GRUESOME new photos have emerged of an ancient burial site in Peru containing the remains of nearly 270 children.
The innocent victims were all aged between five and 14 when they were sacrificed to the gods more than 500 years ago.
PLOS The remains of nearly 270 child have been found at the site so far
Archaeologists uncovered the 15th Century site in 2011, and have been gradually uncovering its secrets ever since.
So far, they have found the remains of 269 children, as well as 260 young llamas who were also killed as part of the ritual in Peru’s northern coastal region.
Photos released as part of a new study into the horrific murders detail a scene of unimaginable horror.
Children were buried together on mass, and some are pictured seemingly huddled together in their graves.
PLOS New photos have emerged of the gruesome scene
PLOS The children were aged between 5 and 14 when they died
PLOS Archaeologists work at the site in northern Peru
Others still have tattered pieces of ancient fabric still wrapped around their heads.
Members of the country’s Chimú tribe carried out the massacre, which is the largest mass child sacrifice event in world history.
The children’s ruptured remains contained cuts to their breastbones, which are believed to have been made by a ceremonial knife.
Dislocated rib cages suggest whoever carried out the bloody sacrifices tried to tear out the hearts of each victim.
It is thought the children were sacrificed to the gods to prevent further floods caused by the El Nino storms which ravaged the Peruvian coastline.
The mass grave was first discovered when scientists stumbled upon a horrific sacrificial scene that featured the skeletons of 137 children.
Since then the team has uncovered the remains of 132 more youngsters, taking the total to 269.
Before the grave’s discovery, the world’s largest known child sacrifice ritual was at a temple near Mexico City, where 42 children were murdered 600 years ago.
PLOS Some of the children had their chests cut open before they were buried
PLOS Experts are analysing the bones to find out more about the ancient tribe
GABRIEL PRIETO The remains of a child and baby llama at the site of an ancient mass grave in Peru
A staggering 260 young llamas were also killed as part of the sacrifice at the Peruvian grave, which is near modern-day Trujillo.
Scientists have spent the past nine months trying to piece together what drove the Chimú to commit such a ghastly crime.
They think the El Nino storms ravaged the civilisation’s fisheries and complex irrigation systems used for farming, leaving thousands starving to death across its 300-miles territory.
Chimú priests and political leaders ordered the sacrifice in a desperate attempt to appease the gods and save the tribe.
“This number of children, this number of animals – it would have been a massive investment on behalf of the state,” team member Professor Gabriel Prieto told National Geographic, which is funding the research.
“They were possibly offering the gods the most important thing they had as a society,” said Professor Gabriel Prieto, of the National University of Trujillo, who led the excavation.
“Llamas were also very important because these people had no other beasts of burden; they were a fundamental part of the economy.”
Prieto revealed all of the children were buried facing the sea, while the llamas faced the Andes mountains to the east.
GABRIEL PRIETO Ancient corpses in the mass grave
Robert Clark / National Geographic A section of the ancient mass grave
“We have an unprecedented case in Peruvian archaeology of having this massive, I would say biblical, number of people, particularly children, who have been sacrificed in this area,” said Prieto.
Jeffrey Quilter, the director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, described the site as a “remarkable discovery”.
He said the site provides “concrete evidence” that large-scale sacrifices of children happened 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,” Quilter said.
Quilter is heading a team of scientists who will analyse DNA samples from the remains to see if they were related and figure out which areas of the Chimú empire they came from.
Several ancient cultures including the Mayas, Aztecs and Incas practised human sacrifices, but the mass sacrifice of children has rarely been documented.
The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Robert Clark / National Geographic Archaeologists with skulls from the mass burial at Huanchaquito
The discovery was made near Trujillo, Peru, near the centre of the ancient Chimú civilisation
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