Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

World’s Biggest Mass Child Sacrifice Discovered In Peru, with 140 Killed in ‘Heart Removal’ Ritual

Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.
Skeletons at the sacrifice site showed evidence to suggest their chests had been cut open and their hearts removed.

The largest child sacrifice on record took place after a torrential rainfall, when about 140 children and 200 young llamas likely had their hearts ripped out by the ancient Chimú culture in A.D. 1450, in what is now Peru.

The reason for the sacrifice, however, remains a mystery, according to a new study. Even so, the scientists of the study have several ideas. For instance, heavy rainfall and flooding from that year’s El Niño weather pattern may have prompted Chimú leaders to order the sacrifice, but without more evidence, we’ll likely never know the real reason, said study co-researcher John Verano, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Study lead researcher Gabriel Prieto, an assistant professor in archaeology at the National University of Trujillo, Peru, learned about the sacrificial site in 2011 after a father approached him while he was doing fieldwork on another project.

The father described a nearby dune with bones poking out of it. The father said, “Look, my kids are bringing bones back every day, and I’m tired of it,” said Verano, who later joined the project in 2014. Once at the dune, Prieto immediately realized that the site had archaeological significance, and he and his colleagues have been working on it since, excavating and studying the human and llama (Lama glama) remains at the site, known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas.

“It’s the largest child sacrifice event in the archaeological record anywhere in the world,” Verano said. “And it’s the largest sacrifice with llamas in South America. There’s nothing like this anywhere else.

“Who were the victims?

The site holds the remains of at least 137 boys and girls and 200 llamas. Many of the children and the llamas had cut marks on their sterna, or breastbones, as well as displaced ribs, suggesting that their chests had been cut open, perhaps to extract the heart, the researchers wrote in the study.

The children ranged in age from 5 to 14 and were generally in good health, according to an analysis of their bones and teeth. These youngsters were wrapped in cotton shrouds and buried either on their backs with extended legs, on their backs with flexed legs or and resting on one side with flexed legs.

Many were buried in groups of three and placed from youngest to oldest. Some had red cinnabar paint (a natural form of mercury) on their faces, and others, especially the older children, wore cotton headdresses.

The llamas were either laid next to or on top of the children’s bodies. In many cases, llamas of different colors (brown and beige) were buried together, but facing different directions. Also buried at the site, near the children’s remains, were the bodies of two women and a man.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.

An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
An archaeologist excavates one of the sacrificed children.
These adults do not have cut marks on their sterna, suggesting their hearts weren’t removed. Rather, one woman likely died from a blow to the back of the head and another suffered from blunt force trauma to her face. The man had rib fractures, but it wasn’t clear whether these injuries happened before or after death, possibly due to the weight of the rocks that were placed over his body, the researchers said.

The children weren’t buried with any discernible offerings, but the researchers did find a pair of ceramic jars and wooden paddles on the edge of the site, next to a single llama.

What happened?

The Chimú culture dominated a large part of the Peruvian coast from the 11th to 15th century. It thrived, in part, because of its intensive agriculture; the Chimú watered their crops and livestock with a sophisticated web of hydraulic canals, the researchers wrote in the study.

This area is typically dry, drizzling only a few times a year. But it’s possible an extreme El Niño event, when warm water evaporates from the southern Pacific and falls as torrential rain on Peru’s coast, caused havoc in the society, not only flooding the Chimú’s lands but also driving away or killing marine life off the coast, Verano said.

Evidence shows that when the children and llamas were sacrificed, the area was sodden with water, even capturing human and animal footprints in the muck that still exist today. It’s unclear why this particular site, located almost 1,150 feet (350 meters) from the coast about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) north of the city of Chan Chan, was chosen for the sacrifice, but researchers have some idea for why the children were chosen.

Children are often seen as innocent beings who aren’t yet full members of society, and thus might be viewed as appropriate gifts or messengers to the gods, Verano said. Moreover, these children were not all locals. Some of the children had experienced head shaping, and an analysis of carbon and nitrogen isotopes (an isotope is a variation of an element) in their remains showed that these kids came from different regions and ethnic groups within the Chimú state, the researchers found.

It’s unclear why their hearts were removed, but “worldwide, everyone is aware that the heart is a very dynamic organ,” Verano said. “You can feel and hear it beating. It’s very vital. If you take the heart out, a lot of blood comes out and the person dies.”Today, some people in the Peruvian highlands and Bolivia still remove the hearts from sacrificed llamas, Verano noted.

Sometimes the removed heart is burned and the animal’s blood gets splashed on places like mines, a measure thought to protect the workers within. However, it’s unknown how the Chimú viewed and treated hearts in antiquity, Verano said. The children’s remains are now safely stored by Peru’s Ministry of Culture, and the researchers have submitted permits so they can continue to study them, Verano said.

The discovery shows “the importance of preserving cultural patrimony and archaeological material,” Verano said. “If we had had not dug this, it would probably be destroyed now by a housing and urban expansion. So we’ve saved a little chapter of prehistory.”The study is “an incredible insight into the ritual and sacrificial practices of the Chimú kingdom,” said Ryan Williams, a curator, professor and head of anthropology at The Field Museum in Chicago, who has worked as a South American archaeologist for more than 25 years.

He added that while human sacrifice is reviled in our modern society, “we have to remember that the Chimú had a very different world view than Westerners today. They also had very different concepts about death and the role each person plays in the cosmos,” Williams, who was not involved with the study. Given that the sacrifice may have been in response to devastating floods, “perhaps the victims went willingly as messengers to their gods, or perhaps Chimú society believed this was the only way to save more people from destruction,” Williams said.

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years

This illustration shows how the ancient footprint may have been made about 15,600 years ago in what is now Chile.
This illustration shows how the ancient footprint may have been made about 15,600 years ago in what is now Chile.

The earliest recorded human footprint in the Americas was not found in Canada, the United States, or even Mexico; it was found much further south, in Chile, and a new study finds it dates back to an amazing 15,600 years ago.

The finding sheds light on when humans first reached the Americas, probably by traveling in the midst of the last ice age across the Bering Strait Land Bridge.

This 10.2-inch-long (26 centimeters) print might even be evidence of pre-Clovis people in South America, the group that came before the Clovis, which are known for their distinctive spearheads, the researchers said.

The find suggests that pre-Clovis people were in northern Patagonia (a region of South America) for some time, as the footprint is older than archaeological evidence from Chile’s Monte Verde, a site about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south containing artifacts that are at least 14,500 years old. 

Vertebrate paleontologist Leonora Salvadores discovered the footprint in December 2010, when she was an undergraduate student at the Austral University of Chile.

At the time, Salvadores and her fellow students were investigating a well-known archaeological site known as Pilauco, which is about 500 miles (820 km) south of Santiago, Chile.

Earliest Ever Human Footprint in the Americas Discovered, Dating Back 15,600 Years
This footprint is about 15,600 years old.

However, it took years for study lead researcher and paleontologist Karen Moreno and study lead investigator and geologist Mario Pino, both at the Austral University of Chile, to verify that the print was human, radiocarbon date it (they tested six different organic remnants found at that layer to be sure) and determine how it was made by a barefoot adult.

Part of these tests involved walking through similar sediment to see what kinds of tracks got left behind. These experiments revealed that the ancient human likely weighed about 155 lbs. (70 kilograms) and that the soil was quite wet and sticky when the print was made.

It appears that a clump of this sticky dirt clung to the person’s toes and then fell into the print when the foot was lifted, as the image below suggests.

This sequence shows how the footprint may have been made.

This sequence shows how the footprint may have been made.

The footprint is classified as a type called Hominipes modernus, a footprint usually made by Homo sapiens, the researchers said. (Just like species, trace fossils, such as footprints, receive scientific names.)

Previous excavations at the site revealed other late Pleistocene fossils, including the bones of elephant relatives, llama relatives and ancient horses, as well as rocks that humans may have used as tools, the researchers said.

The study “adds to a growing body of fossil and archaeological evidence suggesting that humans dispersed throughout the Americas earlier than many people have previously thought,” said Kevin Hatala, an assistant professor of biology at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who was not involved with the study.

This find comes a mere year after the discovery of the oldest known human footprints in North America, which date to 13,000 years ago, Hatala noted.

It would be nice to have more data from the Chile site — “more footprints, more artifacts, more skeletal material and so on,”  But unfortunately, the fossil and archaeological records are never as generous as we’d like! With just a single human footprint to work with, the authors extracted as much information as they could.

When we look at this evidence in the context of other data, it makes a strong case for the antiquity of [the] human presence in Patagonia.”The footprint is now preserved in a glass box and is housed at the recently established Pleistocene Museum in the city of Osorno, Chile.

30,000 Imperial Artifacts Discovered in Brazil

30,000 Imperial Artifacts Discovered in Brazil

While working to renovate Rio de Janeiro’s zoo, workers found historical artifacts dating back to Brazil’s imperial past at the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the northern part of the city.

Workers found over 30,000 artifacts from Brazil’s Imperial era at the RioZoo.
Workers found over 30,000 artifacts from Brazil’s Imperial era at the RioZoo.

Classified as an ‘archaeological treasure’ by Rio’s city government, the more than 30,000 items found are believed to be from the beginning of the 19th century to the first years of the 20th century.

Among the items found are plates, cutlery, pieces of clothes and uniforms with the imperial insignia and other belongings of employees of the Imperial Family.

“We believe that many objects were donated by the palace to the residents of the surrounding area. It (donations) worked as sort of a good neighbor policy,” says archaeologist Filipe André Coelho.

According to Coelho, that region was a village of officials, free and enslaved workers, as well as military personnel.

“We discovered a more noble pottery that has paintings, which was not common among the poorest population,” explains the archaeologist.

The area, which today houses the RioZoo and the National Museum, was where the Portuguese Royal Family resided, during the reigns of Pedro I and Pedro II. The empire lasted from 1822 to 1889.

The RioZoo has been under renovation since June of last year, and is partially open to visitation.

Its reinaguration is expected to take place in January of 2020. According to officials, part of the objects will be exhibited at the new zoo.

Most of the artifacts, however, will be integrated into the collection at the National Museum, being rebuilt after the devastating September 2018 fire.

According to the city the archaeological site will be preserved and opened for visitation as soon as the archeologists have concluded their work.