An ancient harvest of ritual death has been uncovered in Peru in what one news report has labeled history’s largest single mass child sacrifice.
The bodies of 227 victims, all between ages 5 and 14 when they were killed more than 500 years ago, have been unearthed near the town of Huanchaco, which lies on the coast north of Peru’s capital, Lima, BBC reported.
“This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found,” chief archeologist Feren Castillo said Tuesday.
The grisly find comes about a year after the bodies of 200 children were found in two other Peruvian sites.
Castillo said the sacrifices are associated with the Chimu culture, which peaked from 1200 to 1400 before being conquered by the Incas.
“They were sacrificed to appease the El Nino phenomenon,” and appear to have been killed during wet weather, Castillo said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Some bodies uncovered still had hair and skin when they were found.
“It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children,” Castillo said. “Wherever you dig, there’s another one.”
Huanchaco has been the site of other ritual child sacrifices. In other ancient killing fields near the town, including one discovered in April 2018, child victims were found buried with young llamas, according to National Geographic.
Many children and animals had cut marks across their sternum and ribs.
John Verano, a biological anthropologist and forensic expert at Tulane University said the cuts were likely followed by removing the victim’s heart.
“It’s ritual killing, and it’s very systematic,” he said.
“Until now, we had no idea that the Chimu did anything like that. It’s the luck of archaeology.”
Gabriel Prieto, a professor of archaeology from Peru’s National University of Trujillo, said the sheer number of dead children shows the extent of the organization that went into the killings of about 140 children and 200 llamas at the site.
“This number of children, this number of animals — it would have been a massive investment on behalf of the state,” he said.
Jane Eva Baxter, an anthropology professor at DePaul University, said children may have been sacrificed because they were the most precious resource the Chimu had to give.
“You’re sacrificing the future and all that potential,” she said. “All of the energy and effort that’s gone into continuing your family, continuing your society into the future — you’re taking that away when you take a child.”
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