Researchers excavating outside Peru's coastal city of Trujillo found evidence of what they say is the single largest child sacrifice burial ground in the world, containing the remains of more than 140 children and 200 juvenile llamas, according to a report released by National Geographic on Thursday.
The 140 sacrificed children were five to 14 years old at the time of the ritualistic human sacrifice that cut their lives short.
The grave, located near the modern city of Trujillo, also contained the remains of two hundred young lamas, apparently, sacrificed on the same day.
Discovered in 2011, the excavation sight on the northern coast of Peru has produced evidence of the largest known mass sacrifice in history.
The site is formally called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas and falls within a residential neighborhood.
The first remains were discovered in 2011, when an global team led by John Verano and Peruvian explorer Gabriel Prieto began the excavations. Based on examination of the skeletal remains of the children and animals, all had their chests cut open, possibly as a means of getting at the heart.
The name of the archaeological site, "Huanchaquito-Las Llamas", is already well-known from a previous discovery of child and llama remains in 2011, notes Fox News.
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Aside from the astounding number of child and llama skeletons, the 7,500-square-foot site also yielded the remains of three adults, which had been less ceremoniously entombed and which experts believe may have been involved in the mass sacrifice.
"I, for one, never expected it, and I don't think anyone else would have, either". Radiocarbon dating of ropes left around numerous llama's necks dates the event to 1450 AD, about 20 years before the Chimu empire was conquered by the Incan empire.
The children were reportedly buried facing the sea. But evidence of mass sacrifices of children are not many. The sacrificed Llamas on the other hand, were less 18 months of age. "This clearly was a different type of ritual-just children in the sand", said Verano.
The researchers are now trying to figure out why these children were sacrificed. Radiocarbon dating pinpointed the date of the supposed sacrifice between 1400 and 1450. "They may have seen that [adult sacrifice] was ineffective".
"When people hear about what happened and the scale of it, the first thing they always ask is: why", Gabriel Prieto, the other lead researcher, told National Geographic.
The layer of mud, which held fossilized footprints of the children and the llamas, suggests there was severe rain and floods on the typically dry coastline, which is often affected by El-Nino, the researchers said.