Human Sacrifices in Peru


Photograph by Matthew Helmer, NG Grantee

Archaeologists working at the site of an ancient town in the coastal desert of northern Peru made a surprising discovery in late August—a multichamber tomb from the much later Chimú culture that held the remains of at least four noble musicians and weavers.


archaeology, Preincaic civilizations

Two human sacrifices, seen in this photo, accompanied the tomb's elite occupants into eternity.

The site of Samanco spreads over some 75 acres in the Nepeña River valley. Most of its ruins belong to a small trading community that flourished between 800 and 200 B.C.

But amid the early stone structures, archaeologists uncovered a ten-foot-deep adobe shaft tomb dating to the 15th or 16th century A.D. At that time the Chimú were among the many conquered peoples who made up the vast Inca empire.

"This is one of the very few Chimú-Inca tombs ever excavated," lead archaeologist Matthew Helmer, both a National Geographic Society and a Waitt Foundation grantee, said in an e-mail. "It reveals interesting details about the coastal Andean world just prior to European contact."

Looters attacked the tomb's main chamber during the Spanish colonial period, but the contents of two side chambers remained intact.

The wealth of artifacts uncovered by Helmer's team includes the grave goods shown in this gallery.

—A. R. Williams