The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)


Secondary ritual or peri-mortem body manipulation during early Holocene in South America: the case of Burial 21 from the site of Lapa do Santo, Lagoa Santa region, Brazil

RODRIGO ELIAS. OLIVEIRA1, ANDRE M. STRAUSS2, PEDRO T. DA GLORIA1, DANILO V. BERNARDO1, RENATO KIPNIS1 and WALTER A. NEVES1.

1Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, University of São Paulo, 2Human Evolution, Max-Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropoly

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The mortuary practices of early Archaic groups that inhabited South America are still largely unknown. Recently, however, due to the presence of many disarticulated burials on sites of this time frame, some authors have suggested that the manipulation of the dead body was a common practice. Notwithstanding, in many cases the evidence available is scarce and fragmentary. A very elementary issue of equifinality is in part responsible for this scenario. Even when taphonomic factors can be peremptorily rejected, it is not straightforward to determine if the disarticulation was a product of peri-mortem or post-mortem intervention of the funerary agents. From an anthropological point of view this reflects the important difference between rituals of secondarization (sensus Hertz) and rituals involving the manipulation of the fresh corpse. Here we describe the case of Burial 21 from Lapa do Santo, a new site in the region of Lagoa Santa (central Brazil). Stratigraphically dated to 8500 yBP, this articulated skeleton had its two legs cut and removed before any significant decomposition of the soft tissues. Constitute, therefore, an indisputable case of early Holocene peri-mortem body manipulation in South America. From a regional perspective this burial is also particularly important since it constitute a link between the articulated and non-articulated burials long known to occur in Lagoa Santa region between 8000 and 9000 yBP. It is now clear that those different burials didn’t represented the existence of different groups in the region, but were in fact part of one coherent multi-stage funerary ritual.

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