The University of Arizona

Small Sambaquis and Big Chronologies: Shellmound Building and Hunter-Gatherers in Neotropical Highlands

Levy Figuti, Claudia R Plens, Paulo DeBlasis


Sambaquis, famous Brazilian coastal shellmounds, represent a successful and long archaeological cultural tradition, with hundreds of sites spread over 2000 km of the Brazilian south-southeast coastline. These sites have many burials within a sequence of layers comprising a mix of faunal remains, charcoal, ashes, and sand, thus resulting in very complex stratigraphic structures. Several radiocarbon samples exhibit ages between 8000 and 1000 cal yr BP. In the Brazilian southeastern coastal hinterland, at the Ribeira de Iguape basin, 36 small mounds similar to the sambaquis were found, composed mostly of landsnail shells, bone remains of terrestrial fauna, lithic and osteodontological artifacts, and quite a few burials. Through the last decade an archaeological research project has accomplished extensive surveys and systematic 14C sampling, together with excavations in selected sites. A sequence of ages has been obtained from different samples (16 on shell, 10 on human bone, and 6 on charcoal) representing 19 sites. These dates range from 10,000 to 1000 cal yr BP, highlighting around 9000 yr of cultural continuity, contemporary to both the Paleoindian record over the hinterland plateau, and older than their coastal counterparts, the sambaquis. By presenting the 14C distribution and an overview of the archaeological features of these sites, we discuss briefly the dispersion and settlement processes of early peopling in this area of Brazil.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16206


riverine sambaquis; archaic; hunther-gatherers; shellmounds

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