In Brazil, archaeologists have discovered a vast Indigenous cemetery that has unveiled a complex history. It contained over 40 skeletons and thousands of artifacts, with some dating as far back as 10,000 years ago.
The cemetery is located in São Luís, the capital and largest city in Maranhão. It was unearthed at a site called Farm Rosane before construction work began for a government housing program. Farm Rosane is an urban archaeological zone positioned between two busy avenues. Many traces of prehistoric human activity have been identified there in the past.
The most recent findings are associated with a previously unknown ancestral community that predates the Sambaquians, coastal hunter-gatherers who once lived in the region. They were known for building shell mounds that reached up to 100 feet in height, using waste from marine animals and plants. These remains are the oldest record of humans in the northeastern Maranhão state.
According to Wellington Lage, the lead archaeologist of the dig, initial signs of human presence in the São Luís area included a prehistoric jawbone found in the 1970s at Farm Rosane. Other artifacts excavated from the region date back to 6,000 years ago.
The latest excavation began in June 2019. At first, nothing but fragments of ceramics and stone tools were revealed. But at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a skeleton was found about 24 inches below the surface of the ground. The skeleton was just the first of many.
Since then, the team of archaeologists has encountered a total of 43 skeletons and approximately 100,000 remnants of artifacts from around four different layers of sediment. This suggests that human occupation in the area spanned at least four distinct time periods for up to 8,500 years.
Lage reported that the skeletons were of short stature. The tallest of them measured no more than five feet and three inches tall. Most of them belonged to adult men. Among the remains, there were two children.
“Initial analysis suggests that these were individuals involved in strenuous physical activities, evidenced by bone marks indicating load and extensive mobility,” said Lage.
The archaeologists came across the deepest-buried skeleton nearly seven feet underground. They then dated it using a method called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, which determines when sediment grains were last exposed to sunlight and heat.