Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

From National Geographic: Tulane anthropologist John Verano shares insight on child sacrifices from the north coast of Peru

January 15th, 2019

Dr. John Verano, professor of anthropology at Tulane University, was recently featured for his biological anthropology research in National Geographic. Verano and archaeologist Gabriel Prieto are directors of an archaeological team that has excavated the largest known example of child sacrifice ever documented in the Americas. After examining the child skeletal remains of from the site of Huanchaquito, Verano confirmed that the children were deliberately killed in the same manner‘€“with a horizontal cut across the sternum, likely followed by removal of the heart. Verano notes that this pattern of trauma is a form of ritual killing.

Verano has decades of experience analyzing physical evidence of ritual violence in the Andes, including a 13th-century Chimú massacre of some 200 men and boys at the site of Punta Lobos.

Read the entire story in the original article in National Geographic titled What made this ancient society sacrifice its own children?

This story also appeared on the Tulane News titled National Geographic spotlights Tulane professor‘€™s work on January 15, 2019. Story by New Wave staff member Barri Bronston (

A Tulane University professor‘€™s excavation of the site of a mass child sacrifice that took place more than 500 years ago on the northern coast of Peru is featured in the February issue of National Geographic magazine.

The article, titled ‘€œAn Unthinkable Sacrifice,‘€: provides much more detail about the findings than had previously been revealed, including how some of the children were killed, how they were buried and the growing number of skeletons recovered from ongoing excavations.
It features stunning photography, including a headdress of macaw feathers adorning the skull of a sacrificed child and another of archaeology students cleaning and cataloguing remains. The issue is available on newsstands Jan. 29.

Tulane anthropology professor John Verano and Gabriel Prieto of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo along with a team of students from their respective universities have been working at the Huanchaquito site since 2011 when children playing in the sand dunes found human bones scattered over the surface. Verano joined Prieto to assist with the excavation and analysis of the human remains, which by 2016 comprised more than 140 children and 200 young llamas.

Since then, a second site of mass child killings has been found, this one at Pampa la Cruz, located on a high hill above the town of Huanchaco. The discovery now puts the total number of sacrificed children at 269 and the number of llamas at 466. Included in this new sample are a number of children with rich offerings.

‘€œWe‘€™re finding children and young adults with fancy headdresses and wrapped in textiles,‘€ he said.

Verano also noted gruesome details necessary to gain a full understanding of the ritualized killings, including the fact that some victims died in different ways including strangulation and blunt force trauma.

To date, most children at the two sites were found with an incision across the chest and were buried in plain shrouds. At Pampa La Cruz Prieto uncovered a large copper knife that may have been used to sacrifice the children.

Even before the discovery of the second site, this was one of the largest discoveries of child sacrifice anywhere in the world according to Verano. Archaeological evidence suggests that the region was experiencing devastating floods at the time, and at the first site children were offered as a sacrifice to persuade the gods to stop the rain.

Prieto and Verano are still researching the causes of the mass sacrifice at Pampa la Cruz. ‘€œWe‘€™re not seeing as much evidence of rainfall, which makes us wonder whether this was a ceremony done at another time of crisis.‘€

National Geographic’s Explorer episode about this discovery will air February 11, 6 p.m. (ET).

Verano recently spent his winter vacation in Peru studying the new finds, and plans to return again in June. His work is supported by the National Geographic Society, along with grants from the Carol Lavin Bernick Family Foundation and the Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies at Tulane.

Verano said it‘€™s crucial that the work be completed in a timely manner. ‘€œThis discovery is very important, and we need to document it before the site is lost to urban expansion.‘€

Media interested in photos from the National Geographic article should contact Anna Kukelhaus at

Peru + People
Jason S. Nesbitt
Assistant Professor - Anthropology