Category Archives: SOUTH AMERICA

Analysis Links the Origins of the Maya and Corn Cultivation

Analysis Links the Origins of the Maya and Corn Cultivation

In Maya creation myths, the gods created humans out of corn. Now, a new study from a site in Belize suggests corn really was important in the origin of the ancient Maya: More than half of their ancestry can be traced to migrants who arrived from South America sometime before 5600 years ago, likely bringing with them new cultivars of the crop that sustained one of Mesoamerica’s great cultures.

These previously unknown migrants “were the first pioneers who essentially planted the seeds of Maya civilization,” which emerged about 4000 years ago, says archaeologist and co-author Jaime Awe.

A native Belizean now at Northern Arizona University, he, like many people in Belize, has some Maya ancestry. “Without corn, there would have been no Mayans.”

Archaeologists found human remains at this rock shelter in the Maya Mountains of southwestern Belize.
Archaeologists found human remains at this rock shelter in the Maya Mountains of southwestern Belize.

The discovery reveals a significant new source of ancestry for the Maya, whose civilization spanned one-third of Central America and Mexico, dotting the region with cities and monuments at its height more than 1000 years ago.

Today, the Maya are an ethnolinguistic group of at least 7 million Indigenous peoples in Central America.

The study also suggests that as in Europe, where farming arrived with immigrants from the Middle East, farming in the Americas spread as least in part with people on the move, rather than simply as know-how passed between cultures.

“This paper is really groundbreaking,” says Mary Pohl, a Maya archaeologist at Florida State University. “This is a dramatic revelation and is really stirring things up.”

Awe, a Maya archaeologist and former director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, had long wondered how the Maya were related to the hunter-gatherers and early farmers who brought maize, manioc, and chiles to what is now Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. But poor preservation of bones and DNA in the hot and humid climate had left few clues.

The new study analyzes remain from two rock shelters on the steep slopes of old-growth rainforest in the Bladen Nature Reserve in southwestern Belize, a 2.5-kilometre hike from the nearest road.

Since 2014, archaeologist Keith Prufer of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, wildlife biologist Said Gutierrez of the Ya’axché Conservation Trust, and their colleagues have unearthed more than 85 skeletons from shallow graves in the rock shelters’ dry dirt floors.

The archaeologists directly dated 50 individuals with radiocarbon, finding they lived between 1000 to 9600 years ago. Then, population geneticist David Reich of Harvard University and his team managed to extract high-quality ancient DNA from the inner ear bones of 20 individuals—“the oldest human DNA from a tropical rainforest site,” Reich says.

They analyzed 1.2 million nucleotide bases across the genomes and compared them to DNA from ancient and living people from the Americas.

The comparisons showed the earliest people buried at the rock shelters, 9600 to 7300 years ago, closely resembled that of hunter-gatherers descended from an ancient migration from North to South America. But after 5600 years ago, the DNA recorded a major shift: All 15 individuals tested were most closely related to another group of Indigenous people who today live from northern Colombia to Costa Rica and who speak Chibchan languages. “It’s clearly a major movement into the Maya region of people related to Chibchan speakers,” Reich says.

The migration had a lasting impact: Reich’s team found that living Maya has inherited more than half of their DNA from this influx from the south, they reported today in Nature Communications. Half of the remainder came from the ancient hunter-gatherers who were first in the region, the rest from ancestors of people in the Mexican highlands.

The population shift eventually led to a new diet. Prufer and archaeologist Douglas Kennett at the University of California, Santa Barbara, had previously analyzed carbon isotopes from the teeth of the people in the rock shelters, which shows the kind of food they ate. As reported in Science in 2020, they found a steady increase in maize consumption over time. The ancient hunter-gatherers got less than 10% of their diet on average from maize. The first migrants from the south also ate relatively little corn. But then, between about 5600 years ago and 4000 years ago the proportion of maize surged, from 10% to 50%, providing “the earliest evidence of maize as a staple grain,” Prufer says.

The shift to maize happened hundreds of years after the influx of migrants, but the team says its results fit with the emerging story of maize cultivation. The plant was partially domesticated as early as 9000 years ago in southwest Mexico, but over the past 8 years, genetic and archaeological evidence has shown that it wasn’t fully domesticated until 6500 years ago—at sites in Peru and Bolivia. There, farmers developed larger, more nutritious cobs than the partially domesticated maize still found in Mexico 5300 years ago, says archaeologist Logan Kistler of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).

Together, the evidence suggests the migrants brought improved maize plants from the south by 5600 years ago, perhaps with methods for growing corn in small gardens, says Kennett, a co-author. By 4000 years ago it had become the keystone crop. That scenario could explain why one early Maya language incorporates a Chibchan word for maize, says linguist and co-author David Mora-Marín of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In tracing the origin of one of Mesoamerica’s great peoples, the genetic and isotopic work also illuminates the evolutionary roots of one of the world’s most successful crops, says archaeobotanist Dolores Piperno of NMNH and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “It really transforms our knowledge of how maize dispersed.”

The 2,400-Year-Old Giant Clay Vase Discovered in Peru You Probably Never Heard About

The 2,400-Year-Old Giant Clay Vase Discovered in Peru You Probably Never Heard About

On October 27, 1966, the Regional Museum of Ica discovered a unique object of unseen proportions; a massive granary bowl, until then the largest pre-Hispanic pot found in Peru.

The fired clay vessel dimensions were 2 meters in diameter, 2.8 meters in height, and sections of 5 cm on the walls and 12 cm at the base.

Inside and at different levels, archaeologists found seeds of beans, Pallares, yucca, lucuma, and guavas. No remains of stoves were found in the vicinity, the reason why archaeologists believe that the giant clay pot was transported in the distant past, approximately 2,400 years ago, from another place to where it was eventually discovered.

The giant clay pot was discovered in the Paracas region of Peru, in the Pisco Valley.

Unique, enduring, and of unusual proportions, its discovery raised numerous questions. To this date, little or no information about the massive clay pot or other similar artefacts has been made available, forcing us to extrapolate more about if it was found in the region.

Paracas, Ica, Nazca

the above subtitle mentions three names that, if you know anything about Peru’s ancient history, then they should ring a bell.

The Paracas culture was an ancient Andean culture that was edited in present-day Peru some 2,100 years ago, developing an extensive knowledge of irrigation, water management, textile production, and ceramic artefacts. More importantly, they are famous for artificial cranial deformation, by which the heads of infants and babies were elongated and deformed, producing unique, long skulls.

A collage of the Nazca lines.

Ica is an area in southern Peru that was inhabited by various ancient cultures throughout history. Home to the Museo Reginal the Ica, Ica is home to a treasure trove of history.

It was in Ica Peru where in the 1960s, a man called Javier Cabrera introduced the world to the so-called Ica Stones, a controversial collection of andesite stones, allegedly found in the Ica province bearing illustrations of dinosaurs, humanoid figurines, and what many have interpreted as evidence of advanced technology.

Today, these artefacts have been tagged as a modern hoax and discredited. archaeologist Ken Feder commented on the stones: “The Ica Stones are not the most sophisticated of the archaeological hoaxes discussed in this book, but they certainly rank up there as the most preposterous.”

Nazca is perhaps the most famous. Home to the famous Nazca lines, this region is perhaps one of the most famous in Peru. The Nazca Lines are a group of massive geoglyphs carved into the Nazca desert in southern Peru. Likely created around 500 BC, the massive lines cover a combined length of  1,300 km (808 mi), and the group covers an area of about 50 square kilometres (19 sq mi).

The Clay Pot

The massive clay pot was discovered in 1966.

Its massive size is unusual, and although it may give rise to conspiracies given the fact it was located not far from the Nazca Lines, the Ica region, and the so-called Paracas skulls, the contents of the clay pot, and the material it was built from can tell us much about its purpose.

For starters, the Regional Ica Museum clearly describes the clay pot as a granary jar; an object inside which ancient people would store seeds or food. It is the biggest one found in Peru, but it isn’t necessarily the only one. Dating back 2,400 years, the massive pot was crafted around 400 BC. If we look at the division introduced by Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, the massive clay pot was made during the Paracas Necropolis period, which lasted from around 500 BC to around 200 AD.

The Paracas-Necropolis period got its name from the fact that its rectangular cemeteries, discovered in Warikayan, were divided into several compartments or underground chambers, which to Tello reassembled a “city of the dead” (necropolis). Each large chamber allegedly would have been owned by a specific family or clan, which buried their ancestors for many generations.

Whether the clay vase originated from Warikayan, which was a large ancient settlement, or from a nearby settlement remains an unanswered question. Since objects of similar proportions have not been found in the region, archaeologists believe that the ancient clay container was brought to where it was eventually found in the distant past, perhaps as a trade or a gift from neighbouring settlements.

We do know that before it was abandoned, it was used by the ancients to store food. We know it was produced of fire clay. Its unusual size suggests that whoever built it wanted to store large amounts of material inside.

It likely held seeds or food and was covered and may have been buried beneath the ground, covered by a top. Burying the clay vase into the surface and storing food inside it may have helped preserve the food for longer periods of time, protecting it from higher temperatures above the surface.

The giant Ica Clay Vase is one of the more interesting yet lesser known artefacts, part of the history of a region where mighty ancient cultures developed, evolved, and eventually disappeared.

It proves that there is more to the region than the Ica Stones, the Nazca Lines, and the strange Paracas Skulls. It also tells us that incredible artefacts may remain buried beneath our feet, hidden from history buried for thousands of years, waiting to be excavated and restored to their former glory.

How Was Tuberculosis Transmitted in South America?

How Was Tuberculosis Transmitted in South America?

Nearly one-quarter of the world’s population is suspected to have been exposed to the bacterium responsible for tuberculosis, a disease that accounts for the highest global mortality from a bacterial infection.

TB’s global distribution was once viewed as support for its emergence deep in our past, where it was thought to have evolved in Africa tens of thousands of years ago and became distributed throughout the world following migrations with its host. Its ability to infect a number of mammalian species also make it a highly adaptable pathogen.

Analyses of ancient TB genomes have stirred up controversy about when this host-pathogen association began and precisely how TB became globally distributed.

How Was Tuberculosis Transmitted in South America?
South American sea lions at the Ballestas Islands in Peru.

A 2014 study led by research teams at the University of Tübingen and Arizona State University reported on three ancient TB genomes from coastal Peru, which revealed aspects of its history that was incompatible with prevailing assumptions on TB’s origins.

First, rather than identifying one of the well-characterized human-associated strains of the pathogen, the team identified a comparatively rare strain that today infects mostly marine mammals such as seals and sea lions (pinnipeds). In addition, their data suggested that TB was a much younger disease than previously thought, having emerged only sometime in the last 6000 years.

“At the time, we assumed that TB made its way from Africa to the Peruvian coast through travel with infected seal populations,” comments Kirsten Bos of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who co-led the new study.

“We assumed the source of the infection in Peru had been a zoonosis from seals. It was not clear, though, if the specific TB infection we identified in the three people was a local phenomenon restricted to the area, or whether its distribution was broader”.

TB is an infection well known to specialists in bone lesions and pathology. Paleopathologist Jane Buikstra of Arizona State University has extensively studied human skeletal remains across the Americas, and clear cases of TB infection are easily identified across the continents in the pre-contact period. “We’ve known for decades that a form of TB infection was present in the western coast of South America through the study of human remains.

Now, with 21st-century scientific advances, ancient DNA is the best tool available to investigate the relationships between the TB manifestations we observe osteologically in different parts of the Americas”.

In a study published this week in Nature Communications, the team reports on three new cases of pre-contact era South American TB, this time from human remains that come from inland archaeological sites, two of which are situated in the highlands of the Colombian Andes.

All three people were infected with the marine-associated strain of TB, thus making a simple zoonosis from seals unlikely.

TB’s entry into South America through human exposure to infected seals is still the strongest hypothesis, but how TB was subsequently distributed on land remains an open question. Lead authors Åshild Vågene and Tanvi Honap are confident that these new cases present strong evidence that the TB variant currently found in seals was once able to travel long distances on land.

“The TB bacterium can infect numerous mammalian species, so there are many candidates for its terrestrial dispersal, including humans themselves,” says Vågene.

“Vast trade networks may have played an important role in transporting the pathogen from the coast”. Honap adds that “recovering ancient TB DNA in animal remains from the pre-contact era Americas may one day allow us to explore the transmission chains responsible for bringing this marine variant so far inland”.

Anne Stone of Arizona State University who specializes in the evolutionary history of TB and co-led the current study sees the new results as an opportunity for deeper exploration into the ecology of the disease in the Americas before the colonial period.

“It’s an exciting time in ancient DNA research, as we can now look at genome-level differences in these ancient pathogens and track their movements across continents and beyond.

For TB, the open question is how widespread the seal-associated strain was in human populations of the Americas prior to its replacement by the more virulent strains that arrived with the Europeans.”

How Old Is the Rock Art at La Lindosa?

How Old Is the Rock Art at La Lindosa?

More than 12,000 years ago, South America was teeming with an astonishing array of ice age beasts — giant ground sloths the size of a car, elephantine herbivores and a deerlike animal with an elongated snout.

These extinct giants are among many animals immortalized in an 8-mile-long (13-kilometer-long) frieze of rock paintings at Serranía de la Lindosa in the Colombian Amazon rainforest — art created by some of the earliest humans to live in the region, according to a new study.
“(The paintings) have the whole diversity of Amazonia.

Turtles and fishes to jaguars, monkeys and porcupines,” said study author Jose Iriarte, a professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

Iriate calls the frieze, which likely would have been painted over centuries, if not millennia, “the last journey,” as he said it represents the arrival of humans in South America — the last region to be colonized by Homo sapiens as they spread around the world from Africa, their place of origin. These pioneers from the north would have faced unknown animals in an unfamiliar landscape.

“They encountered these large-bodied mammals and they likely painted them. And while we don’t have the last word, these paintings are very naturalistic and we’re able to see morphological features of the animals,” he said.

But the discovery of what scientists term “extinct megafauna” among the dazzlingly detailed paintings is controversial and contested.

Other archaeologists say the exceptional preservation of the paintings suggest a much more recent origin and that there are other plausible candidates for the creatures depicted. For example, the giant ground sloth identified by Iriarte and his colleagues could in fact be a capybara — a giant rodent common today across the region.

The giant sloth painting at La Lindosa.

Final word?

While Iriarte concedes the new study is not the final word in this debate, he is confident that they have found evidence of early human encounters with some of the vanished giants of the past.

The team identified five such animals in the paper: a giant ground sloth with massive claws, a gomphothere (an elephant-like creature with a domed head, flared ears and a trunk), an extinct lineage of a horse with a thick neck, a camelid like a camel or a llama, and a three-toed ungulate, or hoofed mammal, with a trunk.

He said they are well known for fossilized skeletons, enabling palaeontologists to reconstruct what they must have looked like. Iriarte and his colleagues were then able to identify their defining features in the paintings.

While the red pigments used to make the rock art have not yet been directly dated, Iriarte said that ocher fragments found in layers of sediment during excavations of the ground beneath the painted vertical rock face dated to 12,600 years ago.

The camelid painting at the La Lindosa rock painting site in Colombia.

The hope is to directly date the red pigment used to paint the miles of rock, but dating rock art and cave paintings are notoriously tricky. Ocher, an inorganic mineral pigment that contains no carbon, can’t be dated using radiocarbon dating techniques.

The archaeologists are hoping the ancient artists mixed the ocher with some kind of binding agent that will allow them to get an accurate date. The results of this investigation are expected possibly later this year.

Further study of the paintings could shed light on why these giant animals went extinct. Iriarte said no bones of the extinct creatures were found during archaeological digs in the immediate area — suggesting perhaps they weren’t a source of food for the people who created the art.

The research was published in the journal Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society B on Monday.

2,000-year-old skull held together by metal thought to be the oldest evidence of advanced surgery

2,000-year-old skull held together by metal thought to be oldest evidence of advanced surgery

A 2,000-year-old skull of a Peruvian warrior was found to be fused together by metal. Experts from a US museum believe it could be one of the oldest examples of advanced surgery.

The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma said the skull is reported to have been that of a man who was injured in battle before undergoing surgery to implant a piece of metal in his head to repair a fracture.

And that’s not the most impressive part. Experts at the museum believe the man survived as a result of the surgery,

Therefore, the skull has now become a crucial piece of evidence to prove that ancient people were skilled enough to perform advanced surgeries.

“Yes, this is a real human skull that is thousands of years old. Elongation was achieved through head binding beginning at a very young age. It was typically practised to convey social status by various cultures,” the Museum of Osteology wrote in a Facebook post.

2,000-year-old skull held together by metal thought to be oldest evidence of advanced surgery
A 2,000-year-old skull, pictured, is believed to have been that of a man who was injured in battle and had surgery to implant a piece of metal to repair the fracture

The post added that the human survived a procedure that is known as trephination, which was practised by all ancient civilizations by different means.

The post added: “This individual survived the procedure. known as trephination,  based on evidence of bone remodelling. Trephination was practised by nearly all ancient civilizations by different means and for different reasons.”

The museum said the metal used in the procedure was not poured as molten metal. However, the experts are not sure about the composition of the alloy

The metal plate was used to fuse the broken bones.

“Although we can’t guarantee anaesthesia was used, we do know many natural remedies existed for surgical procedures during this time period,” the museum informed.

The skull on display is an example of n elongated Peruvian skull, an ancient form of body modification where tribe members intentionally deformed the skulls of young children by binding them with a cloth.

According to reports, the skull was kept in the museum’s private collection for many years, It was put on display in 2020 after growing public interest.

The Discovery 29 people of ancient Peruvian burial tombs sheds new light on Wari culture

The Discovery 29 people of ancient Peruvian burial tombs sheds new light on Wari culture

The human remains of 29 people, buried as sacrificial offerings more than 1,000 years ago, have been discovered in a pre-Inca temple in northern Peru. Researchers found four tombs in the Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucalá dig site, in the Lambayeque region of Peru, with the remains of children and teenagers.

They were originally buried as offerings at the time of the construction of the first of the three enclosures, including a Wari-culture temple, according to the team behind the discovery from the Lambayeque Valley Archaeological Project.

As well as the human remains, the team discovered camelids and guinea pigs showing signs of sacrificial practices.

The Discovery 29 people of ancient Peruvian burial tombs sheds new light on Wari culture
The human remains of 29 people buried as sacrificial offerings more than 1,000 years ago have been discovered in a pre-Inca temple in northern Peru
Researchers found four tombs in the Huaca Santa Rosa de Pucalá dig site, in the Lambayeque region of Peru, with the remains of children and teenagers

Archaeologist Edgar Bracamonte Levano, who is also in charge of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, said this was a significant discovery. 

It is the first time they have registered this type of human offering linked to the Wari culture, a civilisation that flourished in the south-central Andes and coastal area of modern-day Peru, from about 500 to 1000 CE.

So far three of the enclosures discovered at the site have been excavated, according to the team behind the finding. 

As well as the human remains, they also found offerings of camelids, such as alpacas, with signs of sacrifice and eight sacrificed guinea pigs. 

The remains of humans and animals are part of a possible ritual that was carried out at the time of starting construction on Wari-style religious spaces, they said.

The enclosures were ‘D’ shaped, and within one was a tomb with offerings related to a group living in the area between 850 and 900 CE. 

The tomb contained a pitcher with Mochica iconography, a bottle of the well-known Early Sicán or Proto-Lambayeque style, a pot with palette decoration and a knife or tumi with the blade in the shape of a half Moon.  

The work also revealed a temple from the Formative Period of this community, contemporary to the end of the Chavin culture – different from earlier finds.  

Bracamonte said: ‘It is a temple built with walls made of clay as formwork and that include clay maces as prototypes of adobes inside the walls. 

‘The upper part of the temple presents very well elaborated floors, ceilings of vegetal remains and evidence of the incineration of objects were found.

‘The temple was built by a human group with local features and that are linked to the mountains, showing that during the years 400 to 200 BCE, ‘ he added. 

‘There were different communities on the coast with interactions towards the mountains and that also show marked differences with the groups of the Formative Period found in the lower part of the valley, in Collud and Ventarrón.’

These new discoveries have added to the existence of Wari-period ceremonial spaces, forcing experts to rewrite the history of Lambayeque. 

Red paint on the 1,000-year-old gold mask from Peru contains human blood proteins

Red paint on the 1,000-year-old gold mask from Peru contains human blood proteins

Traces of human blood have been discovered in the red paint that decorated a gold mask found on the remains of an elite man who died 1,000 years ago in Peru, a new analysis reveals. 

The man, who was between 40 and 50 years old at the time of his death, lived during the Sicán that spanned from 750 A.D. to 1375 – an era known for its dazzling array of gold objects, many of which were buried in tombs of the elite class.

The tomb was originally unearthed in the 1990s and archaeologists at the time concluded the red paint cinnabar, a brick-red form of mercury, but the effective organic binder remained a mystery – until now.

Scientists, led by Izumi Shimada, founder of the Sicán Archaeological Project, reassessed the ancient burial mask and found unique peptides that match human blood and bird egg proteins. 

‘The presence of human blood would support previous ideas that red cinnabar paint may represent ‘life force’ intended to support ‘rebirth,’ the team shared in the study published in the Journal of Proteome Research.

Red paint on the 1,000-year-old gold mask from Peru contains human blood proteins
A gold mask discovered on the remains of an elite man who died 1,000 years ago in Peru is decorated with red paint that contains human blood, a new analysis reveals

The mask, made of gold, was found on the man whose skeleton was also painted red, and seated inside the tomb.  

The skeletons of two young women were arranged nearby in birthing and midwifing poses, and two crouching children’s skeletons were placed at a higher level, according to a statement.

Shimada and his colleagues analyzed a small sample of red paint from the mask with the hopes of determining the organic binder.

Using spectroscopy, a study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation, the team found six proteins from human blood in the red paint, including serum albumin and immunoglobulin G (a type of human serum antibody). Other proteins, such as ovalbumin, came from egg whites.

The tomb was originally unearthed in the 1990s and archaeologists at the time concluded the red paint cinnabar, a brick-red form of mercury, but the effective organic binder remained a mystery – until now.

Since the proteins were so highly degraded, the researchers could not identify the exact species of bird’s egg used to make the paint, but a likely candidate is the Muscovy duck.

The Sican culture inhabited the north coast of modern-day Peru and predates the Incas, but how they developed is unclear Ancient Origins reports.

However, some say Sicáns are descendants of the Moche culture that flourished in the country from 100 A.D. to 700 A.D.

The Sicán culture put a large focus on the funerary practices of the elites, who were often buried with stunning grave goods.

Another aspect of Sicán funerary practice that has gained attention relatively recently is that of human sacrifice – and it was mostly women who were sacrificed and laid in the tombs of men.

15th-century Chan Chan mass grave discovered in Peru

15th-century Chan Chan mass grave discovered in Peru

A mass grave of 25 to 30 skeletons has been unearthed in the ancient Peruvian city of Chan Chan, which archaeologists believe is the resting place of the society’s elite members.

The remains were discovered in a small space measuring just 107 square feet, roughly 10 feet long and 10 feet wide, located inside what was once the capital of the Chimú empire that reached its height in the 15th century before falling to the Incas in 1470 AD.

Archaeologist Jorge Menese told Reuters that although this ancient society is known for human sacrifices, there is no evidence suggesting that this occurred at the site.

However, researchers plan to conduct tests in the future to determine each of the individual’s causes of death.

The Chimú were a pre-Incan culture that emerged out of the remnants of the Moche culture along the coast of Peru in 900 AD.

These ancient people lived in a strip of desert, 20 to 100 miles, in the South American country, between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes.

It’s thought that the Chimú culture peaked in the first half of the 14th century, developing a complex civilization with different levels of social hierarchy.

Most of the mass graves found in and around the ancient city were a result of human sacrifice, but Menese said the position of these 25 to 30 skeletons suggest they were buried shortly after the person had died.

15th-century Chan Chan mass grave discovered in Peru
Archaeologists discovered around 25 skeletons in a mass grave in Peru.

Archaeologist Sinthya Cueva said in a video shot at the site that although the remains are of men, women and children, most are women no older than 30.

The Chimú empire is famous for human sacrifices, specifically one uncovered in 2019 that is the largest the world has ever seen.

More than 140 children, along with llamas, were found slaughtered in what is thought to be a mass sacrifice to appease the gods of a now extinct religion.

Many of the children and juvenile animals had their hearts cut out during the grisly ritual.

The children ranged in age from five to 14 years old.

The Chimú were a pre-Incan culture that emerged out of the remnants of the Moche culture along the coast of Peru in 900AD.

It is thought a huge El Niño caused major flooding and storms which triggered the bloody sacrifice.

Analysis of the remains of more than 200 juvenile llamas and humans dates it to approximately 1450, during the peak of the Chimú civilization in northern coastal Peru.

Study author John Verano, professor of anthropology at Tulane University, said: ‘This site opens a new chapter on the practice of child sacrifice in the ancient world.

‘This archaeological discovery was a surprise to all of us – we had not seen anything like this before, and there was no suggestion from ethnohistoric sources or historic accounts of child or camelid sacrifices being made on such a scale in northern coastal Peru.

‘We were fortunate to be able to completely excavate the site and to have a multidisciplinary field and laboratory team to do the excavation and preliminary analysis of the material.’