Archaeologists discovered the site of an ancient mass sacrifice of children

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Archaeologists have uncovered what may be the largest single mass child sacrifice event in human history.

A shocking discovery was made near the Pacific ocean, among residential complexes in La Libertad outside of Trujillo, the third largest city of Peru.

The victims appear to have been part of a ritual sacrifice that took place almost 550 years ago when the Chimú Empire ruled the area, archaeologists said.

In the grave were found the remains of 140 children.

Acknowledging that the discovery of human sacrifice has been found among the Aztec, Inca and Mayan cultures, Nat Geo noted that the Chimú find "is unprecedented in the Americas - if not the world".

Ongoing scientific investigations into the Peru site, formally called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, are being carried out by an global team funded by the National Geographic Society.

Describing the finding as both "surprising" and "shocking", John Verano from Tulane University in New Orleans, one of the leads on the project, told IFLScience it reveals "a form of child sacrifice unimaginable until this discovery".

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.

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Majority were aged eight to 12, disclosed the archaeologists, who note that the children were mostly buried facing west, towards the sea.

Their sternums were cut and their ribs dislocated so their chests could be broke open and pulled apart, likely to facilitate the removal of the heart. During a dig that year, archaeologists found the remains of 42 children, a number that has since increased. 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 llamas were all less than 18 months and they were buried facing east, toward the Andes, they said.

"It is ritual killing and it's very systematic", Verano told Nat Geo.

The researchers are now attempting to trace who the children were, and where they came from.

"When people hear about what happened and the scale of it, the first thing they always ask is why?" But the archaeological record suggests they succumbed to an Incan invasion only a few decades after the sacrifices occurred. Robes and fabric discovered in the site were dated between 1400 and 1450.

According to historical experts, the mass sacrifice was part of a single event, suggested by a layer of dried mud recovered from a least disturbed portion of the 7,500-square-foot site that is believed to have covered the entire sand dune where the site is located at one point of time.

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