The remains of two babies have been found buried with helmets made from the skulls of other children in a bizarre ancient dig.
Teams working at a site called Salango on the coast of Ecuador found the infants among nine other burials.
The babies are believed to have been buried some 2,100 years ago, according to experts.
Archaeologists say the helmets were placed tightly around the babies' heads.
It is likely that the older children's skulls still had flesh on them when they were turned into helmets, as without flesh they would have been unlikely to hold together.
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This is the only known case where children's skulls were used as helmets for the dead.
Writing in the journal Latin American Antiquity, the team said they still don't know what killed the babies or the other children.
One of the babies was buried with his face looking "through and out of the cranial vault" — the space in the skull which holds the brain, the archaeologists wrote.
Most puzzling of all, a "hand phalanx" bone was found wedged between the baby's head and the helmet, according to Sara Juengst, lead author of the paper and anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina.
She said that DNA tests were being carried out to work out who the hand phalanx belonged to.
In the report, the team said the skull helmets "may represent an attempt to ensure the protection of these 'presocial and wild' souls".
Nearby their graves, archaeologists discovered figurines of ancestors made of stone.
This suggests they were put there out of "concern with protecting and further empowering the heads," they wrote.
Previous work in the area suggests the land was hit by a massive volcanic eruption not long before the babies were buried.
Such an eruption may have affected food production, meaning the infants could have died from malnutrition, the researchers said.
They added that it could be "the treatment of the two infants was part of a larger, complex ritual response to the environmental consequences of the eruption," but admitted, "more evidence is needed to confirm this".
Brutal ancient mass sacrifice REVEALED: Sick priests ripped out hearts of children
Archaeologists are still discovering more about the burial rituals of South America's ancient civilisations.
In August, researchers found a mass grave containing the remains of 227 kids in Peru .
Some of the children were victims of human sacrifice, belonging to the Chimu civilisation.
The Chimu lived along the Peruvian and Ecuadorian coast but disappeared in 1475 after they were conquered by the Incas.
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