Thousand-Year-Old Infant Mummies Unearthed In Peru

By Amir Khan on May 25, 2012 3:04 PM EDT

Peru Mummies
Belgian researchers working in Peru unearthed a thousand-year-old tomb containing over 80 skeletons and mummies -- many of which are infants (Photo: Universite Libre de Bruxelles,)

Belgian researchers working in Peru unearthed a thousand-year-old tomb containing over 80 skeletons and mummies -- many of which are infants, according to the University of Brussels, which announced the find as part of its Ychsma Project, which has been scouring Peru since 1999.

"The tomb provides a wonderfully rich sample that will allow us to study possible kin ties, local or foreign origin of the deceased, health state, ritual and funerary customs," Peter Eeckhout, lead researcher on the Ychsma Project, told Discovery News. "It will enlighten considerably our current knowledge on the material culture of the earliest phase of the Ychsma, the cultural group that lived in the Lima area before the Inca conquest."

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Researchers found the tomb earlier this year covered with reeds and supported with carved tree trunks. Around the perimeter, the team found 12 infants, all with their heads pointed towards the burial chamber's middle.

More than 70 mummies and skeletons were in the center of the tomb, most in the fetal position. The mummies were of all ages and sexes and surrounded by offerings such as ceramic vases, masks, gold and animals, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some of the tomb's inhabitants appeared to have suffered from serious physical injury.

"One juvenile was killed by a blow on the skull. All over the cemetery we have lots of lethal disease traces, such as cancer and syphilis," Eeckhout told Discovery News.

Researchers discovered the tomb in Pachacamac, a city located on Peru's coast originally built between 600 and 800 A.D.

"The majority of the 17 pyramids and other buildings there were constructed between A.D. 800 and 1450, when the city was conquered by the Inca empire, which maintained it as a religious shrine. The Inca built five additional buildings," according to the LA Times.

The artifacts in the tomb appear to date back to 1,000 years ago due to their style, according to ScienceBlog. The team will date the items radiometrically to determine their exact age.

The area has been on the list for inclusion on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage Site list, which would help preserve the site. The tomb's discovery will help the site land on the list, according to ScienceBlog.

Researchers are unsure of the tomb's purpose, but said they have a few hypotheses.

"The ratio adult/children is unusually elevated at this burial," Eeckhout told Discovery News. "We have, at this stage, two hypotheses: human sacrifice or stocking of babies dead from natural causes, kept until their disposal in the tomb because of its special character."

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