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In Images: The Mutilated Skeletons of Lapa do Santo

Bone fragments

bone artifacts

(Image credit: Antiquity)

Bone artifacts unearthed at Lapa do Santo, a cave in central Brazil with some of the oldest evidence of human occupation in South America

Skull with teeth removed

lapa do santo skull

(Image credit: Mauricio de Paiva)

Here, a skull from the site shows evidence of tooth removal.

Burial pit

burial 27 which was exhumed in 2009

(Image credit: LEEH-USP)

This pit was first excavated in 2009. Over the past several years, scientists have learned more about the rituals that ancient people in the region used to deal with the dead.


burial 16

(Image credit: Andre Strauss)

Here, a skull peeks out of the rock at burial 16 of Lapa do Santo.

Damaged Mandible

(Image credit: Andre Strauss)

This damaged, 8,500-year-old mandible shows evidence of systematic mutilation, with the teeth removed.

Fish hook

fish hook from Lapa do Santo

(Image credit: Mauricio Paiva)

Lapa do Santo wasn't just a burial site, however; it also harbored many other archeological remains, such as this fish hook.

Excavating the site

lapa do santo excavation

(Image credit: Mauricio de Paiva)

Lisi Muller exhumes a burial at Lapa do Santo in 2016.

Hematite axe

hematite axe from Lapa do Santo

(Image credit: Mauricio de Paiva)

A hematite axe was amongst the artifacts unearthed at Lapa do Santo. The site has thousands of years of evidence of human habitation, including human burials, food remains and stone tools.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.