Photo: Michigan State University Museum

15th-Century Inca Mummy Finally Returned to Bolivia

Bolivia News Archaeology
by Eben Diskin Aug 23, 2019

A 500-year-old Inca mummy of a girl is finally returning home to Bolivia, after being donated to the Michigan State University Museum in 1890. The girl, known as Nusta, lived in the Andean highlands during the late 1400s, and was buried in a stone tomb with sandals, beads, and feathers. Now, the museum has finally returned the mummy to Bolivia.

The mummy will be housed in a refrigerated chamber at the National Archaeology Museum in La Paz, before a new round of testing is conducted on it. The objects uncovered alongside the mummy, including a small clay jar, pouches, maize, beans, grasses, and cocoa, will be displayed in La Paz through November 2. The mummy itself is well preserved, and experts believe Nusta was an important member of her ethnic group due to the style of her tomb.

William A. Lovis, the MSU professor who took charge of the repatriation efforts, said, “It’s possible that the girl was an important person and that the objects placed with her had as much sacred importance as they had a useful purpose. Another possibility is that her death was an Inca sacrifice to appease or an offer to Inca deities.”

Describing the rationale behind the sudden return of the mummy to Bolivia, Lovia said, “I came to the conclusion that, if nobody was going to be doing any work with either the artifacts or the human remains and if we were not going to display the human remains, it would be better served to return them to Bolivia.”

The move comes as museums around the world are increasingly under pressure to return looted or donated artifacts to their home countries. As we can see, some repatriations go much more smoothly than others.

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