The dry and unforgiving coastal plains of Peru might not seem like the ideal location for rich and complex cultures to develop. Undergoing frequent droughts and hard times, it is a harsh environment in which to make a living. But over the past few years, archaeologists have been uncovering more and more evidence of flourishing communities and elaborate cultures building massive structures. It appears that they were also partial to a bit of human sacrifice.
Researchers have uncovered what they think is evidence of a macabre ceremony at a temple used by the pre-Incan Sicán culture on the north Peruvian coast. In a secret compound, they found the skeletons of six young women showing evidence of sacrifice, buried in contorted poses, and with all of their heads facing towards the Andes Mountains. Alongside the gruesome discovery, the archaeologists also found the remains of a llama and ceramics, also thought to be involved in ritual activity.
The temple, and the grisly remains found within, are thought to be around 1,200 years old, putting them a few hundred years before the emergence of the Inca. The archaeologists think that the site, and the rituals within, were performed by the Sicán culture – also referred to as the Lambayeque – which lasted from around 750 to 1375 C.E., succeeding the earlier Moche civilization from the same region, although there is some debate about the overlap between the two.
Earlier excavations of Sicán temples and pyramids have found evidence of further mass sacrifice, though these burials were mainly dominated by male skeletons. In the ancient Huaca Las Ventanas pyramid, for example, archaeologists found almost one hundred bodies, buried nude and some missing their heads.
While it seems that the Sicán engaged quite heavily in the gruesome rituals, the reason behind the sacrificing is a little harder to decipher, as there are no written records of their beliefs or customs. As they don’t seem to have been a fighting people, warfare has been ruled out, and some researchers even suggest that the participants were willing victims.