9,000 Year-Old Skull and Severed Hands Might Be Oldest Case of Decapitation in the New World

KS_LOGOs2_HumanScientists made a very creepy discovery in a cave in Brazil – a 9,000 year-old decapitated skull covered by two severed hands. Researchers have concluded that the skull and hands found below represent the oldest case of decapitation in the New World. 💀


The remains, known as Burial 26, were found in the rock shelter of Lapa do Santo, an archaeological site that has yielded 26 human burials. The grave, which was excavated in 2007, consists of a circular pit covered in limestone slabs. Under one of these slabs is where the skull and amputated hands were found.

André Strauss from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and his colleagues wrote that using cranial morphology and tooth wear they have decided the individual was most likely a young adult male. According to the study, decapitation was likely common in the New World, but this case raises questions about how the morbid practice began in the Americas.

“Few Amerindian habits impressed the European colonizers more than the taking and displaying of human body parts, especially when decapitation was involved,” said Strauss.

The skull was buried about 22 inches below the surface suggesting it was a deliberate ritual entombment, not the result of an enemy trophy. The placement of the hands in opposite directions on the skull leads researchers to believe it was a ritualized decapitation. See more photos here!

“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,” Strauss said.

Scientists hope to analyze the DNA of the remains in the near future to learn more about who they belonged to. The findings were published online Sept. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE.

9,000 Year-Old Skull and Severed Hands Might Be Oldest Case of Decapitation in the New World

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