Ring of Babies: The disturbing scene found in 1,000-year-old tomb in Peru
A disturbing scene unfolded as archaeologists in Peru excavated a 1,000-year-old tomb at the pre-Inca Pachacamac site several years ago: a ring of babies that had been buried with their heads facing into a grave site with the remains of 70 more people inside, some of whom had been diseased or sustained mortal injuries. Researchers pondered whether the babies had been sacrificed.
The site, 30 km (18 miles) southeast of Lima, has been under excavation since the 1890s. Archaeologists found the undisturbed tomb in 2012. Most of the rest of the site, one of the largest pre-Hispanic sites in South America, had been looted in colonial times, but this tomb 20 meters long (65 feet) was intact. The tomb is right in front of the main temple of Pachacamac. According to an article in Science Daily:
“The tomb is oval in outline, excavated into the earth and covered with a roof of reeds supported by carved and shaped tree trunks. A dozen newborn babies and infants were distributed around the perimeter, their heads oriented towards the tomb. The main chamber was separated into two sections, separated by a wall of mud bricks which served as a base for yet more burials. Inside the chambers, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of more than 70 skeletons and mummies (many of which still retained their wrappings), all in the characteristic fœtal position. The burials represented both sexes and all ages, and were often accompanied by offrenda including ceramic vessels, animals (dogs, guinea pigs), copper and gold alloy artefacts, masks (or 'false heads') in painted wood, calabashes, etc. These items are currently under restoration and analysis. Babies and very young infants were particularly common.”
A team of physical anthropologists studied the remains. They were led by Lawrence Owens of the University of London, under the overall direction of Professor Peter Eeckhout of the Université libre de Bruxelles, who has been digging at the site for 20 years. They theorized that the people may have been related because of certain traits the skeletons share. Some of the people buried in this particular tomb suffered from serious illnesses, which led researchers to ponder whether Pachacamac was a place of pilgrimage for treatment, similar to Lourdes. Others suffered physical trauma or even mortal injuries.
Previous work at what is called the Ychsma Project also has shown that many of the people buried there in other grave sites suffered from diseases. Inca sources testify to the site as a sort of spa or healing site, says Science Daily. People first inhabited the complex sometime in the 200 to 650 AD time frame and abandoned it in the 16 th century.
Brightly colored murals have been found at the site in addition to a great many interesting artifacts from all over the Andes region. (World Archaeology photo)
Pachacamac, which means Earth Maker, was a creator god to the people of the region, the Huari and later the Ychsma, before the Inca conquered them. The Inca absorbed Pachacamac into their belief system, but he was a considered subordinate to Viracocha, the supreme Inca god.
This site called Pachacamac was a temple complex devoted to the god. Archaeologists have found 17 pyramids, damaged beyond repair by the El Niño weather phenomenon.
According to Science Daily: “Professor Eeckhout and his colleagues are currently carrying out laboratory analyses aimed at answering numerous questions that have arisen concerning this discovery, and how to contextualise it within the wider context of the site and the period(s) in question. Were the infants sacrificed? Were the bodies all interred at the same time as a form of communal burial, or was the chamber reused over longer periods of time like some sort of crypt? Did the individuals come from Pachacamac or further afield? Did they belong to the same family or larger kinship group? What was their cause of death?”
Owens says in a blog that there may be 80,000 burials at Pachacamac. Some people were buried with macaw feathers and fine textiles, pots and other possessions. In 2014 researchers were excavating a painted temple adorned with polychrome murals and items from across the Andes, including seashells, exotic feathers, metals, wooden cups inlaid with fine materials and a lot of other artifacts, he wrote.
The House of the Sun Virgins, which has been reconstructed at Pachacamac. (Photo by Xauxa/Wikimedia Commons)
“Among these are various burials, often in unusual ‘deviant’ burial formats – such as under floors, in strange positions and so forth – that promise to tell us a great deal more about these people and what their lives were like,” Owens wrote.
Oddly, after the initial reporting of the possibly sacrificed babies and the strange burial in front of the main temple, there has been very little news out of Pachacamac.
Featured image: The Temple of the Sun, in front of which almost 100 bodies, including many infants, were excavated from an unlooted tomb. (Photo by Charles Gadbois/Wikimedia Commons)
By Mark Miller