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Archaeologists in Peru have uncovered what could be the site of the largest known instance of child sacrifice in the Americas, and perhaps even the world.
The remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas were found under residential compounds outside the city of Trujillo, in Peru’s northwest, National Geographic reports. The site is a short distance from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan.
The victims appear to have been part of a ritual sacrifice that took place nearly 550 years ago when the Chimú Empire ruled the area, archaeologists said.
Most of the children at the site — known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas — were between the ages of eight and 12 years when they died and were buried facing the Pacific Ocean to the West. The llamas, all younger than 18 months, were buried facing the Andes to the East. When discovered, some of the human and animal victims seemed to have had their chests cut open, perhaps to have their hearts removed, according to Nat Geo.
Evidence from a layer of dried mud in part of the site led the team to believe that the killings were made in a single event and could have been done in response to severe flooding.
The scale of the discovery reportedly came as a surprise to the team working in the area. John Verano, a physical anthropologist from Tulane University who has worked in the area for 30 years told Nat Geo, “I, for one, never expected it.”
The investigation will now focus on learning about the victims’ lives.