DMS sixth-graders meet 500-year-old 'Juanita'

"It was an incredible opportunity, it was an incredible honor!" Jon Ferguson greeted sixth grade students and faculty with this statement as he shared the story of "Juanita," a Peruvian mummy known as the Ice Maiden, at an assembly held on Feb. 8 in the Aitchison Auditorium at Driver Middle School.

Ferguson, parent of DMS seventh grade student Colleen Ferguson, was part of a Carrier Corporation engineering team that designed an innovative refrigeration unit to preserve the mummified remains of Juanita. Juanita was discovered in the high mountains of Peru by archeologist John Reinhart and his climbing partner Miguel. Juanita represents the mummified remains of a 13- to 14-year-old "sacrificed" girl who had been encased in ice for more than 500 years.

As a result of a volcanic ash eruption from a neighboring mountain, ice had melted leading to Reinhart's discovery at this ancient Inca burial ground. The mummy was brought down the mountain and placed in a freezer where she began to lose moisture and deteriorate. Carrier Corporation was called and enter Ferguson and his three men engineering team. Ferguson's February 8th presentation articulated the many challenges faced by the Carrier engineers as they successfully designed and created a glass enclosed refrigeration case to preserve Juanita. Ferguson described his excitement upon being asked to be a member of the design team, "Once in a while we are asked to become involved with something very, very special!" Ferguson and his team remarkably built two refrigeration cases within ninety days. More than 70 people worked on the project which allowed Juanita to travel from Peru to the National Geographic Museum in Washington D. C. and then back to Peru.

The "Ice Maiden" mummy also was examined by experts at John Hopkins University where she underwent Cat Scans and DNA testing. Scientists were able to determine not only current ancestry but also what Juanita had to eat prior to her sacrifice to the mountain gods. Juanita is considered the best-preserved pre Columbian mummy ever discovered. Ferguson's exciting and informative presentation was a blend of science, history, cultural understanding, engineering concepts, and career exploration. The presentation included a slide program in addition to a variety of displays. Students had ample opportunity to ask questions and view the many display items. Ferguson's program clearly demonstrated the benefits of what can occur when modern technology and knowledge meet history and ancient cultures.

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