The remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas have been unearthed at a Chimú Empire site on the northern coast of Peru. It’s the largest known mass sacrifice in history.
While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya, and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimú civilization is unprecedented in the Americas—if not in the entire world. […]
Huanchaquito-Las Llamas (generally referred to by the researchers as “Las Llamas,”) first made headlines in 2011, when the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas were found during an emergency dig directed by study co-author Prieto. An archaeologist and Huanchaco native, Prieto was excavating a 3,500-year-old temple down the road from the sacrifice site when local residents first alerted him to human remains eroding from nearby coastal dunes.
By the time excavations concluded at Las Llamas in 2016, more than 140 sets of child remains and 200 juvenile llamas had been discovered at the site; rope and textiles found in the burials are radiocarbon dated to between 1400 and 1450.
The tell-tale marks of sacrificial killing are on their skeletal remains. There are cut marks on the sternum, dislocated ribs, likely from when they were pulled apart to access the heart.
The lack of hesitation marks suggests this was done by a very practiced and steady hand or hands. The children were between five and 14 years old, most of them between eight and 12. The llamas were even younger, less than 18 months old.
The investigators believe all of the human and animal victims were ritually killed in a single event, based on evidence from a dried mud layer found in the eastern, least disturbed part of the 7,500-square-foot site. They believe the mud layer once covered the entire sandy dune where the ritual took place, and it was disturbed during the preparation of the burial pits and the subsequent sacrifice event.