A decapitated skull dating back to 9,000 years ago has been found in Brazil, and the pose struck by the skull together with two decapitated hands indicated the individual must have been a victim of some ancient, ceremonial ritual.
The symbolic skull was found in Lapa do Santo, an archaeological site in east-central Brazil. According to the journal PLOS ONE, it was discovered 22 inches below the ground in a grave hidden with limestone slabs. One amputated hand covered one part of the face, facing up, and another amputated hand covered the second part of the face, facing down.
“This is the oldest case of decapitation found in the New World, leading to a re-evaluation of the previous interpretations of this practice, particularly with regards to its origins and geographic dispersion,” the study authors wrote.
Ancient evidence of human beheadings dating back to 3,000 years have been found by scientists in the Andes Mountains of South America, but this particular finding revealed the ritual practice may have also existed in other parts of the region.
“The careful arrangement of the hands over the face is compatible with an important public display component in the ritual that could have worked to enhance social cohesion within the community,” the authors wrote. “This ritualized burial attests to the early sophistication of mortuary rituals among hunter-gatherers in the Americas.”
The discovery was made by an international team of scientists, and they believe the finding indicated ancient show of military strength, or some kind of ceremonial ritual among communities.
“We suggest a ritualized decapitation instead of trophy-taking, testifying for the sophistication of mortuary rituals among hunter-gatherers in the Americas during the early Archaic period,” the study authors wrote. “In the apparent absence of wealth goods or elaborated architecture, Lapa do Santo’s inhabitants seemed to use the human body to express their cosmological principles regarding death.”