New Study Suggests El Niño is Responsible for 140 Children Skeletons in Peru
Last year, on the northern coast of Peru, anthropologists had found evidence of a mass ritual killing, which could be one of the world’s largest cases of child sacrifice.
The 140 child skeletons and 200 llamas remains were discovered last year beneath the sands of an archeological site named Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, whose excavation of began in 2011.
Gabriel Prieto, Professor of Archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, worked on the site and said that the discovery shocked him and his colleagues.
“In Peru, we are familiar with human bones, but in this particular case there were so many skeletons and they were all children,” he said. “It was astonishing.”
The sacrificial victims who were between the ages of five and 14 appear to have been ritually sacrificed on a single-day-ceremony about 550 years ago.
The mummified bodies were discovered in a carefully arranged and unified manner, with their heads facing the oceans and their feet facing the mountains.
In contrast, the llamas were buried facing east towards the Andes Mountains.
The children all appear to have suffered the same death: a single horizontal slice across the sternum. Researchers acknowledged that many of the children's rib cages were pried apart, suggesting their hearts were removed after death.
“We can’t prove it, but certainly in the Mayan world they described the importance of taking out a heart that was still beating,” said John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans and one of the leaders of the research, published Wednesday in PLOS One.
Despite being impossible to conclude a definitive justification for the sacrifice, Verano and Pietro suggest the act was done out of desperation in response to El Niño in a new study.
“What we seem to have at Huanchaquito-Las Llamas is a sacrifice to stop torrential rains, flooding and mudflows,” said Verano.
The discovery of the sacrificed children provides new knowledge into the rituals of the ancient Chimu civilization.
In 2011, the bodies were found by complete accident when a man named Michele Spano Pescara approached Prieto. He said that his children had dug up bones near their home.
Dr. Prieto was astonished at the well-preserved site. “There were so many complete human remains and complete bodies in perfect states of preservation everywhere.”
From 2011 to 2016, Prieto and his colleagues dug up the remains in an area stretching 7,500 square feet.
In addition to the children and llamas, three adults were found buried on the site. Prieto believes the adults were in charge of taking care of the children prior to the sacrifice.
The adults, two women and one man suffered significantly different deaths than the ritualistic ones of the children. Both women appeared to have blunt force trauma, while the man’s ribs were broken.
“I believe these two women and the man were part of a group that was babysitting the kids and were buried with them at some point,” Prieto said. “We didn’t say that in the paper, but my feeling is that they were so closely related to the children that the organizers of the ceremony decided — if they go, you go too.”
While Prieto, Verano and their colleagues continue to further analyze the skeletons hoping to reveal more about the lives of the sacrificed, Prieto has started a new excavation at Pampa La Cruz. There, he has found 132 kids and 250 llamas, thus suggesting that child sacrifices happened more than once.