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Ancient remains of 140 children discovered in Peru

Ancient remains of 140 children discovered in Peru

The largest known child ritual killing site in the world - with corpses of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas - was discovered by archaeologists in northern coast of the Huanchaco district, Peru.

The cliff is located just outside the northwestern coastal city of Trujillo, Peru's third largest city which today has 800,000 inhabitants.

Several ancient cultures in the Americas practiced human sacrifices including the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas, who conquered the Chimu empire in the late 15th century.

The discovery, by an global team funded by the National Geographic Society, was made on Peru's northern coast at a site called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas.

Scientific investigations by the global, interdisciplinary team, led by National Geographic Explorers Gabriel Prieto of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo and John Verano of Tulane University, are ongoing. The burial site also contained the remains of about 200 young llamas. The baby llamas were buried facing east, toward the high peaks of the Andes.

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Analysis of the remains has also left researchers thinking that the cuts "were made by one or more trained hands". The researchers think the adults may have performed the ritual killings then were executed shortly after.

The burial site, known as Las Lamas, built by the ancient Chimu Empire, hides the skeletons of 140 children aged from five to fourteen years old at the time, when they were ritually sacrificed. 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.

As for the three adults found nearby, "signs of blunt-force trauma to the head and a lack of grave goods with the adult bodies lead researchers to suspect that they may have played a role in the sacrifice event and were dispatched shortly thereafter", the report read.

In the layers of sediment at the site, researchers found evidence that the region had experienced severe rainfall and flooding around the same time as the sacrifices, likely due to elevated sea temperatures from an El NiƱo event. The layer could have been caused by the rains in the usually dry area - probably linked to extreme weather event such as the El Nino.

"When people hear about what happened and the scale of it, the first thing they always ask is 'why?'" Prieto told National Geographic. There are even skid marks in the sediment indicating places where the sacrificial victims were reluctant to participate. Human sacrifice has taken place in every corner of the world at one time or another in our history, although the mass sacrifice of children is very rare, actually nearly unheard of to most scientists. But the archaeological record suggests they succumbed to an Incan invasion only a few decades after the sacrifices occurred.

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