A headless skeleton lies unearthed at a 3,000-year-old burial site on the island of Éfaté in central Vanuatu
in the South Pacific.
Among the remains of 60 individuals found at the site, only seven skulls were found.
The ancient Lapita culture, which inhabited the region, typically removed the heads of its dead some time after decomposition, a ritual widely practiced throughout the Western Pacific until the arrival of Western missionaries, experts say.
After the death of this male, known to archaeologists simply as Burial 18, mourners arranged large mangrove shells about his midriff and flexed legs. They returned months later to carry away his head and left forearm as part of the burial ritual.
For now researchers led by Stuart Bedford of the National University of Australia (NUA) suspect that in life the man was part hunter/gatherer, part farmer.
But further analysis of teeth left behind at the burial site may yet tell us more about the life and times of Burial 18.
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Photograph courtesy Stuart Bedford/The National University of Australia