76 Pre-Inca Child Sacrifices Found at Peru’s Pampa La Cruz site

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
August 5, 2023


Archaeologists working at the pre-Inca Pampa La Cruz site in Peru have found even more evidence of Chimu child sacrifice practices. The sacrificial remains of 76 more children have been discovered at the site, located in the remote Huanchaco district about 190 miles (305 kilometers) north of Lima. The Pampa La Cruz site is a large, pre-Inca Chimu culture archaeological dig that has yielded many child sacrifices, adult graves, and countless artifacts.

The first mass child sacrifice graves discovered at this site have led to many more. In fact, child sacrifice seems to have been somewhat of a routine practice among the Chimu.

Including the latest 76 Pampa La Cruz child sacrifices, the remains of 302 child sacrifice victims have been dug up in the area so far, according to Peru’s Andina news agency .

The Pampa La Cruz Site Reveals Dominant Pre-Inca Culture
The Chimu culture flourished along a strip of desert on the northern coast of Peru from about 900 to 1470 AD. The Chimu, with their capital at Chan Chan , had the largest and most important political system in Peru before the Inca.

The Chimu culture was based largely on agriculture, for which they carried out immense works of irrigation engineering that created a large network of hydraulic canals, which carried water from the mountains to fields, palaces and temples, according to a 2019 Ancient Origins article . The Chimu also produced extraordinary textiles, and gold, silver, and copper objects. Chimu society was highly stratified extending from the peasants at the bottom to the nobles at the top.

Although now an uninhabitable water-scarce region, Chan Chan, the powerful Chimu culture capital, was once an extensive city that covered over 14 square miles (36 square kilometers). Adobe brick architecture was used to create streets, lofty walls, reservoirs, pyramids, and houses. At its peak Chan Chan’s population likely numbered in the thousands.

In 1465-70 AD, the Chimu were conquered by the Inca ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui and his son Topa Inca Yupanqui . Many elements of Chimu culture, from political organization to irrigation and road engineering, were incorporated into the Inca imperial system after their conquest of the Chimu.

Recent excavations at the north Peruvian Pampa La Cruz site during which 76 more child sacrifices were found. (andina / Huanchaco Archaeological Program)

Recent excavations at the north Peruvian Pampa La Cruz site during which 76 more child sacrifices were found. ( andina / Huanchaco Archaeological Program)

Earlier Child Sacrifice Discoveries in Pampa La Cruz Region

Human sacrifice remains, particularly of children, have been discovered multiple times in the Pampa La Cruz region, indicating that this was a common practice among the Chimu. Pampa La Cruz is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) southeast of Chan Chan.

Remains of hundreds of children were found at the Pampa La Cruz site in 2018 and 2019. Feren Castillo, the chief archaeologist at the site, is quoted by the Guardian as saying in 2019, “This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found. There isn’t another like it anywhere else in the world. It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children. Wherever you dig, there’s another one.”

Although archaeological work in Huanchaco started in 2011, the first findings were only published in 2018. Researchers reported the discovery of the sacrificed remains of 140 children and 200 llamas from Huanchaquito in April 2018. In June 2018, another 56 human skeletons were found in the neighboring site of Pampa La Cruz.

The archaeologists also found the remains of small footprints that survived rain and erosion . The footprints suggest that the children were marched, likely from Chan Chan, to meet their grisly end at these numerous sacrificial sites.

According to experts in this field, the sacrifices were made to appease the gods when heavy El Nino rains caused flooding.

A recently unearthed child sacrifice skeleton, at the bottom of this image, is vivid and the teeth are all perfect. (andina / Huanchaco Archaeological Program)

A recently unearthed child sacrifice skeleton, at the bottom of this image, is vivid and the teeth are all perfect. ( andina / Huanchaco Archaeological Program)

How Frequent? Six Separate Sacrificial Events in 450 Years

The Andina news agency reports that radiocarbon dating has established that there were six separate child sacrifice events carried out over more than 450 years in the Pampa La Cruz area. The six events, dated to between 1050 and 1500, were associated with important junctures in the founding, development and consolidation of Chimu development.

The latest 76 skeletons were unearthed during the July-August excavation period. Of these, 25 graves were found in Mound I and the other 51 were uncovered in Mound II. The most curious discovery was the tomb of five females buried sitting head to head in a loose circle. This tomb was unearthed in Mound I. Experts have yet to come up with an explanation for this unusual burial.

Gabriel Prieto, the head of the Huanchaco Archaeological Program (Pahuan), who is a researcher at the University of Florida, told the Andina news agency that the earliest child sacrificial event occurred around AD 1050.

All the Huanchaco child burials shared one other thing, besides their sacrificial end. They were all buried with their feet facing east and their heads west. In that position they would have had the ocean, the Pacific Ocean, behind them and would have been facing the rising sun.

While past cultures shouldn’t be viewed through the prism of modern sensibilities, it is difficult to imagine mass child sacrifice not causing widespread trauma in any society. What could have been the compelling reason or reason that the Chimu sacrificed so many of their young?