Ancient "Human Sacrifices" Found in Peru, Expert Says
for National Geographic News
|June 4, 2008|
Three possible human sacrifice victims have been found at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in Peru, an archaeologist says.
The apparently mutilated, partial skeletons (see photos) could overturn the peaceful reputation of the Pre-Ceramic period (3000 B.C. to 1800 B.C.) in the Andes mountains—a time generally seen as free of ritualized killing and warfare.
Outside experts caution, however, that such claims remain unproven.
Alejandro Chu Barrera, who led the dig, said: "We found two pairs of legs—probably young females around their 20s—and the decapitated body of a young male in his 20s."
"They appear to have been ritually killed," he said.
Chu directs the Archaeological Project of Bandurria at the 133-acre (54-hectare) site 90 miles (140 kilometers) outside of present-day Lima.
The archaeologist told National Geographic News that his team had discovered the human offerings while excavating one of the circular plazas found at Bandurria.
"We don't know if the bodies were torn apart postmortem or premortem," he said.
Chu said the find is significant, because "many researchers have characterized the Pre-Ceramic period as very peaceful, with no evidence of the kind of violence that was seen during the [later] Moche [A.D. 100 to 800] time of human sacrifices and mutilations."
(Read about a tattooed Moche mummy and pyramid discovered in Peru.)
The newly discovered remains were left by people who were part of "a Pre-Ceramic society that had no exact name," Chu said.
The bones were found beneath 31 inches (80 centimeters) of sand. "There was no evidence of disturbances caused by later occupations," Chu noted.
Media reports have claimed that Bandurria is the oldest settlement its kind in the Americas, though an even older urban site was announced in February.)
It is one of some 30 Pre-Ceramic sites located in the North Central coast, which Chu collectively referred to as "the cradle of Andean Civilization." (See photos of Inca ruins in Peru.)
Tom Pozorski, an archaeologist at the University of Texas-Pan American described the find by Chu's team as "an interesting discovery worthy of publication."
Chu said that, while Bandurria has yielded human remains in the past, this is the first time they show signs of ritualistic killing.
Winifred Creamer, an anthropologist at Northern Illinois University, said: "The find of individuals, evidently sacrifice victims, at Bandurria is significant, because there is not currently evidence of human sacrifice or warfare during the Pre-Ceramic [period]."
Creamer said the new discovery is "provocative" but added that the remains "are stimulating, rather than definitive, in suggesting the presence of sacrifice."
Sloan Williams, a physical anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said, "While the findings are tantalizing, assuming that they are evidence of human sacrifice is premature."
"Ritual violence is only one of the possible explanations," she noted. Another may be secondary burial practices, which may explain the condition of the remains, Williams added.
To determine what happened, both the site and the bones must be studied further, she said.
Tulane University anthropologist John Verano described Chu's find as "interesting." But he added that theories about dismemberment should remain preliminary, pending an analysis of the femurs and neck vertebrae of the headless body.
"One needs to prove by cut marks or other physical evidence that a body was dismembered [before death]," he said. "Even then, theoretically, one could be dealing with sacrifice, execution, murder, or any of a number of human behaviors."
Shelia Pozorski, also an anthropologist at Texas-Pan American, said, "Bandurria is a truly incredible site, regardless of how the human remains come to be interpreted."
"The unusual remains just add more interesting data," she added.
|© 1996-2008 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.|