Physical anthropologist John Verano has seen plenty while working in Peru over the last 30 years. What he came across this summer in the village of Huanchaquito, however, is "not what we've seen before, especially on the coast," he says. Locals noticed bones poking out of a sandy ridge in 2011, and Peruvian archaeologist Gabriel Prieto went to investigate. He was greeted with a shock: the remains of 42 children and 76 llamas sacrificed some 600 years ago in a ritual by the Chimú, who controlled part of coastal Peru from around 1100 until they were overthrown by the Inca in 1470, Phys.org reports. Verano and Prieto's expansion of the dig this summer added to the "exciting discovery" as even more remains were found.
"It's not a place where you'd think to look," Tulane University's Verano says of the site, about 100 yards from a beach. He notes erosion and construction nearby helped reveal the forgotten remains. While Verano has come across the bodies of adults captured and killed in Peru, children are a rarity, he says. He explains the children may have been killed as a gift to the sea. (As Prieto explained to National Geographic in 2011, "In the north coast of Peru, the ocean is very closely tied to agriculture because the temperature of the water can determine whether there will be rain or not.") As for the llamas, the Chimú may have believed they would transport the children to the afterlife. The discovered bones and teeth are now being analyzed. (Other recent Peruvian discoveries include the world's highest Ice Age camp and ancient designs in the desert.)