At least 15 skeletons found among a burial area in Pomalca, Peru’s El Chorro Archaeological complex were discovered with their feet missing. To make things more interesting – or disturbing – the skeletons specifically missing feet were those of children and adolescents. Initial reports believed this may have been due to amputations during life, but subsequent investigations, which discovered one of the bodies was missing a femur, found that an entire fibula was missing from the bones. This meant the foot stealing occurred after death.
But who would steal the skeletal feet from the bodies of children, and for what purpose? The bones were believed to have come fro the Moche and Lambayeque cultures, who lived on the northern coast of Peru before Western invasion of the continent. They were known for pottery, jewelry and even early metalworking skills from 50-800 A.D. One of the practices believed to be practiced by these cultures is the making of jewelry from the bones of lost loved ones – specifically children who perished before their times.
The practice of utilizing the bones of lost loved ones to make icons of their memories – such as lockets – was common before Spanish conquistadors landed. Some of the graves uncovered in El Chorro even featured looms next to them designed to make such items from bones. As many as 60 urns were also discovered near the site with the remains of llamas and guinea pigs.
Human sacrifice and pyramid building were also a part of the Moche culture. The Lambayeque culture, to whom at least nine of the graves belonged, followed the Moche, lasting until just before 1400.
Evidence of rituals were also discovered near the grave sites, indicating those who buried the dead engaged in rites, which may have included food, drinks and music. Outside of the evidence of feasts involving llamas and guinea pigs, whistles and pots showing the wear of preparing the food were discovered near the graves.
While making jewelry from the remains of lost loved ones may seem strange from today’s perspective, it was common in those times and is making a bit of a comeback today. In a recent story published in Vice, a Phoenix-based company called “Sunspot Designs” operates a line of gothic-style jewelry made of human remains called “Churchyard.” Jewelry designs included in that line utilize human bones in much the same fashion as the ones possibly designed by the grieving loved ones who buried their children more than a thousand years ago on the north side of Peru.