30 April, 2018
The ancient Chimu people occupied the third largest city in Peru, with approximately 800,000 inhabitants.
More than 140 children were sacrificed at about the same time in Peru's northern coastal region, about 550 years ago.
Human sacrifice has been recorded in the Aztec, Maya and Inca empires but "the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimu civilisation is unprecedented in the Americas - if not in the entire world", National Geographic said.
Ongoing scientific investigations into the Peru site, formally called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, are being carried out by an global team funded by the National Geographic Society.
Gabriel Prieto, an archaeology professor at Peru's National University of Trujillo, who has led the excavation along with John Verano of Tulane University said in the report, "They were possibly offering the gods the most important thing they had as a society, and the most important thing is children because they represent the future".
Some 200 llamas were also sacrificed as part of the ritual, the researchers found. The llamas, all younger than 18 months, were buried facing the Andes to the East. Deep skid marks were also found near the llamas, suggesting they may have resisted whatever happened. During a dig that year, archaeologists found the remains of 42 children, a number that has since increased.
The site of the discovery - Huanchaquito-Las Llamas - first grabbed headlines in 2011 when remains of 42 children and 76 llamas were found during the excavation of a 3,500-year-old temple.
The cuts to both the children and llamas' skeletal remains suggest their chests were cut open.
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Researchers believe the sacrifice may have had to do with the Chimu's desperate attempts to appease El-Nino - a weather cycle occurring every 2-7 years that can cause stronger hurricanes, flooding and increased rainfall.
Based on evidence from layers of dried mud, the report states it's believed that all the human and animal sacrifices took place at the same time.
"It is ritual killing, and it's very systematic", Verano told National Geographic. "Maybe there was a need for a new type of sacrificial victim".
"There's this idea that ritual killing is contractual, that it's performed to get something from supernatural deities", Klaus said.
Discovered in 2011, the excavation sight on the northern coast of Peru has produced evidence of the largest known mass sacrifice in history.
The mass child grave lies less than half a mile from the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone, located on the remains of the Chimu Kingdom capital, Chan Chan, and which now is a UNESCO World Heritage site. They had all apparently died of violent head wounds, and it is surmised they may have participated in the sacrifices.
"This just may be the tip of the iceberg".