Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 4/29/14
Ceruti and the Moravian College contingent stand together with Ceruti holding her degree open.

ABOVE: Following Constanza Ceruti's April 22 lecture, members of the Moravian College faculty and administration gather together with Ceruti. Pictured (from left) are Frank Kuserk, professor of biology and director of the environmental studies and sciences program; Hilde Binford, associate professor of music and chair of the Department of Music; Ceruti; President Bryon L. Grigsby '90; and Diane Husic, professor of biology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.


Ceruti Takes Audience on Around-the-World Adventure

College Presents High-Altitude Archaeologist with Honorary Degree

As unlikely as it may seem, Constanza Ceruti’s on-campus lecture didn’t begin on April 22 – the day of her presentation – but can actually be traced back more than 500 years. After an extensive slideshow and talk in the HUB’s Snyder Room last week, detailing her many mountaintop adventures as an emerging archaeologist and anthropologist, Ceruti described her greatest discovery to date: the preserved bodies of three Inca children, sacrificed approximately 500 years earlier.

In 1999, on the summit of volcano Llullaillaco (22,100 feet) on the Argentina-Chile border, Ceruti and others discovered three of the best preserved mummies in the world. With hair still visible on their arms, the mummies looked as if they had just been buried rather than frozen for the better part of a millennium. This state of preservation was undoubtedly helped by their location, which served as the site of the highest archaeological work ever undertaken.

An explorer of the National Geographic Society, Ceruti visited Moravian College to present a talk, titled “Sacred Mountains and High Altitude Rituals.” She served as the 2014 keynote speaker for the College’s Environmental Studies and Sciences Film and Lecture Series. As part of Ceruti’s lecture, the College presented her with an honorary degree, recognizing her many accomplishments in archaeology. (To see photographs from the lecture, click here.)

“[F]or her courage as the only female high-altitude Andean archeologist, for her commitment to preserving sacred mountaintops, and for her discovery and subsequent stewardship of the three Incan child mummies, I am honored to present Constanza Ceruti for conferment of the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters,” said Hilde Binford, associate professor of music and chair of the Department of Music, reading the honorary degree citation.

Having scaled more than 100 mountains above 16,500 feet, Ceruti has become a leader in her male-dominated field. Ceruti’s expansive photo reel, depicting her research across the globe, as well as her interactions with the world’s diverse populations, was quite inspiring. In fact, one audience member publicly announced Ceruti had essentially taking the gathered audience “around the world in under an hour.”

While the photos were often breathtaking, Ceruti also sprinkled in details about her discoveries and travels, which often highlighted ceremonial rituals and sacraments, including human sacrifices. While many of her adventures were awe-inspiring, none were greater or more significant than her findings on volcano Llullaillaco, and the three well-preserved mummies.

The remains were those of a teenage girl, nicknamed La doncella (“the maiden”), a young boy and a young girl, nicknamed La niña del rayo (“the lightning girl”) – because she was in fact struck by lightning at some point during the past five centuries. The storm partially uncovered the young girl’s head allowing her discoverers to look into history.  

“This was a special moment … we could see her face. It was like meeting someone from the past,” Ceruti said.

Ceruti stands before an audience in the Snyder Room with a photograph on the projector behind her. The mummified remains of a teenaged mummies sits with her legs crossed.

ABOVE: During her lecture, Ceruti highlighted many of her research expeditions, which include scaling more than 100 mountains above 16,500 feet.

ABOVE: 'The maiden' was one of three well-perserved mummies Ceruti and a team of researchers discovered on the summit of volcano Llullaillaco in 1999.

According to contemporary writings by Spanish priests, these children were participants in “capacocha,” a sacrificial rite that occurred in celebration of key events in the life of the Inca emperor. Their discovery, and subsequent examination, has led to many revelations about the Inca population and society. Most of what scientists know about the lives of the Llullaillaco mummies comes from their hair, including their dietary history. Today, the three mummies are exhibited at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology (MAAM) in Salta, Argentina.

Not only has Ceruti made a name for herself in regards to high-altitude mountain climbing, but she is the author of more than 100 scientific publications, including 10 books. She also serves as director of the Institute of High Mountain Research at the Catholic University of Salta and a scientific investigator with the National Council for the Scientific Research in Argentina.

To read Ceruti’s citation, click here.

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