The remains of 227 children, sacrificed in an “uncontrollable” wave of killings designed to appease ancient gods, have been discovered in Peru.
It is believed to be the biggest single such discovery anywhere in the world – but took place in a region where scores more sacrificed children have been found in recent years.
Scientists have been excavating the site in Huanchaco, a coastal town near Trujillo, since last year.
They were killed by the Chimu people, whose culture dominated the northern coast of Peru between the 13th and 15th centuries before the arrival of the Inca.
Archaeologists believe the Chimu sacrificed their children to appease their gods during a long period of extremely disruptive wet weather.
“It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children. Wherever you dig, there’s another one.”
The victims were aged between four and 14, it is thought.
The gruesome discovery was made near two other mass sacrifice sites, Pampa la Cruz and Huanchaquito, AFP reported.
Nearly 200 more bodies have been found in those locations alongside scores of sacrificial llama or alpaca skeletons.
Residents of the region began finding bones in 2011, according to a report in National Geographic earlier this year.
In Huanchaquito, the scale of the killing may signify the desperation of the Chimu to win the favour of the gods in the face of weather that was harming the empire’s ability to sustain itself.
“This number of children, this number of animals – it would have been a massive investment on behalf of the state,” said Gabriel Prieto, of the National University of Trujillo, who worked on the dig.
Jane Eva Baxter, of DePaul University, told the magazine that “you’re sacrificing the future and all that potential” when killing children and valuable animals.
Human sacrifices are known in a number of cultures but the Huanchaquito discovery was unprecedented until recently.
At the time Dr John Verano, an author of the study detailing that find, said: “This archaeological discovery was a surprise to all of us – we had not seen anything like this before.
“There was no suggestion from ethno-historic sources or historic accounts of child or camelid sacrifices being made on such a scale in northern coastal Peru.”
The children bore horizontal cut marks across their sternums, suggesting their hearts had been ritually removed.
A thick layer of mud covering the remains indicated that the slaughter took place after a large flood or storm.
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