Andean Girl Returns Home

man and woman at Bolivian embassy
Dr. Bill Lovis and Dr. Allison Davis, U.S. Department of State, celebrate
Ñusta’s return to Bolvian soil

Dr. William Lovis, Professor Emeritus of anthropology, Curator Emeritus of anthropology, editor of Midwest Archaeological Perspectives and research affiliate for Lithic Microwear Research Laboratory completed the repatriation to Bolivia of the 500-year old mummy of a young Andean girl. Her arrival at the Washington, D.C., Embassy of the Plurinational State of Bolivia marked the beginning of his retirement after a 45-year career at MSU.

The mummy, nicknamed Ñusta, a Quechua word for “Princess,” had a long MSU history. MSU Museum records revealed she was donated to the MSU Museum in 1890 by then U.S. Consul to Chile and MSU Board of Trustees member Hon. William B. McCreery. She came from south of LaPaz, Bolivia, and was originally placed in a stone tomb, along with a variety of accoutrements including pouches, bags, a small clay jar, sandals, beads, feathers and several types of plants including maize, beans, grasses, kapok and coca. The burial was reputed to be “Pre Columbian” and “Inca,” so the maize from her pouch was radiocarbon dated, which revealed it was as old as the second half of the 15th century, indicating her burial likely predated Columbus’s arrival — and the Spanish conquest of the Inca.

Museum documents also revealed that throughout the first half of the 20th century she was prominently displayed in early iterations of the MSU Museum, all over campus through the 1970s. As societal sentiments toward the display of human remains in the U.S. changed, Lovis became part of a group of museum curators who successfully recommended she be taken off display. Bill initiated discussions with then acting MSU Museum director Lora Helou about repatriating the mummy and her associated burial objects to Bolivia. Helou agreed, catalyzing an effort starting in 2016 that took him through his consulting year and into retirement.

Surmounting multiple national and institutional bureaucracies, MSU administrative changes, language differences, documentation protocols and working through ethical and legal issues presented an ongoing series of daunting challenges — only accomplished with the assistance of colleagues Jose Capriles, Allison Davis and David Trigo. As the repatriation efforts came to closure, Dr. Lovis attended the October 26, 2018 MSU Board of Trustees meeting, where they deaccessioned Ñusta and her funerary paraphernalia. Ñusta was no longer an MSU possession but officially become the property of Bolivia.

Arrangements were made for U.S. Art to package and transport Ñusta to Washington D.C. and deliver her to the Bolivian Embassy on January 22, 2019, where Lovis witnessed her arrival on Bolivian soil in the United States. Her arrival coincided with the annual anniversary celebration of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, which included a reception with the young lady in prominent view, an indigenous Aymara ceremony, members of the Bolivian delegation, including Deputy Charge d’Affairs Alejandro Bilbao La Vieja Ruiz and a group from MSU — including Dr. Lovis. After 129 years, on the anniversary of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, MSU’s “Bolivian mummy” has been repatriated to her home nation and people. We thank Dr. Lovis for his tireless dedication to the MSU community.

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