Archaeologists in Peru have unearthed the naturally mummified remains of five llamas that are believed to have been sacrificed to the Incan gods approximately 500 years ago.
Impressively, the colorful decorations the Inca people adorned the animals with, before possibly burying them alive, are still in relatively good condition.
An extremely rare discovery
Lead researcher Lidio Valdez, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Calgary, and his colleagues found the mummified llamas two years ago at Tambo Viejo, an archaeological site on the Pacific coast of Peru.
The preserved remains were found buried beneath clay floors underneath buildings where the Inca used to live.
"It appears that there were more llamas, but looters have disturbed the original context," Valdez explained to Live Science. "The llamas had been buried facing east," likely because the sun, which rises in the east, was a major Inca deity, he noted
The finding is so rare that Valdez says no other archaeologist has found anything like this, despite the fact that archaeologists have been excavating remains of the Inca Empire for more than a century.
Honoring the Incan gods
These types of sacrifices, which may have seen animals buried alive, were made to honor the gods, who the Inca associated with successful harvests and victory in war.
In their paper, the researchers say they couldn't find any cut marks on the throats or diaphragms of the llamas, meaning they may have been buried alive. "If [this idea is] correct, this practice would parallel the evidence for the burial of living human sacrifices," the researchers write.
Llamas aren't the only animal to have been sacrificed at Tambo Viejo. Earlier research by Valdez detailed the discovery of dozens of sacrificed guinea pigs that were also decorated with earrings and necklaces.