Archaeologists from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium recently reported a "remarkable discovery" to say the least while excavating a site in front of the Temple of Pachacamac in Peru.
Left completely intact even after colonial pillaging, researchers unearthed a 20-meter long burial chamber, according to the press release, with more than 80 bodies inside. About a dozen of these bodies are described as newborns and infants arranged around the perimeter of the tomb with their heads pointing inward. This facet of the find has been dubbed by some as the "ring of babies." The other bodies found -- both as skeletons and mummies -- were in the fetal position.
Researchers are investigating several questions regarding the find, according to the press release:
Were the infants sacrificed ? Were the bodies all interred at the same time as a form of communal burial, or was the chamber reused over longer periods of time like some sort of crypt? Did the individuals come from Pachacamac or further afield? Did they belong to the same family or larger kinship group ? What was their cause of death…?
Discovery News has more from the archaeologists involved in the discovery:
"The ratio adult/children is unusually elevated at this burial," archaeologist Peter Eeckhout, who has been carrying out fieldwork at the site for the past 20 years, 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," Eeckhout said.
"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," Eeckhout said.
"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," he said.
Pachacamac, described as one of the largest prehispanic sites in South America, was first ruled by Ychsma and later conquered by the Incas, according to Discovery News. The tomb, which dates back about 1,000 years, was found about 20 miles south of Lima, the country's capital.
See more photos from the excavation site on National Geographic here.