Danilo Bernardo

Oldest decapitation in New World dates back 9000 years

Researchers have found what they claim is the oldest case of decapitation in the New World, dated to about 9000 years ago. The skull (pictured above) was found by archaeologists in the Lapa do Santo rock shelter (“Saint’s rock shelter”) in east-central Brazil, and is 6000 years older than the earliest confirmed decapitation in South America. (A suspected case of decapitation in Florida could be as old as 8000 years.) Whoever did the deed also cut off the person’s hands, placing the right hand over the left side of the face and the left hand over the right side. But the team, which reports the find online today in PLOS ONE, thinks that this was not an enemy trophy head but possibly a case of ancestor skull worship; such skull cults are known from the prehistoric Middle East as early as 11,000 years ago. In support of this idea, a study of the skull’s strontium isotope ratios, a reliable indicator of where an individual came from, shows that the skull’s bearer came from the same population group as other skeletons found in the immediate region, rather than from an outsider.