Eight Mummified Children Found in Peru May Have Been Sacrificed in an Ancient Funeral Ritual

The remains were discovered in the tomb of an elite member of a pre-Inca city buried 1,200 years ago

small child's body wrapped in wad of worn cloth being excavated from dirt
The mummified remains of eight children, who may have been sacrificed, was found near the tomb of an elite individual of pre-Incan society. GUADALUPE PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Archaeologists in Peru have found the mummified bodies of eight children who may have been sacrificed to join a pre-Incan nobleman in the afterlife, reports Marco Aquino for Reuters.

About 1,000 to 1,200 years old, the skeletal remains were discovered in a grave of a high-ranking person at the Cajamarquilla archaeological complex, about 15 miles east of Lima, per CBS News. The bones of 12 adults who were not mummified and llama-like animals were also found just outside the tomb.

The team led by Pieter Van Dalen Luna and Yomira Silvia Huamán of the National University of San Marcos (UNMSM) in Lima first unearthed the mummified remains of the elite individual in November, reported Marco Aquino for Reuters at the time. The archaeologists believed the local—possibly a wealthy trader within the community—was about 25 to 30 years old at the time of his death. His tomb was located near the city’s center, indicating his important status, Van Dalen Luna told CNN then. Caretakers had mummified the individual and tied his hands over his face, a common funerary practice in southern Peru during that era.

Wrapped tightly in cloth, the small skeletons may have been related to the burial vault’s main occupant, per Agence France-Presse (AFP) as reported by France 24.

“The children could be close relatives and were placed... in different parts of the entrance of the tomb of the (nobleman’s) mummy, one on top of the other,” Van Dalen Luna tells AFP. “The children, according to our working hypothesis, would have been sacrificed to accompany the mummy to the underworld.”

adult mummy with visible hands covering face
Scientists also discovered the remains of 12 adult mummies. Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Van Dalen Luna tells Reuters that people were often sacrificed as part of funeral rituals for elite individuals in pre-Incan cultures. “Andine societies believed that after passing away, people didn’t disappear,” he says. “Death wasn’t an ending but a beginning, a transition to a parallel world.”

The remains of the children were “placed in the tomb’s entrance so that they could accompany him in the path of the dead, towards the final destination,” Van Dalen Luna tells Reuters.

In 2018, an international team of archaeologists found evidence of the largest ritual sacrifice of children in ancient Peru, per a report by CBS News at that time. That group uncovered the remains of 140 young people who were killed with about 200 llamas about 550 years ago at a site near Trujillo, Peru’s third-largest city.

Cajamarquilla was a pre-Inca adobe city built around 200 B.C.E. It was occupied until about 1500 C.E. and may have had a population of 10,000 to 20,000 people, CBS News reports.

According to a statement by the UNMSM archaeologists, the city was an important trading center between the communities in the Andes Mountains and those along the Pacific coast. Cajamarquilla became a sophisticated base for culture, religion and commerce, but was eventually abandoned due to a series of climatic changes and natural disasters. It is one of the largest yet least-studied pre-Hispanic settlements near Lima.

Scientists at the UNMSM laboratory have dated organic and botanical materials found in this particular grave to between 800 and 1200 C.E., the statement claims. Researchers plan to do more radiocarbon analysis, as well as DNA and other chemical testing.