Human sacrifices are the most infamous feature of ancient South American societies, but little was actually known about the victims? New research published in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology explores archaeological evidence from Peru, dating to the Late Horizon era between 1450 and 1532 A.D., to tell us more about the individuals who met their fate.
Examining the final years
Evidence from bone collagen to hair keratin was used to examine where the sacrificial victims lived in the decade prior to their death, as well as their diets in the months leading up to the fatal ritual.
This study investigated two key variables—residential and subsistence—among sacrificial victims dating to the Late Horizon (A.D. 1450–1532) in the Huaca de los Sacrificios at the Chotuna-Chornancap Archaeological Complex in north coastal Peru.
The studied individuals date to the period of Inca imperial rule over the Lambayeque Valley Complex which included a radical social change to the culture and the installation of direct Inca political presence in some areas of the valley.
The investigators decided to test a hypothesis that the sacrificial victims were brought from outside the locality and would have eaten a diet that corresponded to their status as sacrificial offerings in the final months of life.
To do this, they used 33 sets of human remains from Huaca de los Sacrificios, where rib samples could be collected from 32 individuals. The central aim of the study was to examine only the last decade of the individuals life through to the final months. Given this, and the fact that obtaining samples for dentine collagen isotopic analysis is particularly intrusive, the team opted not to include teeth in this study and took all samples from ribs.
Typical Inca demographic
The demographic of the victims at Huaca de Los Sacrificios mirrored that of Inca rituals within the empire’s heartland; mainly juveniles and females. Thirty of the 33 bodies were female and the majority hadn’t reached 15-years-old with some of the child mummies being no older than nine.
Haagen Klaus, anthropologist at Utah Valley University said at the time of discovery that the “majority of them were sacrificed using a very sharp bladed instrument, probably a copper or bronze tumi knife. And for the majority there are several combinations, a complex set of variations on cutting of the throat.”
Human sacrifice on the north coast of Peru can be both conservative and highly variable. The focus of ritual killing in this region for two thousand years appears to have been linked to blood sacrifice involving the slitting of the supplicant’s throat followed by a blow to the head.
A Surprising result
The results did not however match the expectations, as it revealed that in contrast to contemporaneous coastal and highland contexts rather than being individuals brought in from outside the region, the victims were local to the area, and consumed diets consistent with social status with no visible sign of dietary change in the final months. This is very different from other sacrificial victims (Inca Sacrifice Victims ‘Fattened Up’ Before Death. – National Geographic).
These findings suggest a distinct pattern of human sacrifice in the Late Horizon and underscore the regional and temporal variation in sacrificial practices in the central Andes. What this means is that every single site showing signs of the behaviour requires unique study to understand the context of sacrifice.
Source: American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Bethany L. Turner, Haagen D. Klaus, Sarah V. Livengood, Leslie E. Brown, Fausto Saldaña, Carlos Wester, The variable roads to sacrifice: Isotopic investigations of human remains from Chotuna-Huaca de los Sacrificios, Lambayeque, Peru” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22238
Human Sacrifice Victims at Chotuna-Chornancap: Multidimensional Reconstruction of Ritual Violence in the Late Pre-Hispanic Lambayeque Valley A paper by Haagen Klaus
Ambrose SH, Norr L. 1993. Experimental evidence for the relationship of the carbon isotope ratios of whole diet and dietary protein to those of bone collagen and carbonate. In: Lambert JB, Grupe G, editors. Prehistoric human bone: archaeology at the molecular level. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. p 1–37.
Donnan CB. 2012. Chotuna and Chornancap: excavating an ancient Peruvian legend. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.
March 4, 2013