Brazilian Archaeology from a Brazilian Perspective
Barreto, Cristiana, Antiquity
Archaeology in Brazil shares many empirical similarities with Latin American and North American research but, as a social science, it has remained isolated from mainstream theoretical and methodological advances. The large size of the country, the lack of resources and government support, the difficulties of working in tropical environments, the lack of monumental architecture, and Brazil's being neither a Spanish- nor an English-speaking country have all been thought of as shaping Brazilian archaeology and its failure to integrate into a larger, Latin American or international context.
Foreign archaeology journals traditionally published little on Brazilian archaeology, while recent concerns about the antiquity of a few sites or controversies about cultural development in the Amazon among North American scholars have overshadowed other research in Brazil.
This limited knowledge of Brazilian archaeology confirms the North American misperception that equates Brazil's vast territory with the Amazon basin, and its archaeology with the study of past populations in tropical forests. On the contrary, the Amazon basin corresponds to only one-third of the country and is not all covered with tropical forest. Furthermore, most archaeological research done by Brazilians is outside Amazonia, mainly because it remains the country's least developed region. To this day, the most intensely researched areas are the southeastern coast, the southeast and the south in general (from Rio de Janeiro to Rio Grande do Sul states), and central Brazil (especially Minas Gerais and Goias states), where chronological sequences and geographic distribution of cultural complexes are better understood.
A Brazilian archaeology exists, not because of its geographic boundaries nor because it is done by Brazilians, but because its institutions and professional community share a long history of theoretical handicap and misplaced foreign influences (Schwartz 1992).
Today, the institutional settings for archaeology in Brazil attest to a growing and active community of archaeologists working throughout its vast territory. Twenty institutions (mostly universities and museums) distributed across the country conduct regular archaeological research in virtually every state (Carvalho 1991; Scatamacchia 1995). The SAB (Society for Brazilian Archaeology) has more than 150 members with graduate degrees and hundreds of students involved in archaeological research. Four universities in Brazil offer master's or doctorate degrees in archaeology. The new Interdisciplinary Forum for the Advancement of Archaeology promotes courses and seminars in diverse topics, concerning both academic programmes and government policies. Five specialized journals publish the works of both Brazilian and foreign archaeologists: Revista de Arqueologia (SAB's peer-reviewed journal), Revista do Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia (Universidade de Sao Paulo), Pesquisas, Serie Antropologia (Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sines, RS), Clio (Universidade Federal de Pernambuco) and Revista do Museu de Historia Natural (Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais).
These numbers are high for a third-world country in which archaeology remains at the bottom of government and community cultural priorities. Unlike in many Latin American countries, archaeology in Brazil is seen neither as a touristic resource nor as a means by which its small Native American population affirms ethnic identity. Yet Brazilian archaeologists have created the institutional conditions necessary to develop research and publish their results.
Unfortunately, much research fails to go beyond description and documentation; few problem-oriented research projects are carried out. Research normally excavates and describes a single site without reference to its larger context, or uses area surveys to classify sites into 'traditions' and 'phases', categories of uncertain socio-cultural meaning.
Why is Brazilian archaeology so marginalized? …