Evidence of a massive sacrifice from an ancient pre-Inca archaeological site in Peru reveals the ritual murder of more than 140 children and more than 200 llamas.
The study, published in ‘PLOS ONE‘ by Gabriel Prieto, of the National University of Trujillo, Peru, and his colleagues, describes what is now considered among experts the largest known mass sacrifice of children in the New World.
Human and animal sacrifices are known from a variety of ancient civilizations, often performed as part of funerary, architectural or spiritual rituals.
However, there is very little evidence of this practice on the northern coast of Peru.
Evidence of the mass sacrifice was found at the site of Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, which was part of the state of Chimú, a dominant culture on the Peruvian coast in the 15th century.
The new study reports the findings of excavations that took place between 2011 and 2016 which revealed hundreds of bodies buried in an area of approximately 700 square meters.
The human remains were of children aged between 5 and 14 years. In addition to the human remain, archeologists report having discovered around 200 llama skeletons.
The Chimu Culture arose about 900 AD, succeeding the Moche culture, and was later conquered by the Inca emperor Topa Inca Yupanqui around 1470, fifty years before the arrival of the Spanish in the region.
The cut marks that cross the sternum and the displaced ribs indicate that both the children and the llamas may have had their chest opened and hearts removed, as part of the ritual.
And the reason behind the mass murder may have been an effort by the ancient culture to appease the gods after a series of Storms and floods.
Radiocarbon dating revealed that the mass sacrifices occurred around 1450 AD, during the height of the Chimú culture.
A thick layer of mud covering the burial sediments indicates that this massive slaughter was preceded, and perhaps inspired, by a large storm or flood.
The researchers indicate that this sacrifice was most likely a great investment of resources for the Chimú culture.
Through future studies, researchers hope to better understand the ritual and history behind the mass murder by analyzing the life and cultural origins of the sacrificed children.
John Verano, professor of anthropology at Tulane University and co-author of the study adds that this archaeological discovery was a “surprise” for everyone.
“This archaeological discovery was a surprise to all of us — we had not seen anything like this before, and there was no suggestion from ethnohistoric sources or historic accounts of child or camelid sacrifices being made on such a scale in northern coastal Peru.”
“We were fortunate to be able to completely excavate the site and to have a multidisciplinary field and laboratory team to do the excavation and preliminary analysis of the material. This site opens a new chapter on the practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world,” Verano explained.