The collection of Brazilian archeology brought together a vast set of artifacts produced by the people who inhabited the Brazilian territory in the pre-colonial period, with more than 90,000 items, being considered the most comprehensive collection existing in its typology. Constituted since the beginning of the 19th century, the collection started to be systematically brought together from 1867 and was continuously enriched until today, through field collections, acquisitions and donations. It consists of artifacts from all regions of Brazil, produced over a time span of more than ten thousand years.
Of the oldest inhabitants of the Brazilian territory (hunter-gatherer and horticultural groups), the museum conserved several artifacts produced in stone (flint, quartz and other minerals) and bone, such as projectile tipsused in hunting, polished stone ax blades and other tools made to engrave, scrape, carve, grind and drill, as well as ceremonial artifacts and ornaments. Objects in wood, fibers and resins, although probably also produced by such groups, did not resist the action of time and were practically absent in the collection, except for isolated pieces – namely a basket of straw covered by resin, only partially preserved, found on the south coast of Brazil.
In the nucleus related to the sambaquieiros peoples, as the fishing and collecting populations that lived on the central-southern Brazilian coast between eight thousand years ago and the beginning of the Christian Era are called, there was a large set of traces from deposits made up of clusters of materials organic and limestone – called sambaquis. Part of these pieces came from the Balbino de Freitas Archaeological Collection, listed by IPHAN in the 1940s. The museum kept two copies of sambaquis cutouts and a group of skeletal remnants from these archaeological sites, as well as a varied collection of testimonies of the sambaquieira culture, covering artifacts of daily use (containers, bowls, mortars and pestles carved in stone) and ritualistic (figurines). In this context, the so-called zoolites, stone sculptures for ceremonial use, with representations of animals (fish and birds) and human figures, were notable for their elaborate technique.
Along the narrow and cut out shoreline of the south-central coast of Brazil, in the estuary, rich in fish, mollusks and crustaceans, fishing and gathering populations lived between 8 thousand years ago and the beginning of the Christian Era. Their traces can be seen in large hills made out of sand, earth, and shells — the so-called sambaquis — where food waste, tools, weapons, adornments and the burials of those who lived there can be found. These hills, with variable heights, have high visibility and stand out in the coastal landscape.
Although they exist from Rio Grande do Sul all the way to Bahia, it is in the state of Santa Catarina that the sambaquis are the most numerous. There, one can find sambaquis that reach up to 35 meters of height, which demonstrates that they must have occurred in conditions that were extremely favorable to its builders’ way of life. Although their everyday material culture use was very simple, in the central coast these groups produced very elaborated ceremonial objects of stone and bone, with aesthetic refinement and artistic sophistication: the so-called zoolites.
This basket was internally coated with resin, only partially conserved. It is a rare piece, due to the difficulty of preserving organic materials in tropical climates. It belongs to the Balbino de Freitas Collection and was collected in a non-identified sambaqui in the central coast of Brazil.
Zoolite in the shape of a catfish
The piece presents a small slump situated almost always in the ventral region of the represented animals, which is assumed to have been intended for the processing of substances capable of producing sensorial stimuli, used in ceremonies and rites.
The piece presents a small slump situated almost always in the ventral region of the represented animals, which is assumed to have been intended to the processing of substances capable of producing sensorial stimuli, used in ceremonies and rites.
The Marajoara culture was the one that reached the highest level of social complexity in Brazilian prehistory. This complexity is also expressed in its ceramics production, technically elaborated, characterized by a great diversity of forms and decorated with diligence. The pieces exhibited here are related to ceremonial practices. Some were found in funerary contexts, others were probably used in rites of passage.
The Marajoara iconography — strongly centered on the human figure and on the representation of tropical forest animals surrounded by symbolic meanings — composes an intricate system of visual communication that is made up of symmetries, paired elements, rhythmic repetitions and binary oppositions to reaffirm, transmit, and perpetuate a particular vision of the world.
Exceptional piece for its dimensions, this ceremonial urn presents a surface totally covered by plastic decoration made with a 272 excision technique, in geometric motifs and representations of hybrid beings that mix anthropomorphic and zoomorphic characteristics.
With red painting over a white background, a body profusely decorated by the technique of excision is presented, with variations around the stylized human figure and geometric motifs. Elaborate funerary urns such as this one, in general containing objects of prestige in their interior, were probably intended towards individuals of distinguished social status in the Marajoara society.
In this piece of ceremonial use the theme of the two serpents — recurrent in Marajoara iconography, perhaps related to some myth — appears in a relief, conforming a human face. The two heads represent the eyes. Their bodies compose the typical V-shaped eyebrows. A button in the junction of the two tails configures the nose. The bulge, bathed in white, is decorated with incisive geometric forms.
Ceremonial bowl decorated internally with a polychromatic painting, in red and white over a white background, with geometric motifs and stylized representations of the human figure. The non painted border, received its decoration in relief, with representations of serpents and human faces displayed alternately. The back of the piece presents an exuberant plastic decoration with geometric motifs made with the technique of excision.
Hollow statuette in the shape of a phallus
This ceremonial piece appears to have been broken on purpose — which was a frequent practice in the Marajoara society — maybe to deter its reutilization. With scorpion-shaped eyes, a recurrent attribute in anthropomorphic figures associated with shamans, high and waxed foreheads, with a head shape that suggests a cranial deformation, the statue was decorated with facial and body painting in red geometric motifs over a white background. The Marajoara iconography, as attested by the characteristics of this piece, indicate that women occupied positions of elevated status, which in other cultures are generally reserved to men.
Painted in red and black over a white background, these female sex covers were modeled individually, following the pubic anatomy of their bearers. Geometric patterns, many of which corresponded to stylized representations of the human figure, filled their four decorative fields, which in some exemplars are reduced to only three. While the upper band varies little, the following as well as the lower one present higher variability. The bigger, central field, is never repeated. In each of the extremities are presented orifices for tying, many of them worn down from use.
Small anthropomorphic recipient
Decorated with geometric forms made with an excision technique, this piece, of ceremonial use, probably served for the ingestion or inhalation of substances capable of producing strong sensorial stimuli, used in communal rituals.
Anthropomorphic piece in the shape of a phallus
The body and the head, which presents the typical T-shaped eyebrows, were decorated with geometric motifs made with the technique of excision.
The pieces existing in museums come largely from collections and excavations carried out without control in its largest archaeological site, where the city of Santarém is located today, which prevents the understanding of its contexts. Even so, they are an important source of knowledge about the complex society that produced them, as they are testimonies of their social practices, forms of body construction and cosmological concepts.
In the region of the lower Tapajós river, a culture caller Santarém flourished, notable for the production of ceramics with a very peculiar style, based on the use of modeling techniques, incision, dotted lines and application. Described since the 19th Century by naturalists and travelers who went through the area, their forms reveal elaborated compositions, containing a profusion of appendices of tropical rainforest animals, which constitute true sculptures conceived in a naturalist manner.
Anthropomorphic statuettes also stand out due to the naturalism in the representation of men and women, bearing attributes that allow the identification of emblems of prestige and social positions. Actually, little is known about this culture, since systematic archeological excavations only began to be developed in the last years. The existent pieces in museums come, in large part, from collections and excavations realized without control in its biggest archeological site, where today is established the city of Santarém, which impedes the comprehension of its contexts. Even so, they constitute an important source of knowledge about the complex society that produced them, in how much they bear testimony of their social practices, ways of constructing the body, and cosmological conceptions.
Ceremonial Vase that represents a seated female figure, with inflected legs, totally covered by body paint with geometric motifs in black and red over a white background.
Anthropomorphic female statuette
Exceptional piece for its dimensions, in dealing with a female representation, which in general is of smaller size. The lower members were hyper dimensioned, while the upper ones present themselves atrophied. With eyes closed in the form of coffee beans, and a mouth in a pouting expression, frequent in other anthropomorphic representations of this culture, the figure bears several attributes: a genital cover-up in the form of a loincloth, pierced lobes, wreath in combed hair, adornment on the arms and traces of red and black body paint, which permit to suppose a distinguished social status. There are circular orifices in different points of the body: nostrils, ears, armpits, vagina, and soles of the feet. A restored piece, with absent parts.
Anthropomorphic vase representing a seated man
The body posture, the pierced lobes, and other ornaments suggest that this individual who presents atrophied members, especially the lower ones, had a distinguished social position. Restored piece, with fractured and absent phallus.
Head of anthropomorphic female statuette
With eyes closed in the shape of coffee beans, typical of the Santarém culture, this head, which was detached from its body, presents several attributes: besides ear adornments, its hair was carefully combed and it bears an elaborate headwear, made up of a nape-cover and wreath adorned with three bat heads on each side. Presents circular orifices in the nostrils and ears.
Ceremonial vase decorated with geometric incisions and reliefs, with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures displayed alternately.
The muiraquitãs — common in the shape of frogs and, more rarely, of birds, fish, and other animals — were fabricated almost always in green stones, with jadeites, nephrites, and amazonites.
Used as pendants, they also appear adorning female headset in ceramic statuettes of Santarém. Surrounded by legends, the muiraquitãs are, long-standing, considered powerful amulets against all types of curses. It seems that, Santarém was its production center, although it had a considerable dispersion of pieces of this type, maybe as a consequence of extensive trade and ideological dissemination. These networks reached the Caribbean region where artifacts produced in Santarém can be found.
Within the caves and under-rock shelters of the Maracá River region, several cemeteries were found that keep numerous funerary urns in very visible places. Making an impact and inspiring respect in those who enter these spaces destined for the dead, the polls attest to the vigorous cult of ancestors practiced by this culture. They reproduce male and female human figures in a hieratic position – sitting on benches in the shape of quadruped animals – demonstrating that they are burials of individuals of high status. The head, in the form of a truncated cone, corresponds to the lid of the urn, fixed to the cylindrical body by means of mooring holes. One of its most notable features is the extroverted and unnatural position of the elbows. Face and body paintings in geometric patterns in white, yellow,
In the interior of caves and under-rock shelters in the region of the Maracá river, several cemeteries that kept numerous funerary urns in very visible places were found. Causing impact and inspiring respect to those who entered these spaces, which were destined towards the dead, the urns attest a vigorous cult to ancestors that was practiced in this culture. They reproduce male and female human figures in hieratic positions — seated over benches in the shape of quadruped animals — demonstrating that they were burials of individuals of high status. The head, in the shape of truncated cone, corresponds to the lid of the urn, fixated on the cylindrical body through tying orifices. One of its most notable characteristic is the extroverted and antinatural position of the elbows. Facial and body paintings in geometric patterns in the colors of white, yellow, red, and black, as well as adornments on the head and on the members, expressed the social identity of the dead.
Anthropomorphic funerary urn
The piece hereby presented is one of the smallest ever found. Although the dimensions of such urns are variable, oscillating between 20 and 85 cm of height, this one falls much below the average size.
In the region of the Trombetas and Nhamundá rivers there are numerous sites of a culture that, although it maintained intense contact with Santarém, developed its own characteristics, evident in its exuberant pottery, with incised and dotted decoration and in its rare artifacts with polychrome painting.
The Trombetas River forms an important cultural border with the Santarém region. From its surroundings come rare artifacts carved in polished stone. Some represent beings of nature, like fish, others bring representations of hybrid beings, like men sitting in the guise of shamans, sometimes superimposed by great predators. Jaguars and other animals were mythical beings for this culture, whose rituals involved processes of transformation. Some artifacts for ceremonial use exhibit cavities, suggesting that they were used to process hallucinogenic substances, which would confirm their shamanic context. They all have two large circular holes of unknown function.
The semilunar axes were produced by horticultural groups in the Brazilian prehistory, in different raw material, for ceremonial purposes.
Projectile tips with peduncle and fins made of flint and hyaline quartz, fabricated and utilized by hunter-gatherer groups of Brazilian prehistory.
The National Museum also keeps the only records of indigenous mummies found in Brazilian territory. The material consists of the bodies of an adult woman, approximately 25 years of age, and two children, one at foot height, estimated to be 12 months old, wrapped in a bale, and the other newborn, also wrapped in a bale. and positioned behind the woman’s head. The mummified set is composed of individuals who probably belonged to the Botocudos group ( Macro-jê trunk ). It was found in the Babilônia Cave, in the city of Rio Novo, in the interior of Minas Gerais, on the lands of Maria José de Santana ‘s farm, who donated them to Emperor Dom Pedro II. Dom Pedro awarded Maria José the title of Baroness of Santana.
National Museum in Rio de Janeiro
The National Museum, linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil that, until September 2018, figured as one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the Americas. It is located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, being installed in the São Cristóvão Palace.
The Museu Nacional/UFRJ is part of the Ministry of Education. It is the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and the biggest museum of natural history and anthropology in Latin America. Founded by D. João VI in June 6th, 1818, and initially based in Campo de Sant’Anna, it served the country to promote the cultural and economic development of the country.
Originally named Museu Real, it was incorporated to the Universidade do Brasil in 1946. Currently the Museum is part of the academic structure of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. The Museum located at Paço de São Cristóvão from 1892 — residency of the Brazilian Imperial Family until 1889 — gave to it a distinguished character if compared to other institutions of the area. It is the same place where the royal family lived for so many years (where D. Pedro II was born and the First Republican Constitutional Assembly happened), and today is the interface between memory and scientific production.
The National Museum housed a vast collection with more than 20 million items, encompassing some of the most relevant records of Brazilian memory in the field of natural and anthropological sciences, as well as wide and diverse sets of items from different regions of the planet, or produced by ancient peoples and civilizations. Formed over more than two centuries through collections, excavations, exchanges, acquisitions and donations, the collection was subdivided into collections of geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology (including the remnants of Luzia’s skeleton in this nucleus)., the oldest human fossil in the Americas),archeologyandethnology. It was the main basis for the research carried out by the academic departments of the museum – which develops activities in all regions of the country and in other parts of the world, including theAntarctic continent. It has one of the largestlibrariesspecializing in natural sciences in Brazil, with more than 470,000 volumes and 2,400 rare works.