Her climb to the nearly 20,700-foot summit of Mt. Ampato was the beginning of a journey to an afterlife with the gods more glorious than any she would have known in the deep Peruvian canyon she called home.
She was a teenager sacrificed to appease the mountain deities believed to control the weather – who could bring famine or plenty to her Inca community. If a rockslide triggered by ash from a nearby volcano hadn't exposed her to the elements, the details of her sacrifice 500 years ago might have remained unknown.
But her discovery created other problems. Without mechanical refrigeration to replace the freezing temperatures of her Andes burial site, her well-preserved body would quickly decompose.
After a harrowing evening descent down the mountainside in her discoverer's backpack, a 12-hour forced march atop a burro, and an overnight bus ride, the "Ampato Maiden" found a temporary home in an ordinary household freezer in Arequipa, Peru's Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria.
Her discoverer, American anthropologist Dr. Johan Reinhard, called her a "window" to the ancient culture of the Incas, but her long-term preservation demanded a refrigerated case whose temperature and humidity could be controlled precisely and reliably. Being able to display the mummy also would spark both public and scholarly interest.
The National Geographic Society, sponsor of Dr. Reinhard's explorations, asked Carrier if it could build and donate two identical cases that would allow the ice maiden to be displayed while preserving the delicate temperature and humidity balance she required.
Carrier engineers took less than three months to design and build a product that normally would have taken about two years. How? By modifying an existing product that already had proven its reliability in cooling thousands of hotel and motel rooms throughout the world.
When the "Ampato Maiden" was flown to Washington, D.C. and exhibited in National Geographic's Explorers Hall, more than 100,000 people had the chance to learn more about an ancient culture whose sophistication and achievements still inspire awe.
But Carrier's preservation role continues as scientists from many fields stand in line for their own chance to gaze through their own "window" to the past. John Ferguson, an engineer in Carrier's Advanced Systems Group, quietly asked the question: "Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up, too?"
Everyone in the room was reacting in their own way as a Peruvian archaeologist carefully, almost tenderly, removed the white wrapping that covered the frozen body of the "Ampato Maiden," the 500-year-old mummy that has caused a worldwide stir since her discovery last September atop an Andean volcano.
Straight black hair reaching her shoulders frames a face whose skin has dried and pulled back slightly from a full set of white teeth. But the brownish skin of her shoulders, bodice, arms, legs and feet retains a dull lustre not far from life.
To the scientists in the room, the Maiden on the table is a cache of knowledge frozen in pre-Columbian time. She is a potential storehouse of answers to questions about her Inca contemporaries that, until now, could only be guessed at.
But some of us gathered around the table see her through a parent's emotional eyes. With her hands delicately folded in her lap and her knees drawn up toward her chin, she is a vulnerable child of 13 or 14 about to be violently sacrificed for the overall good of her community. No answers here. Her silence poses only questions about the day her life ended near the windswept 20,700-foot summit of Nevado Ampato.
These have been four or five minutes not soon to be forgotten.
But eternity is short for a frozen mummy exposed to room-temperature air. Almost as if someone had clapped their hands, the church-like silence is broken.
The mummy is inspected one last time and rewrapped. Dr. Jose' Antonio Chavez, the archaeologist who has protected the "Ampato Maiden" since she was first delivered to him, lifts the frozen corpse from the table. Cradled in his arms, he lowers her into a Plexiglass case like a father putting a sleeping child into a crib.
Almost as an afterthought, Dr. Ruth Salas, Dr. Chavez's wife and fellow archaeologist, slips the girl's frozen sandals into the box with her.
Only then do Ferguson and Steve Stopyra, a designer in the Advanced Systems Group, screw the lid down firmly and slide the case into a much larger insulated box that has been cooled down with dry ice to well below zero.
It's nearly 2 a.m., only four hours before the "Ampato Maiden" and artifacts found with her are scheduled to begin their two-day journey from Arequipa, Peru to Washington, D.C. for a widely publicized exhibit in the National Geographic Society's Explorers Hall.
It has been a hectic, tense week in Peru for Ferguson, Stopyra and Dr. Charles Bullock, leader of the Carrier team that designed, built and brought to Peru a refrigerated display case for the mummy as well as the insulated box in which she would travel. But Peru apparently was calm compared to the week spent by two dozen engineers, technicians and craftsmen back in Syracuse racing to assemble the second display case, take it apart, drive it to Washington and reassemble it in time for the mummy's arrival.
Racing against time marked the project from the beginning.
In late January, Dale A. Petroskey, senior vice president of the National Geographic Society, said the Society hoped to bring the "Ampato Maiden" to the U.S. for an exhibit to coincide with the May publication of its magazine's article on the mummy.
"…But we lack the technical experience to provide the temperature and humidity conditions critical to preserving her, including her flesh and DNA, on the trip from Peru and while on display here at National Geographic," Petroskey wrote.
"The requirements are unique and require a special, custom-designed compartment. This is why we have sought the highly respected knowledge and expertise of Carrier."
In the few months since her September discovery, the "Ampato Maiden" had become a Peruvian national treasure. The likelihood of her being allowed outside the country was slim unless her preservation could be assured. National Geographic's own conservators even suggested there might not be enough time for testing such an important piece of equipment.
The Carrier team, essentially reached the same conclusion – unless, Bullock said, an existing product could be modified to fit the task.
"We considered several options, but rejected them all for a variety of reasons," Bullock says. "For example, thermo-electric cooling was very attractive because it has no moving parts. Small portable coolers operating on this principle and powered by an automobile cigarette lighter are commercially available, but we determined a thermo-electric system as large as we needed would have been prohibitively expensive and taken too long to deliver. It also wouldn't have been a Carrier-made product.
"We decided on the PTAC because it already existed, it was reliable, it was easy to service in any part of the world, and it would allow us to produce the display cases in the short time we had."
But if the sophisticated controls and attention of up to 50 people seem like overkill, they are not. For a piece of equipment that looks like a high-class convenience store ice cream freezer, the stakes are much higher.
The "Ampato Maiden" was escorted to the Arequipa airport in an armed military convoy. She was flown to Lima in a Peruvian Air Force plane accompanied only by Dr. Chavez and Dr. Hilda Augusta Vidal, a representative of Peruvian Institute of National Culture.
When Bullock, Ferguson and Stopyra followed a few hours later, the military was waiting for them. Only they were allowed to open the box and replenish it with dry ice in preparation for the flights to Miami and Washington, D.C. When they were escorted to the small Air Force conference room where the mummy had spent the night, Steve Stopyra let out a barely audible whistle – the Carrier-made box was being guarded by military policemen carrying sub-machine guns with fixed bayonets.
"This is serious!" Stopyra said under his breath to Ferguson. "These guys mean business."
It is serious because the "Ampato Maiden" is now generally regarded as the best-preserved specimen of a pre-Columbian human in existence. The "Ice Man" discovered in the Tyrolean alps along the Austrian-Italian border two years ago was older, but he also was desiccated – his internal organs, flesh and skin had been dried over the centuries. But the "Ampato Maiden," with the exception of her face and neck, is whole. Her organs and body's fluids are intact. In fact, when she finally reached Washington, D.C., she was taken to Johns Hopkins University Medical Center for a series of C.T. scans that were then translated into moving three-dimensional images. Among other things, the sophisticated x-rays confirmed she had died from a violent blow to the head.
Scientists hope to learn much more from her. Dietitians can discover what she ate and the general state of her nutrition. Parasitologists and bacteriologists will look for any disease-causing organisms still intact. Geneticists, if they are able to recover unfragmented DNA samples from her tissue, could theoretically track her down to a particular village and even locate living members of her very extended family.
Textile experts already are marveling at the fine weaving of the woolen garments in which she was dressed. Those garments, woven from the soft wool of the llama-like alpaca, also were on display to the more than 100,000 people who came to see her in Washington.
Did Dr. Johan Reinhard, the mummy's discoverer, know the significance of what he had found?
"I knew it would cause a commotion," the American scientist said from his office at the Mountain Institute in Franklin, W. Va., "but I had no idea it would lead to this much."
He has given more than 80 interviews for international media and has been peppered by requests from a score of sciences to study the "Ampato Maiden." Children's book publishers and World Wide Web sites also have shown interest. That worldwide interest brings the climber/archaeologist back to the Carrier-made units.
"With long-term preservation, you're never sure of what's going to happen," Reinhard says. "The smallest lapse in care can damage the mummy very quickly. The preservation units provide the consistent care she needs. Thanks to Carrier, we'll keep learning from her for a long time."