A hellishly unprecedented scene — what anthropologists suspect is the largest known child sacrifice — has been unearthed on a bluff overlooking Peru’s northern shoreline.
Around 550 years ago, members of the Chimú empire ritually killed and buried at least 140 children, ages 5 to 14, and 200 young llamas, says a team led by Gabriel Prieto of the National University of Trujillo in Peru and John Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans.
Except for a few incomplete skeletons, excavated children and llamas displayed cuts on their breast bones and dislocated ribs indicating that their chests had been sliced open. Three adults buried nearby on the bluff, including two women with violent head wounds, may have participated in the sacrifice.
Radiocarbon dating, mainly of ropes left around the llamas’ necks, puts the event at around 1450, shortly before the Inca conquered the Chimú in 1470.
A dried mud layer covering some of the sandy graves possibly resulted from flooding caused by massive rains. Agricultural crises triggered by repeated flooding might have led Chimú leaders to sacrifice children to their gods, Verano suggests.