"We had not seen anything like this before,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. John Verano.
Nearly 140 child skeletons have been unearthed in Peru with signs of sacrifice marking the bodies, making it the largest known finding of a ritual mass sacrifice in the Americas, archaeologists said.
The children’s remains, aged between five and 14, date back to the 15th century and were found at the site last year. Their sternums bore evidence of having their hearts ritualistically removed. Alongside their bones rested more bodies -- 200 llamas or alpacas. The excavation site spanned approximately 700 square meters.
The Huanchaquito-Las Llamas site where the mass grave was found used to be part of the Chimu state, the dominant society along the coast of Peru during the 15th century. The excavation took five years to complete.
“This archaeological discovery was a surprise to all of us – we had not seen anything like this before,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University.
“There was no suggestion from ethnohistoric sources or historical accounts of child or camelid sacrifices being made on such a scale in northern coastal Peru."
The authors of the study, which was published in the Open Access journal PLOS ONE Wednesday, said that the sacrifice of so many would have constituted an enormous investment of resources and therefore must have had great significance.
A thick layer of sediment coating the remains indicated that the killing came around the time of a large rainstorm or flood, which might have inspired the dramatic and extensive sacrifice.