Decades before it was felled by the larger Inca civilization around 1475 AD, the Chimu people in what is now northern Peru gathered more than 140 children on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and slaughtered them all. Archaeologists who've uncovered the remains of boys, girls, and 200 young llamas killed with cuts across the sternum say it's evidence of the largest known mass child sacrifice anywhere in the world. It dwarfs the ritual killings of 42 children previously uncovered in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City, reports National Geographic. It wouldn't have been pretty: Archaeologists say both animal and human victims, aged 5 to 14, had their chests cut open, possibly as a means of getting at the heart. As for the why, El Nino factors into a leading theory.
Archaeologists say a layer of mud at the site of Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, less than a mile from the Chimu capital of Chan Chan, suggests the area was experiencing torrential rains related to El Nino at the time of the sacrifice between 1400 and 1450. Since elevated sea temperatures and coastal flooding linked to El Nino could've affected both fishing and agriculture, archaeologists suspect the Chimu got desperate. "They may have seen that [adult sacrifice] was ineffective" and "people sacrifice that which is of most and greatest value to them," anthropologist Haagen Klaus, who was not involved in the excavation, tells NatGeo. The skulls—marked with a red ceremonial pigment, per the Washington Post—indicate victims came from across Chimu's territory, reports Newsweek. (This teen might've been sacrificed to Zeus.)