LAPA DO SANTO, Brazil, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The 9,000-year-old remains of an adult male -- his head, jaw and six cervical vertebrae severed -- were recently uncovered by a team of scientists in east-central Brazil. It's the earliest evidence of decapitation in the New World.
The skull was found at a Brazilian archaeological site known as Lapa do Santo.
Europeans arriving in the New World -- prone to their own style of violence -- were fascinated by the act of decapitation and the public display of severed body parts among Amerindian peoples. Previous research has shown the practice to be widespread, and the latest findings prove the ritualistic violence had developed for several thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans.
The discovery also suggests decapitation was practiced throughout the continent, not simply on the west coast of South and Central America.
Forensic scientists with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology analyzed the decapitated remains and determined the man's head was removed by pulling and rotating the skull, not severed with a blade. Soft tissue, however, was removed from the body using stone flakes.
Although it's not clear exactly what social or cultural purpose this particular decapitation served, analysis of the remains prove the man was a member of the local group or tribe.
"The chemical analysis of strontium isotopes done in this study indicates that the decapitated individual was not an outsider to the group," Domingo Carlos Salazar-Garcia, an anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute, said in a press release. "Therefore, it was probably not a defeated enemy but instead a member of the community."
The skull was found accompanied by two severed hands, manipulated and placed over the eyes.
"This ritualized decapitation attests to the early sophistication of mortuary rituals among hunter-gatherers in the Americas," said Andre Strauss, lead author of a paper on the discovery, published in the journal PLOS ONE.
"Moreover, the finding from Lapa do Santo doubles the chronological depth of the practice of decapitation in South America," Strauss added. "Geographically, it expands the known range of decapitation in more than 2,000 kilometers, showing that during the early Holocene this was not a phenomenon restricted to the western part of the continent as previously assumed."