Tapajós River

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Tapajós River

Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon in central Brazil. About 1,200 miles in length, the Tapajós is 8 to 10 miles wide at its mouth. Only 170 miles of the Tapajós is navigable for steamers due to the large number of cataracts throughout the river. At the mouth of the Tapajós is the city of Santarém, the only major city on the river. In the pre-Columbian period the mouth of the Tapajós was a thriving area, with an estimated population of 86,000. The region is noted for the development of the Santarém civilization, characterized by its high-quality pottery and powerful military, which included the women warriors who are credited with inspiring the myths about the Amazons. The Tapajós region resisted European encroachment until 1639, when it was subjugated by the Portuguese. Throughout most of the colonial period the Tapajós was used as a principal route to the gold-mining regions of Mato Grosso. In 1956 gold was discovered in the Tapajós region just south of Santarém, an area that remained productive in the early 2000s.

See alsoAmazon River; Gold Rushes, Brazil; Santarém.


John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760 (1978); Rand McNally Encyclopedia of World Rivers (1980).

David Cleary, Anatomy of the Amazon Gold Rush (1990).

Edward J. Goodman, The Explorers of South America (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Gomes, Denise Maria Cavalcvante. Ceramica arqueólogica da Amazonia: Vasilhas da coleçao tapajonica MAEUSP. São Paulo: FAPESP: Edusp: Imprensa Oficial SP, 2002.

Goulding, Michael; Ronaldo Barthem; and Efrem Jorge Gondim Ferreira. The Smithsonian Atlas of the Amazon. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2003.

Rodríguez Larreta, Enrique. "Gold Is Illusion": The Garimpeiros of Tapajos Valley in the Brazilian Amazonia. Stockholm: Department of Social Anthropology, 2002.

                                        Michael J. Broyles