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The remains of 140 children who died in the 16th century mark the greatest sacrifice of children in history

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXCLUSIVE – Ancient Mass Child Sacrifice may be the largest in the world The face of this child was painted with a red pigment based on cinnabar and archaeologists hypothesized that the chest was opened to remove the heart as part of the sacrifice ceremony. "The skeletal evidence clearly indicates that the children and the camelids were sacrificed when opening the thoracic cavity," the researchers reported. (Photograph by Gabriel Prieto / National Geographic)

Archaeologists have discovered the bodies of more than 140 children and 200 llamas in what appears to be the single largest mass sacrifice of children in the Americas and possibly in world history – in the north coast Peru.

The team of researchers, which includes the anthropology professor at Tulane University, John Verano, shared his findings in an exclusive National Geographic that was published on Thursday, April 26.

The remains were discovered in 2011 along by bluffing about a thousand feet from the sea and appear to be around 550 years old. The site is formerly known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas. While human sacrifice was common among ancient civilizations such as the Incas and the Aztecs, the discovery that was supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, sheds new light on the Chimú Empire in Peru.

Summer recalled the call he received from his colleague Gabriel Prieto from the National University of Trujillo during the summer of 2011.

"At first I did not realize how many skeletons I was finding. human sacrifices, I've unearthed captive warriors, this was clearly a different kind of ritual: only children in the sand, "said Verano.

The remains of the children and animals showed cuts in the sternum and dislocated ribs, suggesting that the victim's chests were opened and separated to facilitate removal of the heart, according to National Geographic.

The 140 sacrificed children were between 5 and 14 years old and were buried facing west towards the sea. The llamas were less than 18 months old, were buried facing east and looked towards the Andes mountains.

Summer believes that the young victims were brought from other regions of the Chimu Empire and did not originate in the ritual site.

Some of the victims showed evidence of skull deformation, a practice that was practical in some of the upland areas during that time.

Regarding why the sacrifice was made Summer said that researchers can only formulate hypotheses at this point.

The team said the mud found on the site could have been the result of severe floods and rains that disrupted the food supply.

"In ritual sacrifice there was a hierarchy, human life was the most valuable, followed by llamas and then Guinea pigs," he said. "Perhaps the children were seen as a purer and more perfect gift for the gods."

Maria Clark writes about health, doctors, patients and health in Louisiana for NOLA.com | The Times Picayune and NOLA World. Contact her at mclark@nola.com or 504.258.5306. Or follow her on Twitter at @ MariaPClark1.

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