New Evidence Suggest Ancient Peruvians Slaughtered War Captives
A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science has revealed that the ancient Moche civilization regularly engaged in the ritual killing of war prisoners who were killed, displayed, and later swept into pits. The findings contradict a widely held belief that the sacrificed victims were elite members of their society.
The Moche was a mysterious civilization who ruled the northern coast of Peru approximately two thousand years ago. They built huge pyramids made of millions of mud bricks and created an extensive network of aqueducts which enabled them to irrigate crops in their dry desert location. They were pioneers of metal working techniques like gilding and soldering, which enabled them to created extraordinarily intricate jewellery and artefacts. But their society also revolved around war, violence and ritualistic human sacrifice as depicted on their murals.
A group of researchers wanted to resolve the debate surrounding the issue of who the sacrificed victims were. They analysed the bones and teeth belonging to the remains of 34 sacrificed victims to determine their oxygen content, which would determine the water that the people drank and therefore where the victims lived. The results showed that the victims drank water that was located far away, suggesting that they were individuals captured in war and brought back to the Moche settlements for sacrifice.
Among the largest-known Moche ruins is the brick mound site of Huacas de Moche, located near the modern-day city of Trujillo, Peru. Roughly 70 sacrifice victims have been found there so far—an indication of frequent human offerings. That alone suggests the slaughter of captured warriors rather than rare killings of elites to appease the gods in religious rituals.
"You don't deny a proper burial, deflesh, mutilate, and turn your elites' bones into trophies as they did [at Huacas de Moche]," said John Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans, one of the authors of the report. "You don't make a drinking mug out of your elite [ruler's] skull."
The new study suggests that Moche centers vied with each other for power and resources, which likely led to warfare. The battles led to the taking of captives, who were later slain in sacrificial ceremonies.
Such findings often lead to perceptions of the Moche culture, and many other tribes who engaged in human sacrifice, as barbaric and bloodthirsty, and indeed they were. But they were no different from societies today in which murder, torture, and mass killings occur on a daily basis around the world. Sadly, human psychology has not changed one bit.