(CNN)Scientists have unearthed a dark secret in Peru.
The skeletal remains of more than 140 children and 200 baby llamas were found on the country's northern coast. It may be evidence of the largest child sacrifice in history, according to an exclusive report by National Geographic, released Thursday on its website. The remains of a man and two women were also found.
The sacrifices are believed to have taken place 550 years ago in the pre-Columbian Chimú Empire, in a sacrificial site formerly known as Huanchaquito-Las Llamas, close to a UNESCO World Heritage site of Chan Chan, in the modern town of Trujillo.
The children ranged in age from 5 to 14, according to the report. The baby llamas were less than 18 months old.
"Skeletal remains of both children and animals show evidence of cuts to the sternum as well as rib dislocations," the report says.
The children had their faces smeared with a red cinnabar-based pigment, the report says, which took place during the ceremony before their chests were cut open, most likely