By Steven Martin Kensington
Archeology/History – A newly discovered burial site was revealed by archeologists on Friday, following seven years of research in the region. At the conclusion of the excavation in 2016, they had found 140 skeletons of children between five and fourteen years at the Huanchaquito-Las Llamas (colloquially called Las Llamas) burial site in north-western Peru, the result of a mass ritual sacrifice believed to have occurred during the reign of the Chimú Empire around 550 years ago. This is the largest child sacrifice site which has been discovered by archeologists hitherto. This has been measured through radiocarbon dating of ropes and textiles at the size, indicating that the burying occurred between 1400 and 1450, only decades before they were overthrown by the Incas in 1470. At its peak, the empire controlled a 965-km-long (600 miles) area along the Pacific coast and interior valleys from the modern Peru-Equador border to Lima – a size only exceeded in the pre-Columbian era by their successor, the Incas.
Gabriel Prieto, who has been leading the excavation along with John Verano, believes ‘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.’ Prieto was informed by local residents in 2011 about human bones eroding from the sand dunes around their homes, which was the beginning of the now seven-year-old research in the region.
Further elaboration has been provided by bioarcheologist Haagen Claus, who claims adult sacrifices weren’t deemed enough for the gods by the chimus at the time, as it didn’t fend off the destructions caused by the weather pattern of El Niño.
There were also found about 200 llamas sacrificed there, which he added was a fundamental part of their economy. The children were buried facing the sea, while the llamas were buried facing the Andes mountains to the east.
The skeleton remains shows clear rib replacements and cuts which indicate the sacrificers ripping the chests of the victims open to facilitate the removal of their hearts.
Verano exclaimed of the discovery, ‘I, for one, never expected it. And I don’t think anyone else would have, either.’
The archeologists also discovered that the children may have been on a ‘death march’ 1.5 km (1 mile) from Chan Chan to Las Llamas, as they discovered small footprints having survived rain and erosion on the way.
Image 1: National Geographic. Shows distance between Chan Chan and Las Llamas
Human sacrifices have been common practice in the practices of ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayas, but child sacrifices have rarely been documented. The largest known ritual child sacrifice prior to this discovery was the ritual murder of 42 children in Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán (today’s Mexico City). In other words, the new discovery reveals a degree of ritual child sacrifice over three times as big as what was priorly known.
Prieto also said, however, that ‘Las Llamas is already such a unique site in the world, and it makes you wonder how many other sites like this there may be out there in the area for future research,’ adding, ‘this may just be the tip of the iceberg.’