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Taperinha was a culture of the Amazon, circa 5500 to 3000 bce, known through archaeological findings. The earliest pottery-age site in the Americas, Taperinha was discovered in the 1860s and 1870s by naturalists. The site is a large shell-heap about six yards deep and several acres in area, overlooking the Amazon flood plain just east of the city of Santarém in the Brazilian state of Pará. Archaeologists at first dismissed such early sites, thinking that the craft of pottery-making had come into the Amazon basin from the Andes, some time after 4,000 years ago. The Taperinha culture is dated by fifteen radiocarbon dates from pottery, charcoal, and shells, and two thermoluminescence dates from the carbon-dated pottery, from the site and from a nearby cave. The pots were simple bowls put together with patches of clay. A few had rim decoration of curved incised lines, similar to local Formative pottery roughly 2,000 to 3,000 years old. In that art, the lines are in animal images popular in Amazonian decoration throughout later prehistory. Other artifacts found were shell scrapers and possible shaped bone fasteners. Recent excavations and geophysical surveys at Taperinha and other sites in Amazonia suggest that they were fishing villages with refuse mounds, feasting areas, and human burials. Both fish and shellfish were important foods, but whether the people practiced horticulture is not certain because there were few plant remains. Pollen cores at nearby Prainha show pollen of disturbance species (plants with shallow root systems that cannot prevent soil loss) but not of crops. The isotopic chemistry of the carbon that was dated at Taperinha has the pattern of well-preserved, closed-canopy tropical rainforest.

See alsoArchaeology; Precontact History: Amazonia.


Roosevelt, Anna Curtenius, et al. "Eighth Millennium Pottery from a Shell Midden in the Brazilian Amazon." Science 254, no. 5038 (13 December 1991): 1621-1624.

                                 Anna Curtenius Roosevelt