June 5, 2009

Archeologists Uncover Incan Human Sacrifices

Archeologists excavating a site in northern Peru have stumbled upon the roughly 600-year old remains of almost three dozen humans, who appear to have been ritualistically sacrificed by the Incas.

Although researchers have long known that human sacrifice was an integral part of Incan and pre-Incan society, the archeologists say that the recent find is unusual because the large number of victims "” 33 in all "” appear to have been sacrificed at the same time.

The victims' remains, several of which bear markings indicating that they had been cut along their necks and collarbones, were otherwise quite well preserved, said Carlos Webster, leader of the excavation at the Chotuna-Chornancap camp.

The immense 235-acre (95-hectare) archeological site is located some 12 miles outside the coastal city of Chiclayo, close to the ancient tomb of Sipán.  One of the most important archeological discoveries of the twentieth century, Sipán was an administrative and religious center of the Moche culture, and is best known for containing the burial sites of a number of elite residents, including el Señor de Sipán, or the Lord of Sipán.

The newly discovered sacrifices appear to have been made just decades before the first wave of Spanish conquistadors arrived in what is now modern-day Peru.

Experts say that ceremonial human sacrifices were a common occurrence in the Incan culture, which reached its high point shortly before the invasion of Spanish explorers in what are now parts of Peru, Chile and Ecuador between 1400 and the mid-1500s.

"Most of the remains belong to young women, around 15 years of age. One of them appears to have been pregnant because in her abdomen, the collarbone of a fetus, probably around 4 months, was found," said Webster of the latest discoveries, made over the past year and a half.

"The majority [of the remains] are in good condition "” skin tissues and hair have been preserved. They were found in a dry area more than 7 feet underground," he explained.

The Incan Empire is most famous for its impressive capital city, Machu Picchu, situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley. The Incas began constructing the majestic city around AD 1430, intended to be the official seat of their rulers, but abruptly abandoned the site a mere hundred years later.

Although known to the local indigenous peoples, it was largely unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian and archeologist. Since then, the ruins of Machu Picchu have become Peru's top tourist attraction and are generally considered one of the new seven wonders of the world.