A decapitated skull discovered in Brazil is providing clues to the long-lost beliefs of people who lived there thousands of years ago, the Smithsonian reports. Found in 2007 and revealed in a new study, the 9,000-year-old skull seems to have been cut off and buried under limestone slabs—which may make it the oldest decapitated skull given a ritualistic burial in the western hemisphere. "This ritualized decapitation attests to the early sophistication of mortuary rituals among hunter-gatherers in the Americas," lead researcher Andre Strauss tells CNN. How so? Well, vertebrae found with the skull bear ritualistic V-shaped markings, and two severed hands were positioned over the face with one set of fingers pointing up and the other pointing down, the Washington Post reports.
Plus the skull appears to be from a local man, not an outside warrior whose head served as a trophy, notes LiveScience. (That makes it unlike the many trophy skulls and examples of skull worship discovered in the Andes mountains going back up to 3,000 years.) Interestingly, this skull also differs from remains at the same archaeological site, called Lapa do Santo in central Brazil, where bodies of the same era have been found mutilated, burned, and defleshed with their teeth pulled out before burial, Popular Science reports. So what does it signify? "In the apparent absence of wealth goods or elaborated architecture" at the time, Strauss writes, "Lapa do Santo’s inhabitants seemed to use the human body to express their cosmological principles regarding death." (At least it's less gruesome than a severed head found on a factory's wire fence.)