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Archaeologists in Peru have uncovered what could be the site of the largest known instance of child sacrifice in the Americas, and perhaps even the world. The layer of dried mud retrieved from the site suggest that 550 years ago, there was severe rain and flooding on the generally arid coastline, which would have disrupted marine fisheries in the area, while coastal flooding could have overwhelmed the extensive infrastructure of agricultural canals of the Chimú empire - which was located in the area at the time of the sacrifice.

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.

The site is formally called Huanchaquito-Las Llamas and falls within a residential neighborhood. The delay between the initial discovery and actual examination of the site was held up until the global, interdisciplinary team, led by Gabriel Prieto of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo and John Verano of Tulane University, were able to get sufficient funding for. a proper excavation.

The photos clicked by the National Geographic on April 22, 2011, shows more than 140 bodies which was found inside the dry sand for more than 500 years, at the Huanchaquito-Las Llamas site near Trujillo, Peru.

According to National Geographic, the children were "buried facing west, out to the sea".

"Skeletal remains of both children and animals show evidence of cuts to the sternum as well as rib dislocations", most likely to remove their hearts, the report revealed.

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"I, for one, never expected it, and I don't think anyone else would have, either". But evidence of mass sacrifices of children are not many. At the same time, the young llamas, less than 18 months old at the time of the sacrifice, were interred facing the opposite direction, towards the Andes.

Peru's northern coast, where the children and baby llamas were found has been under excavation since 2011.

Researchers and anthropologists are now trying to understand the motivation behind the large-scale sacrifice, and why the burial pits combined children with baby llamas.

"There's this idea that ritual killing is contractual, that it's performed to get something from supernatural deities", Klaus said. Families believed their child would become deified and they were usually sacrificed around the age of five.

"When people hear about what happened and the scale of it, the first thing they always ask is 'why?' " Prieto told National Geographic. But the archaeological record suggests they succumbed to an Incan invasion only a few decades after the sacrifices occurred.