By Ann Eberwein
María Constanza Ceruti is an archaeologist, anthropologist, and mountaineer with an impressive list of accomplishments. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1973 and her parents, who were both doctors, took her to many museums and libraries during her childhood. Observing ancient artifacts and reading about past cultures, Ceruti developed a fascination with prehistory and archaeology. She studied anthropology at the University of Buenos Aires and completed her bachelor’s degree in 1996. One year prior to graduation she visited the Andes for the first time and, after experiencing a powerful sense of connection to the mountains, she decided to train as a mountaineer. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Ceruti began her doctoral studies at the University of Cuyo, which is located in Mendoza, Argentina, only a few hours from the Andes. This close proximity to the mountain range was perfect for a burgeoning mountaineer and she ascended many Andean peaks, often searching for archaeological sites on her way to the summit. Ceruti excelled in her studies at the University of Cuyo and in 1998 she was part of a team that excavated on the upper slopes of Misti, an active volcano near Arequipa, Peru, making her the first high-altitude, female archaeologist. The following year she was chosen to co-direct four high-altitude archaeological expeditions with Johan Reinhard, a veteran Andean archaeologist. On the first climb, the team found a looted gravesite where the remains of a mummified Inca child were scattered and most of the artifacts had been removed. The second expedition involved ascending the Llullaillaco volcano following the ancient Inca climbing trails and culminating in the discovery three well-preserved Inca mummies. These mummies, now dubbed the Children of Llullaillaco, are considered some of the best preserved mummies in the world and the gravesite where they were found is the site of the highest excavation in the world.
Ceruti completed her doctorate in anthropology in 2001 and took a job managing a small museum in the foothills of the Andes where she lived in a small adobe house in a tiny village called Pucará de Tilcara. While living there, she became interested in the villagers’ lifeways and ritual practices, both of which were similar to those of pre-Inca and Inca cultures. Based on this experience, Ceruti developed an interest in sacred mountain spaces throughout the world. After managing the museum for five years, she became a professor of archaeology and director of the Institute of High Mountain Research at the Catholic University in Salta, Argentina. Ceruti also continued to explore mountains, travelling to and ascending peaks on every contentment except Antarctica. She has climbed to the summit of more than one hundred mountains over 16,500 feet (5,000 meters) and studied sacred mountain spaces in over 20 countries. Ceruti has authored over 100 academic publications and more than 25 books, and made an impact on many areas of study including Inca archaeology, Andean studies, ethnohistory, landscape archaeology, conservation of cultural and natural heritage, religious studies, tourism, glacial archaeology, and high altitude archaeology. She won the Wings WorldQuest Courage Award in 2007, the National Award for Academic Vocation in Argentina in 2008, and was the first Argentinian invited to speak at the TED global meeting in Oxford in 2009. In 2017, Ceruti received the Gold Medal from the International Society of Women Geographers and in 2019 she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in Argentina.
“Maria Constanza Ceruti: Adventurer, artist, historian, mountaineer, researcher.” (n.d.) National Geographic Society https://explorer-directory.nationalgeographic.org/maria-constanza-ceruti
“Mountain Researcher Constanza Ceruti Gold Medalist of ISWG.” (2017) Mountain Research Initiative https://www.mountainresearchinitiative.org/index.php/news-page-all/112-global-news/1057-mountain-researcher-constanza-ceruti-gold-medalist-of-the-iswg
Ross, Michael Elsohn (2014) A World of Her Own: 24 amazing women explorers. Chicago Review Press: Chicago.
“SWG Currently Featured Member: Maria Constanza Ceruti.” (n.d.) Society of Women Geographers http://www.iswg.org/membership/featured-member?MemberID=j55c8d4f64d77ai
Wings WorldQuest (n.d.) https://www.wingsworldquest.org/ceruti