The oldest case of decapitation in the New World (Lapa do Santo, East-Central Brazil)

Andre Strauss (Lead / Corresponding author), Rodrigo Elias Oliveira, Danilo V. Bernardo, Domingo C. Salazar-Garcia, Sahra Talamo, Klervia Jaouen, Mark Hubbe, Sue Black, Caroline Wilkinson, Michael Phillip Richards, Astolfo G. M. Araujo, Renato Kipnis, Walter Alves Neves

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Abstract

We present here evidence for an early Holocene case of decapitation in the New World (Burial 26), found in the rock shelter of Lapa do Santo in 2007. Lapa do Santo is an archaeological site located in the Lagoa Santa karst in east-central Brazil with evidence of human occupation dating as far back as 11.7–12.7 cal kyBP (95.4% interval). An ultra-filtered AMS age determination on a fragment of the sphenoid provided an age range of 9.1–9.4 cal kyBP (95.4% interval) for Burial 26. The interment was composed of an articulated cranium, mandible and first six cervical vertebrae. Cut marks with a v-shaped profile were observed in the mandible and sixth cervical vertebra. The right hand was amputated and laid over the left side of the face with distal phalanges pointing to the chin and the left hand was amputated and laid over the right side of the face with distal phalanges pointing to the forehead. Strontium analysis comparing Burial 26’s isotopic signature to other specimens from Lapa do Santo suggests this was a local member of the group. Therefore, 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. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0137456
Number of pages31
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume10
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2015

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