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Graves Hinting at Child Sacrifice Found Near Temple Ruins in Peru

Graves Hinting at Child Sacrifice Found Near Temple Ruins in Peru

Archaeologists excavating a Pre-Hispanic site in the northern Lambayeque region of Peru have recently unearthed a group of 17 graves. Both adult and child remains were found, of which some show evidence of possible ritual sacrifice.

Fox News Latino reports that the graves were unearthed during excavation work in July 2016 and have been dated to the 15th and 16th centuries. The remains were discovered around the Huaca Chornancap ruins at the Chotuna-Chornancap site.

Archaeologists believe that the graves form part of a Chimú – Inca cemetery. Decorative artifacts and ceramic offerings, such as a pot depicting a “coquero” (coca leaf chewer) have been found along with the human remains. 

Photograph of the Chimú – Inca cemetery at the Chotuna-Chornancap site.

Photograph of the Chimú – Inca cemetery at the Chotuna-Chornancap site. ( RPP/Rosario Coronado )

Chotuna-Chornancap is located 12km (7.46 miles) west of Chiclayo and has two huacas (pyramids or temples) from which it received its name. The site was a ceremonial center for the Lambayeque culture which continued to be used during the Chimú – Inca period.

The most surprising of the discoveries thus far comes from the west side of the site and includes the remains of two child graves that flank an adult burial. The children’s bodies were found without their feet. Archaeologists have suggested that the two children were ritually sacrificed and buried as ceremonial “guardians” for the other remains. This amputation and other “ intentional distortions in some of the bodies ” found at the site has linked some of the burials to ritual activities such as sacrifice.

Undated photograph released by the Ministry of Culture of Peru of one of the burials.

Undated photograph released by the Ministry of Culture of Peru of one of the burials. ( EFE)

Archaeologists have come across other Guardians in Pre-Hispanic cultures in Peru in the past. One such example comes from the burial of El Señor de Sipán (The Lord of Sipán), a Mochican warrior priest. As April Holloway wrote for Ancient Origins :

“Before finding the prominent Moche leader, archaeologists were met by a Guardian – the remains of a man wearing a copper helmet and holding a shield. He had been buried in a sitting position and his feet had been amputated to prevent him leaving his sentry position. At the time, the researchers had no idea of the opulent riches that lay beyond the Guardian.”

A photo of the original tomb in situ in the Huaca Rajada in Sipán. The ornaments and skeletons are reproductions, the originals having been restored and visible in the museum Tumbas Reales de Sipán in Lambayeque.

A photo of the original tomb in situ in the Huaca Rajada in Sipán. The ornaments and skeletons are reproductions, the originals having been restored and visible in the museum Tumbas Reales de Sipán in Lambayeque. (Bruno Girin/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

So far, the archaeologists have uncovered the graves of six children, all buried in pairs, that have been lay to rest at the north, east, and western end of the site. Differing from the children, the men and women were found with their bodies facing up in long and narrow graves. Archaeologists believe that the individuals were part of a high social class.

Speaking on the current discovery, the excavations director, Carlos Wester La Torre, told RPP:

“We didn’t expect this discovery. All of the sacrifices are found extended in a lateral decubitus position [lying on their right side] and have offerings. It is very organized, with a pre-established model (…) All of this allows us to confirm that there is a continuity of the site being used as a sacred space across the cultures.”

Carlos Wester La Torre also told RPP that the artifacts are undergoing conservation procedures before they will be exhibited. He said that work will continue at the site until December and it is possible that they will find more graves in the near future. 

Evidence suggesting the practice of child sacrifice has been found before in Chimú sites. April Holloway wrote about one example in 2014 . That article describes how in 2011 archaeologist Gabriel Prieto found the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas that showed signs of having been sacrificed in a religious ceremony in the coastal village of Huanchaquito.

In comparison to the possible Guardian children at the Chotuna-Chornancap site, the Huanchaquito sacrifices “may have been an offering to the sea, or a response to severe flooding brought on by an El Niño event. The llamas may have been intended to transport the victims to the afterlife.”

The remains of a child and a llama unearthed in the fishing town of Huanchaquito, Trujillo, Peru.

The remains of a child and a llama unearthed in the fishing town of Huanchaquito, Trujillo, Peru. Credit: Mariana Bazo

Top Image: One of the human burials with accompanying grave goods found at the Chotuna-Chornancap site in Lambayeque, Peru. Source: Anoato

By Alicia McDermott

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