Huarmey has been a place for fishing from ancient times to the present day, indeed, the name itself means fisherman in the ancient language Muchic (Guaxme). It was during an investigation into what was apparently a pre-Hispanic cemetery at Punta Lobos, near the installations operated by Compañía Minera Antamina at the port of Huarmey, that we were astonished to find that the cemetery for young fishermen was in fact the site of a large-scale human sacrifice.

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Towards the end of the 14th Century the armies of the Chimu emperor Minchaaman were engaged in an aggressive military campaign to increase the already extensive lands under their rule. In this campaign the Huarmey valley was encircled, conquered and finally annexed to the Chimu imperial state. Later, in an impressive religious ceremony, a fishing village was selected and offered in sacrifice to the god Ni, lord of the sea and the principal deity of the conquerors, to thank him for the military victory. The scene chosen for this ceremony was Punta Lobos.

The bodies of the sacrificed men were watched to make sure carrion-eating animals did not go near them, while the sea and sand slowly covered them. While this was happening, at the other end of the beach the survivors of the sacrifice, the women, the children and the old, offered a number of ceramic vessels containing food and drink, as well as fishing tackle such as nets, cord and weights, so that the dead fishermen could continue with their work in the afterlife.

Five centuries later, bodies mutilated by grave robbers gave no indication that the small cemetery at Punta Lobos had such a fascinating and terrible history. The Chimu, inheritors of the ancient religious traditions of the Moche, also included massive human sacrifices in their ceremonies as their ancestors had done centuries before them. But, just as the Chimu surpassed their ancestors in jewelry, textiles and other arts, so they did in the magnitude of their religious ceremonies. Never before has a ritual of this size been discovered.

The bodies of 107 fishermen remained intact despite an unsuccessful search for artifacts by grave robbers or huaqueros; more than 20 were mutilated by the Chimu themselves and around 70 were destroyed by the huaqueros.

A detailed analysis of the bodies confirms the first impression that most of the victims show marks of the knives by which they were put to death. Bound and blindfolded, the fought against inevitable death until, choking on their own blood they fell face down onto the sand.

Later research has shown that most of the sacrificed fishermen were all men, young or adult and healthy for that period, highly skilled in fishing and diving, like the fishermen of today who live by the beaches of Huarmey.

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Author: Bienvenida Team
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Huarmey is half way between the cities
of Lima and Trujillo and for the regular traveler
it represents rather more than unforgettable views of the sea from the
Northern Pan American Highway. For those who know, it is the best place on the north coast for fishing and scuba diving.