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Known since the nineteenth century for its elaborate polychrome funerary pottery and numerous monumental earthen mounds, the Marajoara culture at the mouth of the Amazon in Brazil was attributed by early professional archaeologists to an invasion from the Andes, because the tropical forest was considered to be too poor to support large human populations and complex cultures. However, the habitat of the Marajoara is not terra firme (upland) tropical forest lowland but floodplain, so the influence of the habitat need not have been as limiting as assumed earlier. The culture has now been dated with twenty-four radiocarbon dates, and these reveal that the culture is earlier than related Andean cultures, and the physical anthropology of the people affiliates them with Amazonian populations, rather than Andeans. Thus, Marajoara now must be presumed a local development of the tropical lowlands. The Marajoara mounds had been characterized by earlier archaeologists as purely ceremonial, but recent geophysical surveys and excavations show them to be large platforms for entire villages of earth, pole, and thatch longhouses with adjacent cemeteries and garbage dumps. The fishbones, seeds, and tools of exotic rocks in the mounds indicate a mixed economy of fishing, gathering, trade, and horticulture, and several carbonized maize specimens were recovered in the excavations.

Recent research has shed light on Marajoara chiefdoms, social stratification, and culture, suggesting that a complex religious system developed over differences in resource access; a study along the Camuntins River linked the location of mounds to areas with control over aquaculture systems.

See alsoAmazon Basin, Archaeology; Amazon Region.


Helen Constance Palmatary, The Pottery of Marajó Island, Brazil (1950).

Betty J. Meggers and Clifford Evans, Archaeological Investigations at the Mouth of the Amazon (1957).

Anna Curtenius Roosevelt, Moundbuilders of the Amazon: Geophysical Archaeology on Marajó Island, Brazil (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Meggers, Betty J. Amazonia: Man and Culture in a Counterfeit Paradise. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996.

Prous, André. Arqueologia brasileira. Brasília, DF: Editora Universidade de Brasília, 1991.

Schaan, Denise Pahl. "The Camutins Chiefdom: Rise and Development of Social Complexity on Marajó Island, Brazilian Amazon." Ph.D. diss. University of Pittsburgh, 2004.

                            Anna Curtenius Roosevelt

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