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Early burials had mutilation rituals

Nature volume 540, page 172 (08 December 2016) | Download Citation

Ancient humans in South America used complex funeral rituals and manipulated the bodies of their dead as early as 10,000 years ago.

Image: Mauricio de Paiva

André Strauss at the University of Tübingen in Germany and his colleagues analysed bones from 26 human burials, discovered during 15 years of archaeological excavations in a cave in east-central Brazil (pictured). They found that the remains were treated before and during burial in a variety of ways, including defleshing and tooth removal. Bones dating to roughly 9,500 years ago showed signs of dismemberment and burning before being carefully arranged, suggesting a ceremonial burial. Similar practices were known in the Andes from this period but not in eastern South America.

The authors say these ritualized burials may have been important in maintaining social cohesion in times of stress and conflict.

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