Paleoamerican Odyssey

By Kelly E. Graf; Caroline V. Ketron et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 20
The Initial Colonization of
South America Eastern Lowlands:
Brazilian Archaeology Contributions
to Settlement of America Models

Adriana Schmidt Dias1 and Lucas Bueno2

ABSTRACT

Brazilian archaeological data between 12,440 and 8000 14C yr BP indicate that a pioneering phase of human
colonization of South America was characterized by recurrent activities at salient landmarks or orientation
points in a landscape that was still being explored. Large river valleys in northeastern and central Brazil, in
the Amazon, and in the La Plata Basin seem to have played this key role during the Pleistocene-Holocene
transition, concentrating and directing an expansion that quickly reached new and distant areas without
completely filling the vast territory surrounding those early settlement points. Regarding rates of popula-
tion expansion and regional cultural diversification in inner Brazil, an archaeological threshold seems to
have been reached in all occupied regions at ca. 10,500 14C yr BP. The number of sites increased, there is
evidence of settlement of all biomes, and, most importantly, there is clear evidence of inter-regional cultural
diversity. In this sense, the 11th millennium 14C yr BP represents the establishment phase of the colonization
process of Eastern South America.

KEYWORDS: Settlement of South America, Brazilian hunter-gatherer archaeology, Colonization models


Introduction

The initial colonization of South American Lowlands was not a homogeneous process, and different regions were not occupied simultaneously or under the same dynamic (Borrero 2006; Bueno 2011; Dias 2004; Dillehay 2000, 2009; Gruhn and Bryan 2011; Miotti and Salemme 2003; Steele and Politis 2009; Lanata et al. 2008). Between 12,440 and 8000 14C yr BP, Brazilian territory was occupied by a diversified hunter-gatherer population. The predominance of generalist subsistence strategies allied to regional variability of the lithic assemblages show the limits of traditional models to explain the processes of early colonization of this region. In chronological terms, such diversity implies an initial occupation earlier than assumed by traditional models. Radiocarbon dates supporting this hypothesis were obtained for several archaeological sites in Brazil in the last four decades. Likewise, the geographical distribution of Brazilian archaeological data for the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and early Holocene suggests colonization flows following inland passages along the main river basins with different routes, speeds, and directions. These diverse modes of migration promoted a rapid move-

1 Department of History, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul. Campus do Vale – IFCH. Porto Alegre – Rio Grande do Sul, 91509–900. Brazil.

2 Department of History, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. Campus Universitário – CFH. Florianópolis – Santa Catarina, 88040–970. Brazil.

Corresponding author e-mail: 1dias.a@uol.com.br

-339-

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