Scientists have unearthed the remains of more than 140 children and 200 llamas who appear to have died in the New World’s largest known mass sacrifice, researchers reported on March 6 in PLOS One. The remains were excavated from an archaeological site in Peru. Based on radiocarbon dating, the scientists estimate that the ritual killings occurred around 1450 CE, when the Chimú state would have been the dominant culture. 

Previously, there was little evidence for this kind of mass killing occurring near the northern Peruvian coast, where the remains were found. DNA analysis revealed that both boys and girls were sacrificed. Cut marks on the children’s and animals’ bones and displaced ribs suggest that those killed may have had their chests opened, possibly to extract their hearts.

“This archaeological discovery was a surprise to all of us—we had not seen anything like this before....

G. Prieto et al., “A mass sacrifice of children and camelids at the Huanchaquito-Las Llamas site, Moche Valley, Peru,” PLOS One, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0211691, 2019.


Interested in reading more?

The Scientist ARCHIVES

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?