Archaeologists unearthed 11 burials in South America, two of which were infants with ‘helmets’ made from the skulls of other children.
Researchers theorize that the helmets may have been used to protect the babies from the ‘pre-social and wild souls’ as they made their way to the afterlife.
The team has also suggested that they may have been part of a ritual response to a volcano eruption that occurred no too long before they were buried.
The discovery was made at a burial site called Salango, on the coast of central Ecuador, Livescience reported.
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Archaeologists unearthed 11 burials in South America, two of which were infants with ‘helmets’ made from the skulls of other children
‘The human head was a potent symbol for many South American cultures. Isolated heads were often included in mortuary contexts, representing captured enemies, revered persons, and symbolic ‘seeds’, reads the published study.
‘At Salango, a ritual complex on the central coast of Ecuador, excavations revealed two burial mounds dated to approximately 100 BC.’
‘Among the 11 identified burials, two infants were interred with ‘helmets’ made from the cranial vaults of other juveniles.
‘The additional crania were placed around the heads of the primary burials, likely at the time of burial.’
Researchers theorize that the helmets may have been used to protect the babies from the ‘pre-social and wild souls’ as they made their way to the afterlife
‘All crania exhibited lesions associated with bodily stress.’
Although the researchers have theories of what may have killed the infants, the exact reason is still unknown.
However, the team does suspect it has to do with a volcano eruption that occurred not too long before the infants were buried.
They could have died from a lack of food, as the ash from the eruption may have affected food production in the area and the children may have starved.
Another suggestion is that the children were part of a ‘ritual response to environmental consequences of the eruption,’ the archaeologists wrote, which the team believes may have been the cause of death.
Lesions were found on the remains of both of the infants (a and d), suggesting the baby suffered some kind of bodily stress. Experts suggest they may have been sacrificed or suffered from malnutrition
One of the infants died at 18 months old, which was buried wearing a helmet of what the team believes came from the skull of a four to 12-year old child.
The second infant was about six to nine months old at death and was found with a skull helmet made from another who had died between ages two and 12 years old.
The team of researchers hope that in-progress DNA and isotope analyzes will confirm if the infants and those children who became the ‘skull helmets’ were related, but they say in their paper that various possibilities for the origin of the skulls exist, but that they think the burials are evidence of ancient traditions related to ideas about ‘rebirth’.
WHY DID ANCIENT SOUTH AMERICAN CULTURES SACRIFICE THEIR CHILDREN?
Child sacrifice seems to have been a relatively common occurrence in the cultures of ancient Peru, including the pre-Incan Sican, or Lambayeque culture and the Chimu people who followed them, as well as the Inca themselves.
Among the finds revealing this ritual behaviour are the mummified remains of a child’s body, discovered in 1985 by a group of mountaineers.
The remains were uncovered at around 17,388ft (5,300 metres) on the southwestern ridge of Cerro Aconcagua mountain in the Argentinean province of Mendoza.
Child sacrifice seems to have been a relatively common occurrence in the cultures of ancient Peru. Among the finds revealing this ritual behaviour were the mummified remains of a child’s body (pictured), discovered in 1985 by a group of mountaineers
The boy is thought to have been a victim of an Inca ritual called capacocha, where children of great beauty and health were sacrificed by drugging them and taking them into the mountains to freeze to death.
Ruins of a sanctuary used by the Inca to sacrifice children to their gods was discovered by archaeologists in at a coastal ruin complex in Peru in 2016.
Experts digging at Chotuna-Chornancap, in north Lima, discovered 17 graves dating to at least the 15th century. This included the graves of six children placed side by side in pairs of shallow graves.
Capacocha was a ritual that most often took place upon the death of an Inca king. The local lords were required to select unblemished children representing the ideal of human perfection.
Ruins of a sanctuary used by the Inca to sacrifice children to their gods was discovered by archaeologists in at a coastal ruin complex in Peru in 2016. Experts digging at Chotuna-Chornancap (pictured), in north Lima, discovered 17 graves dating to at least the 15th century
Children were married and presented with sets of miniature human and llama figurines in gold, silver, copper and shell. The male figures have elongated earlobes and a braided headband and the female figurines wore their hair in plaits.
The children were then returned to their original communities, where they were honoured before being sacrificed to the mountain gods on the Llullaillaco Volcano.
The phrase Capacocha has been translated to mean ‘solemn sacrifice’ or ‘royal obligation.’
The rationale for this type of sacrificial rite has typically been understood as commemorating important life events of the Incan emperor, to send them to be with the deities upon their death, to stop natural disasters, to encourage crop growth or for religious ceremonies.