The find pushes the origin of decapitation on this continent back by nearly 4,000 years, as well as increasing the geographical range where it's known to have occurred.
Based on their analysis of the remains, the researchers believe this was a complex, perhaps honorific ritual carried out after the young man had already died -- not the result of a disagreement.
Although the authors write in the paper that "no straightforward method is available to determine the nature of a severed head," they believe they can rule out that it was taken for a trophy, as was common in other areas where decapitation occurred. There was no sign of an attempt to remove the brain, or to drill holes in order to make some carrying apparatus for the head.
Instead, they suggest, the strange markings and arrangement could be some reflection of the group's beliefs about the afterlife. "In the apparent absence of wealth goods or elaborate architecture, Lagoa Santa’s inhabitants seemed to be using the human body to reify and express their cosmological principles concerning death," the authors write.