Workers had just stormed a construction site in northeastern Brazil when they came across a bone. More specifically bones and human, with pottery shards. They weren’t done with their surprises.
Excavations at the site in the coastal city of Sao Luis quickly uncovered thousands of ancient artifacts that may date back as far as 9,000 years ago. A treasure that, according to archaeologists, could rewrite the history of human settlement in Brazil.
43 human skeletons and more than 100,000 ancient objects
Excavation lead archaeologist Wellington Lage admits he had no idea what to expect when Brazilian construction giant MRV tapped his company W Lage Arqueologia in 2019 to conduct an on-site study, a classic procedure before housing is built.
Covered with tropical vegetation and bordered by the ever-expanding urban development of Sao Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhao, the land covers six hectares. During his research, Wellington Lage learned that interesting discoveries had been made here as early as the 1970s, including a piece of a human jaw in 1991.
His team quickly found much more: an abundance of stone tools, ceramic shards, and bones. During four years of excavation, 43 human skeletons and more than 100,000 ancient objects were uncovered, according to the Brazilian Institute of History and Artistic Heritage (Iphan), which announced the discovery. “grandiose” few days ago.
Four different eras on the web
Scientists are now inventorying the objects, analyzing them in detail before putting them on display and publishing their findings. “We’ve been in business for four years and we’ve barely scratched the surface”insists Wellington Lage, a 70-year-old Sao Paulo native whose wife and two children are also archaeologists.
The first discoveries are already attracting the attention of the scientific community. Wellington Lage explains that his team – now 27 members, including archaeologists, chemists, a historian and a documentarian – documented four different eras at the site.
The top layer was left by the Tupinamba people who lived in the area when European settlers founded Sao Luis in 1612. Next is a layer of ancient objects typical of the peoples of the Amazon rainforest, followed by the “sambaqui”: a pile of pottery, sherds and bones used by some indigenous communities to build their houses or bury their dead.
Even lower, about two meters deep, is another layer left by a group that made basic pottery and who are estimated to have lived there 8,000 to 9,000 years ago.
This is much older than the oldest “pre-sambaqui” found in the region so far, which dates back to around 6,600 years ago, Wellington Lage shows. For him, “This could completely change the history of not only the region, but the whole of Brazil”.
Scientists have long debated when and how the first humans reached America from Asia. The findings of this specialist indicate that they settled in this area of present-day Brazil at least 1,400 years earlier than it appears to have been established.
Archaeologists are planning further analyzes to more precisely date the objects. The site already presents “a milestone in Brazilian prehistory”detailed Iphan in a press release.
For this organization, “it is a testimony to the long history of human settlement” In the area, “revealing an earlier past” sometimes already documented.
Archaeologist Arkley Bandeira of the Federal University of Maranhão, who is building a laboratory and museum to store this treasure with funding from the MRV group, also points out that the site could provide valuable information about the culture and history of ancient peoples submerged for so long underwater. . According to him, these discoveries “To play a key role in telling the story of our long history.”