Evidence of ancient beheadings found

27 Oct 2015 - 19:15

Beheadings in South America are not uncommon and are usually associated with gang warfare.

Now a group of researchers - including one from the University of Cape Town - has discovered a case of a 9000-year-old ritualistic decapitation, challenging established views on the practice.

It is said to be the oldest recorded case in the Americas and was found in east-central Brazil.

Domingo Carlos Salazar Garcia, from the University of Cape Town, says the male, to whom the skull belonged, "was likely a local member of the group and not a foreign defeated enemy".

The remains that were found included a cranium, jaw, the first six cervical vertebrae, and two severed hands at the site.

Researchers said the amputated hands "were laid over the face of the skull arranged opposite each other".

They observed cuts on the jaw and sixth cervical vertebra, indicating a "ritualised decapitation instead of trophy-taking".

If this is the case, it shows what the researchers have called "sophisticated mortuary rituals among hunter-gatherers in the Americas during that period".

The study was led Andre Strauss from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany). Strauss says it not only challenges "the traditional view that decapitation was an Andean phenomenon", but that it also challenges the Western perspective which associates decapitation only with punishment and inter-group violence.

The find is the oldest case in South America, with the next oldest being three times younger (a case from 3000 years ago found in the Andean region).

The study, which was published earlier this week, will now lead to the re-evaluation of previous interpretations of the practice, especially its origins and geographic dispersion.

It also comes two months after a gruesome case, in Brazil, where soccer supporters cut off a referee's head after he stabbed a player to death who had refused to leave when being sent off.


Originally published by Tanya Farber on