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The coastal societies of pre-colonial Brazil: frontiers and cultural transitions through microarchaeology

Grant number: 23/08230-7
Support Opportunities:Regular Research Grants
Duration: March 01, 2024 - February 28, 2026
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Archeology - Prehistoric Archaeology
Principal Investigator:Ximena Suarez Villagran
Grantee:Ximena Suarez Villagran
Host Institution: Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia (MAE). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated researchers: Anderson Rogério de Oliveira Tognoli ; André Carlo Colonese ; André Menezes Strauss ; Christiano Ng ; Daniela Magalhaes Klökler ; Dionne Miranda Azevedo Erler ; Henrique Antônio Valadares Costa ; Igor da Silva Erler ; Jennifer Watling ; Jéssica Mendes Cardoso ; Paulo Antônio Dantas de Blasis ; Tiago Ferraz da Silva ; Veronica Wesolowski de Aguiar e Santos


The Brazilian coast was inhabited in pre-colonial times by fishing-based societies whose chronological and spatial extension is among the largest in South American indigenous history. These societies, of low residential mobility and dense demography, occupied a territory that covered thousands of kilometers along the Atlantic coast between c. 8500 and 1500 AP years and built the so-called "sambaquis", mounds composed mainly of shells and other daily refuse. The sambaquis are one of the most classical themes in Brazilian archaeology; however, the deep history of societies focused on fishing and shell architecture is still the subject of discussion among researchers working in the different states of the South, Southeast, and North, where the most significant number of sites is located. One of the main difficulties is the tendency to consider coastal groups as a pan-Atlantic and homogeneous phenomenon due to the omnipresence of sambaquis in a large part of the coast, their frequent use as cemeteries, and the apparent similarity in material culture. However, bioarchaeology and archaeogenetics revealed regional micro-differentiations that only become visible when the observation scale is reduced. Studies conducted by the PI of this proposal have shown the complex dynamics of sambaqui formation, whose stratigraphy is formed by the rework of daily refuse that can be discovered from microarchaeological methods. However, studies on the formation process of sambaqui sites are still scant in Brazilian archaeology.In this project, the deep history of the Atlantic coast, associated with the fishing societies that produced and experienced the landscapes marked by shell architecture, will be studied through a new line of research: Microarchaeology. This approach will allow the production of unique data on the daily life of coastal groups through high-resolution studies on the formation and use of sambaquis. The goal is to unveil stories related to the coastal societies and the processes of cultural contact that caused their transformation. Microarchaeology, or the study of the archaeological record invisible to the naked eye and achievable with instruments (Weiner 2010), is one of the areas of most significant development in contemporary archaeology. The combination of microarchaeological data (microscopy, geochemistry, mineralogy, microbotany, and archaeogenetics) allows the complete characterization of archaeological contexts and produces essential information on the formation of the archaeological record, an essential step to build any interpretation from artifacts, faunistic or bioarchaeological analyses; use of plant and animal resources; the relationship with the environment; the changes induced by environmental factors and/or cultural contacts; and the ancestry of pre-colonial human groups.This project aims to develop regional case studies from excavating two sites and their interdisciplinary microarchaeological analysis that combines environmental, geoarchaeological, bioarchaeological, archaeobotanical, archaeogenetic, and ethnographic data. The research areas will be the northern coast of Espirito Santo (Lagoa Bonita 1 site) and the south coast of Santa Catarina (Jabuticaberia II site). This interdisciplinary proposal will consolidate the line of research in Microarchaeology at the host institution and bring novel information about environmental and cultural changes on the Brazilian coast. (AU)

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