Hair still covers the skull of a Chimú child who may have been sacrificed more than 800 years ago as part of a fertility ritual tied to the sea.
Clothing was also preserved on the 42 sacrificed children, allowing the victims to be identified as Chimú. “The techniques used to weave those textiles are clearly Chimú patterns,” Prieto said.
Based on the roughly one dozen child skeletons that have been examined so far, the team thinks each child was killed with a strong slash across the chest by a hatchet or other blade. The victims’ broken rib cages suggest an executioner pried them open for removal of the hearts, likely to be offered as the most spiritually valuable part of the person.
The cavity, though, wasn’t empty for long. “We found a number of burned pieces of cloth in the area of the heart,” Prieto said—a mysterious practice that neither he nor anthropologist William Isbell of New York’s Binghamton University, who was not involved in the discovery, had ever seen before.