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The amputated hands were laid palm-side down over the face of the skull, with the left hand pointing upward and covering the right side of the face, while the right hand pointed downward and covered the left side of the face.
This new finding suggests that ritual beheading may have started elsewhere, the researchers said."This is the oldest case of decapitation found in the New World," Strauss told Live Science.The scientists investigated an environmentally protected tropical region in east-central Brazil known as Lagoa Santa, which means "Holy Lake" in Portuguese.The area, which is covered in savanna-type vegetation as well as forests, was explored heavily in the 19th century by researchers looking for evidence of interactions between prehistoric humans and giant animals, such as saber-toothed cats and ground sloths.The scientists focused on a site called Lapa do Santo, or "saint's rock shelter." It was here that the researchers previously found the oldest evidence of rock art in South America, which included pictures of penises, engraved on the bedrock there, that are about 9,400 years old.Excavations at Lapa do Santo revealed signs of human occupation dating back about 12,000 years.
Stone tools and animal bones found at the shelter suggest the prehistoric groups that lived there subsisted on plants they gathered and small and midsize animals they hunted.
In 2007, the researchers discovered 9,000-year-old fragments of human remains at Lapa do Santo, including a skull, jaw, the first six vertebrae of the neck and two severed hands.
The bones were buried about 22 inches (55 centimeters) below the surface, under limestone slabs, which suggests they were part of a deliberate ritual entombment, the researchers said.
Under limestone slabs in a cave in Brazil, scientists made a ghoulish new discovery: a decapitated skull covered in amputated hands.
These 9,000-year-old bones may be evidence of the oldest known case of ritual beheading in the New World, raising new questions as to how this grisly practice began in the Americas, the researchers said in a new study.
Decapitation was likely common in the New World, according to the scientists.