Cave in Brazil yields 9500-year-old mutilated remains

Evidence of 9500-year-old funerary rituals involving mutilation, removal of muscles and teeth, and possibly cannibalism of fresh corpses was found in Lapa do Santo, a cave in east-central Brazil.

Skull with burning traces and intentional removal of teeth (by Mauricio de Paiva via Seeker)
Skull with burning traces and intentional removal of teeth (by Mauricio de Paiva via Seeker)

Team of archaeologists of the Universität in Tübingen unearthed the evidence for the oldest documentation of humans performing complex funerary rituals in the region. The site was used between 10600 and 10000 years ago as a place of burial of complete bodies and later, between 9600 and 9400 years ago more complex funerary rituals took place, involving mutilation, defleshing, tooth removal, exposure to fire and possibly cannibalism. Then between 8600 and 8200 years ago, another change occurred, as pits were filled with bones of a single individual without signs of body manipulation.

One of Lapa do Santo burials (by Laboratório de Estudos Evolutivos Humanos)
One of Lapa do Santo burials (by Laboratório de Estudos Evolutivos Humanos)

A number of 26 burials was investigating, revealing the diversity and complexity of the remains among hunter-gatherer communities in this region of South America. Analysis of the remains showed that the practice of mutilation, followed by the secondary burial of the remains according to strict rules, was a central element in the treatment of the dead. The burials included bones with cutting and chopping marks, exposure to fire, a head buried with amputated hands and skulls in which all teeth were intentionally removed. In one case a skull cap was used as funerary receptacle. The mutilated and burnt bones of the same individual were deposited inside. Some chopped and defleshed bones show gnaw marks and signs of burning soft tissues, pointing to some form of ritual cannibalism.

(after Mauricio de Paiva & Seeker)

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