Category: Factual & Arts TV
Archaeologists working in Northern Peru have discovered one of the biggest sites of human sacrifice in pre-Hispanic South America.
Archaeologists working at Tucume made the sensational discovery last summer and it is featured exclusively in a new series, Lost Cities of the Ancients, which begins on Monday 4 September on BBC TWO at 9.00pm.
The discovery of the bodies of 119 men, women and children as young as five was made outside a temple in Tucume, a ruined city of 26 pyramids near Chiclayo.
The pyramid city was an important centre for the Lambeyeque civilisation which flourished in northern Peru from 1100 AD.
"The discovery of these human sacrifices outside the temple is one of the most important discoveries in the history of Peruvian archaeology," said Alfredo Narvaez, the Chief Archaeologist at the site.
Narvaez believes that dozens of these victims were ritually sacrificed in just a few days in the final days of the city, in an attempt to ward off catastrophe.
Shortly after the mass sacrifice, the city of pyramids was burnt and abandoned. It was the last city of pyramids ever built in South America.
Investigation of the bodies revealed that most of the victims had their throats slit, their heads decapitated and then their hearts hacked out of their chests.
Physical anthropologist J Marla Toyne, from the University of Tulane, who examined the skeletons, said: "Of the 119 individuals we recovered from this small area, some 90 per cent of them show cut marks in the neck and throat region. These patterns are very consistent across the group, suggesting it was almost a systematic execution."
She found no evidence that the victims had fought to avoid this violent death, or that they had been tied up: "For example, the cut marks across the throat are clean marks; there's no evidence of chatter as the knife moved, as the individual moved to avoid this activity. Most of them had their hands by their sides, or gently crossing their bodies; nor was there any evidence of any ropes or ligatures."
Archaeologists at Tucume believe the victims had probably been drugged with a chemical taken from the Amalya seed. These seeds were found near to where the sacrifices were carried out.
The drug can produce paralysis of the body, but can leave the victim aware of what is happening.
It suggests the victims were aware of the terrifying ritual that was about to happen to them, but were physically unable to put up any resistance to it.
The 119 bodies were excavated from a small grid, just ten by ten metres across.
There is evidence that this space outside the temple was used to sacrifice people over hundreds of years, but that the number of sacrifices increased towards the end of the city.
Archaeologists think that sacrifices were often carried out in response to catastrophes in the world, in an attempt to appease the angry gods.
Narvaez believes that the dramatic increase in numbers of sacrifices at Tucume was in response to the chaos and fear that was unleashed by the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Peru in 1532.
Alfredo Narvaez said: "Probably in a very few days, dozens of sacrifices were carried out simultaneously so that this state of crisis could in some way be controlled."
It failed to change the course of history. And the city of Tucume was burnt and abandoned, ending a tradition of pyramid-building that stretched back thousands of years.
Lost Cities of the Ancients begins on 4 September 2006 at 9.00pm on BBC TWO.
The Cursed Valley of Pyramids, which contains the finding of the sacrifice, is the second programme in the series, and is shown on Tuesday 5 September, also at 9.00pm on BBC TWO.