Peruvian police investigate possible infant sacrifice to earth god

A decapitated baby boy found on a hilltop near Lake Titicaca may have been the victim of a centuries-old human sacrifice ritual meant to appease a pre-Columbian earth god, police said Wednesday.

The remains of the infant, believed to have been seven months old, were discovered Tuesday on a peninsula in the Yunguyo region near the Bolivian border, a police officer in the regional capital of Puno told The Associated Press.

Investigators believe the killing may have been a ritualistic sacrifice because the body was found on the hilltop surrounded by flowers, liquor bottles and containers of blood. Highland Indians consider many Andean hilltops to be the homes of earthen deities.

Police were led to the remote rural site by villagers upset by the killing, which took place last week, police said.

Peruvian anthropologist Juan Ossio said that human sacrifices date back to the Chavin culture, which flourished in Peru between 900-200 BC.

Although not as large scale as they were in the Aztec culture, which ruled what is now Mexico, human sacrifices remained an official part of Peruvian cultures until the Spanish conquered the Incas 500 years ago, he said.

"Sacrifices were made for more than a thousand year and it is hard to get rid of deeply rooted beliefs."

Anthropologists occasionally encounter reports of human sacrifices while conducting research in Peru, although it is more common to hear about old people being buried alive in an effort to appease the earthen gods, Ossio said.

The ritualistic killing of llamas in an effort to bring good crops is also common in the region around Lake Titicaca, he said.