“Llamas were also very important because these people had no other beasts of burden, they were a fundamental part of the economy,” Mr. Prieto said, adding that the children were buried facing the sea, while the llamas faced the Andes Mountains to the east.
Excavation work at the burial site started in 2011, but news of the findings was first published on Thursday by National Geographic, which helped finance the investigation.
Mr. Prieto said that besides the bones, researchers also found footprints that have survived rain and erosion. The small footprints indicate the children were marched to their deaths from Chan Chan, an ancient city a mile away from Las Llamas, he said.
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Mr. Verano said the children’s skeletons contained lesions on their breastbones, which were probably made by a ceremonial knife. Dislocated rib cages suggest that whoever was performing the sacrifices may have been trying to extract the children’s hearts.
Jeffrey Quilter, the director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University, described it as a “remarkable discovery.”
In an email, Mr. Quilter told The Associated Press that the site provides “concrete evidence” that large scale sacrifices of children occurred in ancient Peru.
“Reports of very large sacrifices are known from other parts of the world, but it is difficult to know if the numbers are exaggerated or not,” Mr. Quilter wrote.
Mr. Quilter is heading a team of scientists who will analyze DNA samples from the children’s remains to see if they were related and figure out which areas of the Chimu empire the sacrificed youth came from.
Several ancient cultures in the Americas practiced human sacrifices including the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Incas, who conquered the Chimu empire in the late 15th century. But the mass sacrifice of children is something that has rarely been documented.