It's estimated that the children - and 200 young llamas - were sacrificed about 550 years ago, when the area was home to the pre-Columbian Chimu civilization. The team is led by Gabriel Prieto of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo and John Verano of Tulane University.
The area used to be the capital of the Chimu Empire, which forged the second largest empire in the history of the ancient Andes between the 12th and 15th centuries before they were conquered by the Incas, according to the encyclopedia of ancient history.
Over the next 5 years, archaeologists supported by grants from the National Geographic Society uncovered the remains of more than 140 children aged 5 to 14, as well as 200 young llamas, dating from about 1450 C.E. The llamas and the children had cuts to the breastbone and dislocated ribs-suggesting that their hearts may have been removed.
"It is ritual killing, and it's very systematic", Verano told National Geographic.
The cuts to both the children and llamas' skeletal remains suggest their chests were cut open.
Until this discovery, the largest occurrence of child sacrifice was the ritual murder of 42 children at Templo Mayor in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán at what is now the centre of Mexico City.
Jeffrey Quilter, director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at Harvard University, said the site provides "concrete evidence" that large-scale sacrifices of children occurred in ancient Peru.
It's thought the ritual was a single event, which if confirmed would be the largest single mass child murder event known of in the world.
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Evidence from a layer of dried mud in part of the site led the team to believe that the killings were made in a single event and could have been done in response to severe flooding.
"People sacrifice that which is of most and greatest value to them", he explained. They had all apparently died of violent head wounds, and it is surmised they may have participated in the sacrifices. "Maybe there was a need for a new type of sacrificial victim".
As per the report, human and animal sacrifices took place at the same time.
"But it's actually a much more complicated attempt at negotiation with those supernatural forces and their manipulation by the living". They're preparing to publish their findings in a scientific research journal and are expanding their search around Huanchaco after finding evidence of similar mass sacrifice sites that come from the same time period.
The researchers are now trying to figure out why these children were sacrificed.
The site is a short distance from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan.
"This just may be the tip of the iceberg".
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