Less than a century before Columbus arrived in the Americas, a community near modern Trujuilo, Peru sacrificed 140 children aged five to fourteen (a majority were between eight and twelve years old) who had their hearts ripped out and were buried facing the West, 200 lamas with their hearts ripped out and buried facing the East, a man, and two women, who had "blunt force trauma to the head" and were not buried.
Child sacrifices weren't uncommon in Meso-American culture, but their significance remains unclear and no other site has so many children sacrificed at once. Explanations that might help shed light on other child sacrifices, like terminally ill children, make no sense in this context.
National Geographic notes that:
While incidents of human sacrifice among the Aztec, Maya, and Inca have been recorded in colonial-era Spanish chronicles and documented in modern scientific excavations, the discovery of a large-scale child sacrifice event in the little-known pre-Columbian Chimú civilization is unprecedented in the Americas—if not in the entire world. . . . The sacrifice site, formally known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, is located on a low bluff just a thousand feet from the sea. . . . Less than half a mile to the east of the site is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan, the ancient Chimú administrative center, and beyond its walls, the modern provincial capital of Trujillo.
At its peak, the Chimú Empire controlled a 600-mile-long territory along the Pacific coast and interior valleys from the modern Peru-Ecuador border to Lima. . . . Only the Inca commanded a larger empire than the Chimú in pre-Columbian South America, and superior Inca forces put an end to the Chimú Empire around A.D. 1475. . . . rope and textiles found in the burials are radiocarbon dated to between 1400 and 1450. . . .
"When people hear about what happened and the scale of it, the first thing they always ask is why."
The layer of mud found during excavations may provide a clue, say the researchers, who suggest it was the result of severe rain and flooding on the generally arid coastline, and probably associated with a climate event related to El-Niño.Elevated sea temperatures characteristic of El Niño would have disrupted marine fisheries in the area, while coastal flooding could have overwhelmed the Chimú's extensive infrastructure of agricultural canals.
The Chimú succumbed to the Inca only decades after the sacrifices at Las Llamas.
The story has echoes of the Biblical story of King Herod's "slaughter of the innocents", which purportedly look place about 1400 years earlier, albeit with the New World event occuring on a larger scale and in a very different context.
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