Archaeological Research on Marajo Island
Denise Schaan started her fieldwork research on Marajo
Island in 1997, directing an Environmental Impact
Studies (EIS) Project in an area between the Anajas and
Atua Rivers. The Hidrovia do Marajo Project was
meant to provide a short fluvial connection between
Belém and Macapá, through the construction of a canal
that would join the two rivers. Although the project
never became a reality, surveys and excavations located
and studied seven sites, within the area of impact. The
PA-JO-49: Cacoal site, a late Marajoara settlement
excavated in 1998, showed the persistence of
Marajoara culture through the colonial period (A.D.
1,300 to A.D. 1,650), invalidating the early hypothesis
that proposed the Marajoara culture had disappeared
shortly before contact.
An in-depth study in the area took place in 1999, when other six sites were also
excavated (PA-JO-50: Rio Branco, PA-JO-51: Saparará, PA-JO-52: Casinha,
PA-JO-53: Vista Alegre, PA-JO-54: São Benedito, and PA-JO-55: Leal).
Together, they represented nearly 1,300 years of occupation (from A.D. 300 to
A.D. 1,600), encompassing Marajoara Phase. More interestingly, those sites
were located on the periphery of the known Marajoara domain.
Parallel to the EIS project, Schaan started the Anajas Project, whose aim was
to broaden the area of study, encompassing all of the prehistoric communities
located on the Middle and Upper Anajas River area. Most of those sites
belonged to the Marajoara culture, related to a society that was organized
socially and politically at a regional level. For this reason, the study was meant to
take into account the political, economic and cultural interactions among the
populations who inhabited the various sites. This was done in order to address
questions related to the process of cultural change that affected the entire region.
Schaan has studied the sites located along the Anajas River and its tributaries
In July 2000, with the help and support of Earthwatch volunteers,
the Anajas Project (entitled then " Lost Civilizations of the
Amazon") carried out the excavation of the PA-JO-52: Casinha
site, located in the middle Anajas River area. The research aimed
to investigate activity areas and the distribution of artifact types, in
order to compare spatial organization there with other sites in the
region. Despite the fact that the Casinha site was partially
excavated during the EIS project the year before, it was not
intensively studied because it was not located in the area of direct
impact of the Hidrovia do Marajó Project. However, the site was
considered important for its location: in a forested area, peripheral
to the area of floodplains taken as characteristic of Marajoara
settlement patterns. In that sense, this study improved the
understanding of the settlement hierarchy and the expansion of
Marajoara culture to other areas. At Casinha, the project identified
and excavated both household and burial areas. Radiocarbon
analysis dated the occupation between A.D.600 and A.D.1,200.
During July 2001, with the support of the Department of
Anthropology and the Center for Latin American Studies
(University of Pittsburgh), Schaan undertook another survey along
the Camutins River.
1999 excavations at
Casinha Site
2002 excavations at M-17
The fieldwork consisted of identifying and mapping the mounds located along the
river margins. At that time, 28 of the 37 mounds situated along the Camutins
river floodplain were visited, and mapped, updating and expanding the survey
conducted by Meggers and Evans in the late 1940´s, when the technology did
not provide the accuracy that the Geographical Positioning System (GPS) does

The data collected made it possible to conclude that the mounds were located
on three distinct strategic sections of the river. At the lower Camutins stream
there were two large ceremonial mounds (Camutins and Belém), flanked by two
smaller mounds (respectively Camutinzinho and Arraial). In the middle course of
the river there were ten habitation mounds, and at the upper Camutins stream
there were both small ceremonial and habitation mounds.
In the second half of July, 2001, again with Earthwatch volunteers and their
financial support, eight profiles were excavated in Mound-1 (the Camutins main
mound). Four radiocarbon dates, ranging from A.D. 645 to A.D. 1,030, were
obtained, relating to six meters of stratified deposits. The data reflects that at
least part of the mound may have reached a height of four meters around A.D.
660, and seven meters around A.D. 1,000. During the excavations, the project
identified baked clay floors, layers of charcoal, and a burial urn. All but one of
the excavations were located next to the western limits of the mound, where the
deposits were still intact. The mound had been partially destroyed, due to
looting. A thick layer of black soil full of sherds covered part of the mound, as a
result of looting, since they moved huge amounts of soil and discarded broken
pottery, not good for sale.

From September to October 2002, with the support of the NSF - National
Science Foundation, the mounds already mapped were again visited in order to
collect pottery samples, and the Belém mound (the second in the hierarchy) was
excavated. There, several features related to both household and cemetery areas
were excavated. An extensive excavation of the burial area was completed later
in November 2002 with the financial support of Earthwatch Institute and five
volunteers. In a 20-meter square area, 24 different burials were excavated and
studied. The data should provide a better understanding of household activities
and gender at the local level, as well as also contributing to the understanding of
the sociopolitical organization at the regional level.
The preliminary data from the Anajás Project was published in Antiquity (2000)
and papers were presented at the 2001 meeting of Society of American
Archaeology and at the 2001 meeting of the Society for Brazilian Archaeology.
The research conducted at the Camutins site resulted in a Ph.D. Dissertation,
defended by Schaan at the University of Pittsburgh in August 2004:

The Camutins Chiefdom:
Rise and Development of Social Complexity
on Marajo Island, Brazilian Amazon

University of Pittsburgh, 2004

"The emergence and development of complex societies in the Amazonian
lowlands has been historically debated as a function of the relationships between
human populations and the natural environment. Culture ecology on one hand,
and historical ecology, on the other hand, have offered different views on cultural
development, without providing compelling archaeological testing.
The present study proposes an ecological-economic model to account for the
emergence of social complexity on Marajó Island. This model predicts that in
areas of abundant aquatic resources, communal cooperation for the construction
of river dams and ponds allowed for the development of a highly productive
fishing economy with low labor investment. The production of surpluses created
opportunities for kin group leaders to compete for the administration of the
water-management systems, leading to control over resources and surplus flow.
The differential access to resources created social stratification, and the
development of a complex religious-ideological system in order to legitimize the
political economy. Focusing on one of the Marajoara chiefdoms, a group of 34
mounds located along the Camutins River, the study demonstrates that the
location of ceremonial mounds in highly productive areas was related to control
over aquaculture systems.

The study suggests that the existence of similar ecological conditions in several
other locations on the Island led to the multiplication of small chiefdoms, which,
once in place, competed for labor, prestige, and power. Based also on data
provided by other researchers, this study proposes a chronology for the
emergence and demise of complex societies on Marajó Island, as well as
defining the main periods within Marajoara phase".
Within the Anajas Project design, it was important to understand the relations
between the ceremonial centers located at the Anajas River headwaters and those
settlements located further down the river. Initially, a group of mounds located along
the Camutins stream (a tributary of the Upper Anajas River) was visited. It was the
first step in order to review and extend previous surveys carried out by Meggers
and Evans (in 1949) and Hilbert (in 1951). In March 1999, mound number 16
(M-16, Hilbert count) and the Cuieiras mound, where located, and were found to
be almost completed destroyed, due to looting. At the Camutins main mound, a
2-meter profile was excavated, and charcoal samples were collected and dated. At
that time the project obtained the first absolute radiocarbon dates for that mound:
A.D. 750 (level 2 m) and A.D. 850 (level 1.15 m), showing an accumulation of one
meter of sediment on the top of the mound during a period of nearly one hundred
The full text of the
Ph.D. Dissertation is
available in PDF!