Remains of 140 children found at site of what may be history's largest mass sacrifice: report

Archaeologists in Peru may have found the site of the largest single mass child sacrifice in world history.

Archaeologists unearthed the remains of more than 140 children and 200 young llamas from what appears to have been a ritual sacrifice that took place 550 years ago on a bluff along the northern coast, National Geographic reported Thursday.

"I, for one, never expected it," says John Verano, a physical anthropologist who has several decades’ worth of experience in the region. "And I don't think anyone else would have, either."

The archaeological site, formally known as “Huanchaquito-Las Llamas,” is located less than half a mile from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan.

At the time of the supposed sacrifice, the area was under the little-known Chimú Empire. By the end of the century, the Chimú Empire had fallen under the rule of the more well-known Incan Empire. 

Archaeological students clean unearthed remains of 42 children and 74 camelids, sacrificed approximately 800 years ago and found in the fishing town of Huanchaquito, Trujillo September 13, 2011. The massive sacrifice were part of a religious ceremony of the pre-inca Chimu culture for the fertility of the ocean and the land, and it represents the most important discovery related to human and animal sacrifices of the Chimu culture in terms of numbers of excavated individuals, according to Oscar Gabriel Prieto, chief archaeologist of the archaeological project. Picture taken September 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo (PERU - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TRAVEL) - GM1E79G0HBA01

In this 2011 photo, archaeological students clean the remains of children and young llamas in the fishing town of Huanchaquito, Trujillo.  (REUTERS)

The site was first brought to the attention by excavators in 2011, when locals discovered eroded human remains in the area. At that time, the remains of only 42 children and 76 llamas were found.

By 2016, the remains of 140 children and 200 young llamas had been discovered at the site. Radiocarbon dating pinpointed the date of the supposed sacrifice between 1400 and 1450.

The condition of the remains suggests the children had incurred cuts to the sternum and rib dislocations for the removal of their hearts.

The remains of a child is seen, part of the 42 children and 74 camelids remains unearthed that were sacrificed approximately 800 years ago in the fishing town of Huanchaquito, Trujillo September 13, 2011. Archaeologists unearthed the remains of 42 children and 74 camelids, part of a massive sacrifice that formed part of a religious ceremony of the pre-Inca Chimu culture for the fertility of the ocean and the land, and it represents the most important discovery related to human and animal sacrifices of the Chimu culture in terms of numbers of excavated individuals, according to Oscar Gabriel Prieto, chief archaeologist of the archaeological project. Picture taken September 13, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo (PERU - Tags: SOCIETY RELIGION SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY TRAVEL) - GM1E79G0I5F01

Discovered in 2011, the excavation sight on the northern coast of Peru has produced evidence of the largest known mass sacrifice in history.  (REUTERS)

The children, both boys and girls, ranged from 5 to 14 years old, evidence shows. Based on the layers of mud at the site, archeologists believe the sacrificial ritual was a single event.  

Investigations of the site are ongoing with funding supported by the National Geographic Society.  

Bradford Betz is an editor for Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @bradford_betz.