Inequality drove ancient Peruvians to child sacrifice





Sacrifice is an age-old ritual, but the inhabitants of 10th-century Peru brought sinister novelty to their rites by slaughtering children.

In the Lambayeque valley on the north coast of the country, the earliest definitive evidence of ritual child sacrifice has been uncovered. The bloodletting took place at a site called Cerro Cerrillos.

This practice, which emerged between 900 and 1100 AD, may have been a way for a particular ethnic group – the Muchik – to solidifying their cultural identity in a landscape dominated by another, elite ethnic group, the Sicán.

To investigate the role of ritual sacrifice in the Middle Sicán period, researchers examined 81 skeletons at the sacrificial site, probing their teeth and bones to determine who they were and why they'd been killed. The researchers found that 70 per cent of the identifiable victims were anaemic Muchik children, aged 2 to 15, who'd lived out their short lives on an inferior diet of maize and squash.

Analysis of skeletal slash marks shows that each victim had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck or chest with a metal knife, and the chest cavities pried open, perhaps to encourage more bloodletting, or to extract the heart, and to remove the lungs for divination. Klaus's team also discovered the seeds of Nectandra plants near the skeletons. Since these have paralytic and hallucinogenic properties, Klaus suggests that the drug might have been given to the victims before the ritual killing began....


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