Hundreds of children and llamas sacrificed in ritual event in 15th century Peru

A mass sacrifice at a 15th century archaeological site in Peru saw the ritual killing of over 140 children and over 200 llamas, according to a new study in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gabriel Prieto of the National University of Trujillo, Peru and colleagues. This is the largest known mass sacrifice of children – and of llamas – in the New World.

Human and animal sacrifices are known from a variety of ancient cultures, often performed as part of funerary, architectural, or spiritual rituals. Very little evidence of this practice is known from the northern coast of Peru, however. The Huanchaquito-Las Llamas site was part of the Chimú state, which was a dominant culture along the Peruvian coast in the 15th century.

CREDIT: JOHN VERANO (2019)

This study reports the findings of excavations between 2011 and 2016 that revealed hundreds of bodies buried in an area of approximately 700 square meters. The human remains were almost entirely children, and the animal remains, all juvenile, were identified as most likely llamas, but possibly alpacas. Anatomical and genetic evidence indicates the children included boys and girls between 5 and 14 years old. Cut marks transecting the sternums and displaced ribs suggest both the children and llamas may have had their chests cut open, possibly during ritual removal of the heart.

Research article: A mass sacrifice of children and camelids at the Huanchaquito-Las Llamas site, Moche Valley, Peru

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