Mass Grave Of Child Human Sacrifice Victims Found In Peru


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


A child's skull pictured at the site. Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

An exclusive report in National Geographic has found evidence for what is the largest incidence of mass child sacrifice in the Americas, and possibly the world, dating back about 550 years.

The discovery, by an international team funded by the National Geographic Society, was made on Peru’s northern coast at a site called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas. In total, they found that more than 140 children – both boys and girls – and 200 young llamas had been sacrificed, thought to have occurred between 1400 and 1450.


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 site, 700 square meters (7,500 square feet) in size, was found on a low bluff that’s a thousand feet from the sea. It was located near the capital of the Chimú Empire at the time, which once controlled a territory 965 kilometers (600 miles) long along the Pacific coast.

First discovered in 2011, excavations on Huanchaquito-Las Llamas concluded in 2016. The team has now submitted a study on their findings to a scientific journal.

Warning, this next part gets a bit gruesome.

The remains had been preserved in dry sand for more than 500 years. Gabriel Prieto/National Geographic

At the site, the researchers found that the faces of the children, ranging in age from five to 14, had been smeared with a red cinnabar-based pigment during the ceremony. Their chests, and those of the llamas, had then been cut open, possibly to remove their hearts.

The remains of a male and two female adults were also found nearby with blunt-force trauma to the head, suggesting they had been involved in the ceremony before being “dispatched”. Deep skid marks were also found near the llamas, suggesting they may have resisted whatever happened.

It’s thought the ritual was a single event, which if confirmed would be the largest single mass child murder event known of in the world. The next largest was the ritual murder of 42 children in Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City. 

“We now know there was child sacrifice on a massive scale in ancient Peru, in a manner not seen before in South America,” said Verano.


It is not entirely clear why this ritual was carried out. However, it may have been an attempt to try and ward off the effects of an extremely disruptive El Niño event, which had crippled the Chimú's agricultural canals.

The team are now trying to piece together the life histories of the victims, including working out who they were. They note that there may also be other sites like this at Las Llamas awaiting discovery.


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