Road to ruins: how I discovered the magic of archaeology

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With millennia of history hidden beneath our feet, connecting with the ancient past offers endless fascination, and many ways to get involved

When I was a teenager, I watched a TV documentary about a frozen human body that had been discovered at the summit of Mount Ampato in Peru. Dubbed “Juanita” or the Incan ice mummy, this girl had been a human sacrifice, killed in about 1450 at the age of 14 or so – the same age I was. Her body had mummified, preserved in the permafrost, which meant her clothes, her hair, even her stomach, containing her last meal, were all still intact.

Using a battery of scientific techniques, as well as historical and anthropological knowledge, the anthropologist-archaeologist-mountaineers who discovered Juanita were able to unpick the story of her final months, weeks and hours. I was astounded to learn that discovering and explaining such mysteries could be an actual job. Anthropology and archaeology, and the challenge of making the strange familiar, and the familiar strange, had a hold on me.

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