Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the oldest decapitation in the New World.
The skull is dated to be over 9000 years old, and was buried in the rock shelter of Lapa do Santo — often called the Saint’s rock shelter — which is in Brazil.
The archaeological site, which has yielded 26 burials so far was first excavated in 2007, and dates back to the early Holocene period. Researchers have detailed their published findings in the journal PLOS ONE.
Radiocarbon dating showed the skull was between 9127 and 9438 years old, making it about four millennia older than the earliest known decapitation in South America. It is also around 1000 years older than similar archaeological finds from North America.
Led by André Strauss from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the team believes this was part of the mysterious burial practice of hunter-gatherers that passed through this settlement.
André Strauss examined the skull, and nearby bones, and objects minutely — and had tested their age with radiocarbon dating with Strauss saying:
‘the skull might even be the oldest instance of decapitation in the world.’
The grave called Burial 26, consisted of a circular pit covered with five limestone cobbles, inside the archaeologists found the skull’s face covered with two severed hands pointing in opposite directions. There were incisions on the neck bone that showed where the head had been cut off.
Strauss wrote that by “Using cranial morphology, and tooth wear this individual was estimated to be a young adult male.”
Strontium analysis, comparing the isotopic signature of the bones to other specimens from Lapa do Santo, suggests that Burial 26 likely belonged to a local member of the group, according to D News, researchers also ruled out that it could have been the result of trophy taking.
Strauss told Discovery News that: “Trophy-heads are usually curated for long periods after being obtained, while Burial 26 was interred not long after death.”
Strauss says when a skull is used as trophies, they usually have holes drilled in them for carrying, and the fact that the strontium signature points to it being local – and not an outsider.
Chemical analysis of a fossil tooth has indicated the decapitated person had grown-up with a diet of locally produced food, which is the same as the 18 other ancient people interred in the rock-shelter. Strauss suspects the removal of a head had occurred after death, and was part of a ritual treatment of the body.