The remains of 140 children sacrificed in the fifteenth century during a mass ritual were exhumed in America, in a region where pre-Columbian Chimu civilization was present.
Some bodies were outcropping, others had their skulls stained with cinnabar giving them a blood-red appearance …
140 children and adolescents, as well as 200 young lamas, were immolated 550 years ago on the Pacific Rim, in the heart of the Chimu empire – an important pre-Columbian civilization (1000 – 1470) prior to the Incas.
A ceremony of a scale never described before: „I have studied many cases of prisoners of war sacrifices, or of servants executed with their masters, but I had never seen anything like it!“ Says John Verano, an anthropologist at Tulane University (USA). On April 26, 2018, the National Geographic magazine reported the discovery of what is presented as the largest identified case of child sacrifice.
Radiocarbon analyzes date the massacre between 1400 and 1450
Called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, the site where small victims are in fact regularly exhumed since 2011 is located near a road, in the middle of an urban area, on a height, about 300 m above the sea level, in northern Peru. There, in the province of Trujillo, the radiocarbon dates of these human remains made it possible to locate the hecatomb between 1400 and 1450. With its lot of macabre details.
„Human skeletons, as well as animals, bore traces of cuts in the sternum … indicating the opening of the chest of these children to extract the heart,“ said John Verano. Because it is a ritual of human sacrifice with cardiectomy – removal of the heart of the rib cage – which was practiced in Huanchaquito in the fifteenth century on these children aged 5 to 14 years.
Never before have so many young people been sacrificed at one time
From the first discoveries of 2011, this research undertaken with the participation of French and Peruvian archaeologists had already attracted attention. „The number of bodies of children and llamas exhumed was completely new,“ says Nicolas Gopfeart, French archaeologist CNRS, who is currently studying another field of the same type.
„The camelids were probably killed to“ accompany „the children in the afterlife.“ Some still wore around the neck the ropes that had been used to drive them. „These practices were known to the Incas, successors of Chimus, or the Mayas and Aztecs, but never so many young people had been sacrificed at one time and on such a scale,“ said John Verano.
At its peak, the Chimu Empire, whose capital Chan Chan is 1.5 km from the Huanchaquito site, controlled a territory of nearly a thousand kilometers along the Pacific side. But what could have happened to get these people to perform such a gesture? A large mudslide released during the excavations could provide a clue: torrential rains and severe flooding on the usually arid coastline may be credited with a particularly violent El Nino climate event. (In 1982-1983, such an episode produced dramatic effects in northern Peru, where more than 250 cm of rain fell in a few months, destroying everything).
Climate event and divine wrath
In the 15th century, this type of calamity could be at the origin of havoc in the coastal fishing as much as in the Chimu cultures, pushing the inhabitants of the region to these ends. „In pre-Columbian populations, religion permeated the whole system of thought. There was no difference between natural and supernatural phenomena. For most of these men, nature could be terrifying, and climate disasters synonymous with destruction and death.
Faced with the terror inspired by the divine anger, the people of the Pacific coast may have resorted to human sacrifices to try to appease the gods, and in the case of Huanchaquito, faced with the possible failure of other sacrifices, offer them what they cherished most: their own children.
„This ritual seems similar to those of Capacocha, also practiced by the Incas later. These rituals, linked to the exceptional natural rains and manifestations, also involved sacrifices of children (generally the most beautiful or those belonging to caciques), as much than llamas of specific colors such as those brown, white, or black, associated with different aspects of the creative divinity: Wiracocha or its Chimu and coastal equivalent, „said Patrice Lecoq, lecturer in Andean archeology, at the University of Paris -I. New research is being conducted under the direction of Oscar Gabriel Prieto of the National University of Trujillo (Peru).