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Sacrificed to the Sea God Volume 56 Number 1, January/February 2003
by Lynda Tharratt

Bound victims, left, were sacrificed on this Peruvian beach, right. (Courtesy Héctor Walde)

Peruvian archaeologists have reconstructed the scene of a grisly sacrifice that took place some seven centuries ago on a beach 120 miles north of Lima.

The remains of 187 men have been uncovered; most were found with rope still tied around their wrists and ankles. They had been kneeling when they were stabbed through the heart and fell forward or on their sides into the sand. "Field investigations showed that the sacrificed bodies weren't buried," says Héctor Walde, chief archaeologist. "Many of them were covered by only an inch of sand and some had their heels exposed." Larvae found in the hair of the cadavers came from several generations of flies, indicating that the bodies were watched over for several days to keep away carrion-eating animals and to allow them to be covered naturally by sand.

A large fishing net, ropes, fishing weights, and ceramic vessels with food, found at the other end of the beach, were associated with the victims. It's believed that surviving family members placed these objects there so that the men, presumably fishermen, could continue their labors in the afterlife.

Textiles covering the faces of some of the victims helped archaeologists affiliate them with the Chimú civilization, which began a military campaign in the area at the end of the fourteenth century. Researchers believe the fishermen were sacrificed by order of the Chimú emperor Minchancaman in gratitude to the sea god, Ni, for success in battle.

Archaeologists first identified textiles and bits of bleached bones on the beach at Punta Lobos in 1997 during an archaeological impact study for a mining company that planned to build port facilities in the area.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America