To investigate the role of ritual sacrifice in the Middle Sicán period, researchers examined 81 skeletons at the sacrificial site, probing their teeth and bones to determine who they were and why they’d been killed. The researchers found that 70 per cent of the identifiable victims were anaemic Muchik children, aged 2 to 15, who’d lived out their short lives on an inferior diet of maize and squash.
Analysis of skeletal slash marks shows that each victim had been stabbed repeatedly in the neck or chest with a metal knife, and the chest cavities pried open, perhaps to encourage more bloodletting, or to extract the heart, and to remove the lungs for divination. Klaus’s team also discovered the seeds of Nectandra plants near the skeletons. Since these have paralytic and hallucinogenic properties, Klaus suggests that the drug might have been given to the victims before the ritual killing began.
After the bloodletting, victims’ bodies were allowed to decompose for a month or longer, swaddled in shrouds and then laid to rest amid ritual feasting. Bits of llama bones scattered about the burial site suggest the revellers dined on llama roast, and put aside the legs and heads for the dead children, lest they get peckish in the afterlife. “It was sort of like Finnegans Wake, with morecorn beer,” said Klaus.