years of the Inca civilization. Radiocarbon tests also have revealed that it dates to the second half of the 15th century, confirming the likelihood that its tomb burial preceded the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the conquest of the Inca by the Spanish.
“Despite the fact that it was given the name Ñusta, or ‘Princess,’ we don’t know if she was really a princess. We will only be able to answer that with DNA studies,” said William A. Lovis, an MSU emeritus professor of anthropology who worked for years to help bring the remains home.
The mummy was returned more than two weeks ago with the assistance of the U.S. embassy in La Paz, and a new study is expected to be carried out by November by Bolivian academics and foreign experts. Until then, accompanying funerary objects will be exhibited to the public during a celebration that pays homage to the dead on Nov. 2.