The discovery of 9,000-year-old skull and amputated hands in a cave in Brasil, may be evidence of the oldest beheading ritual in the New World, a new research suggests.
According to researchers, decapitation was quite a common practice in the New World. In many cases the heads of enemies were used as trophies – such practices could be seen in South America. But skulls were used in other ways as well. For instance, the Inca made drinking jars out of skulls, the Jivaro people in the Ecuador ‘imprisoned’ the souls of their enemies in decapitated heads, the Arara people in the Brazilian Amazon turned the skulls of enemies into musical instruments, the Chimú people in Peru used decapitation as a form of sacrifice, and so on.
André Strauss, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany stated that: “Few Amerindian habits impressed the European colonizers more than the taking and displaying of human body parts, especially when decapitation was involved.”
Before the 9,000-year-old remain were found, previous evidence showed that the oldest ritual beheading in South America took place 3,000 years ago, in Peru, and in North America it happened about 6,000 years ago in Florida.
According to Strauss, the new discovery represents the oldest evidence of decapitation rituals in the New World.
The researchers found the human remains on a site called Lapa do Santo, in Brazil, where previous excavations revealed animal bones and stone tools dating back almost 12,000 years.
The 9,000-year-old human remains at Lapa do Santo included a skull, six neck vertebrae, a jaw, and two amputated hands. The researchers found the bones berried about 22 inches (55.8 centimetres) below the surface and they were placed under a limestone. The researchers believe that they were buried that way as part of a ritual.
A quite interesting thing was that the severed hands were placed on the skull in an intriguing way: that the left hand was covering the right side of the face and was pointing upward, while the right hand was covering the left side of the face and was pointing downward. According to the researchers the remains actually belong to a member of the group. Perhaps placing the hands on opposite sides of the face was a way in which they expresses their ideas regarding death.
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