Pre-columbian Archeology, Brazil National Museum (Digital Restoration)

The National Museum conserved an important set of approximately 1,800 artifacts produced by Amerindian civilizations during the pre-Columbian era, in addition to Andean mummies. Formed over the 19th century, this collection had its origins in the collections of the Brazilian imperial family, especially in the Pedro II collection, having subsequently been expanded through purchases, donations, exchanges and field activities. At the end of the 19th century, the collection already enjoyed considerable prestige, to the point of being cited, on the occasion of the inauguration of the 1889 Anthropological Exhibition, as one of the largest South American anthropological collections.

The collection mainly comprised objects representative of the textile, ceramist, metallurgical, feather and lithic productions of the Andean peoples (cultures of Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina ) and, to a lesser extent, of Amazonian cultures (including a rare collection of Venezuelan artifacts ) and Mesoamerican (cultures from Mexico and Nicaragua). It covered various aspects of daily life, social organization, religiosity and imagery of pre-Columbian civilizations, exemplified from their most basic utilitarian aspects (clothing, body adornments, weapons) to the most refined material production and imbued with artistic sense (musical and calculation instruments, pieces for ritual use, figurative ceramics, etc.).

The dynamics of the exchange and ideological dissemination networks between the different peoples of the region is another relevant feature of the collection and can be seen not only in the similarities of decorative patterns and aesthetic sense of the works, but also in the themes addressed, common to the production of almost all groups, such as the representation of plants, nocturnal animals (bats, snakes, owls) and beings associated with phenomena and elements of nature.

Chancay Culture

The Chancay culture developed during the Late Intermediate period in the valleys of the Chancay and Chilean rivers, extending south, towards the Rimac river. Its ceramics are characterized by their porosity, rough surface, and light-colored engobes with brown paintings. A large portion of this culture’s ceramic pieces belonging to museum collections originated from cemeteries located on the Chancay and Ancón valleys. The Chancay also developed sophisticated weaving techniques.

Anthropomorphic Pitcher
The human figure represented in this pitcher presents ear adornments and a brown facial painting.

Corner Mantle
The decorative pattern of this fabric consists of walking birds seen from profile, distributed in diagonals, with tri-colored stripes that define the graded space.

Loincloth Fragment
Decorative pattern in horizontal streaks with bird motifs, arranged in squared spaces. When seen vertically, the background colors form a zig-zag.

Chimu Culture

The Chimu reign began to flourish in the 10th century, in the Moche river valley, where its splendorous capital Chan Chan was established, on the northern Peruvian coast, accommodating circa 50 thousand people. With the disarray of the Huari hegemony, the Chimu expanded, subjugating the mountain populations and reaching the oriental side of the Andes mountain range until they were dominated by the Incas. They produced characteristic ceramics of very dark color, obtained through reduction firing, which combines stylistic elements of the Moche and the Huari cultures.

Double Vase With Bridge Handle
This piece represents a feline, and on its bottleneck that rises from the stirrup handle, there is a small zoomorphic appendix, a common characteristic in Chimu vases.

Another side presents a human figure wearing a headwear. The Chimu pottery expertise in the confection of the casts for the mass production of its ceramics, permitted surface treatments of great aesthetic effect, as seen in this vase, although from an artistic point of view it is considered inferior to the Mochica ceramics.

Inca Culture

Between 1430 and 1532 A.D., the Incas dominated large portion of the Andean region. In its apogee, the Inca domain extended over more than a million square kilometers, with different ethnicities that added up to circa 12 million people at the time of the conquest. Consequently, their artifacts and other elements of their material culture constituted an amalgamation of various styles and techniques, generating original creations, such as the shapes and motifs found in their ceramics. The most common Inca style is called “cusqueño,” characterized by the strong presence of geometric motifs over a red background. In metallurgy, the miniature figures of human beings and llamas stand out, made out of metal alloys that could include gold, silver, or copper. Such figures were dressed with fabrics that perfectly imitated the Inca wear, and their heads were adorned with feather headwear, making it so that only the face of the figure was visible. These miniatures are often found besides mummies in burial contexts.

Feather Accessories
Manufactured with macaw feathers (Ara macao and Ara ararauna).

Inca Quipu
The quipus were used by the Incas as a writing system, for the recording of stories and songs in the Quechua language, as well as for counting both herds and people.

Miniature Inca Tunic
The type of piece exhibited here was used exclusively as an offering in festivities known as capacochas, where children sacrifices were realized. These miniature tunics wore small gold or silver icons.

Lambayeque Culture

The period of ascension of the Lambayeque culture coincides with the collapse of the Mochicas and the beginning of the Huari hegemony, around 800 A.D. Excellent in the art of metallurgy, the Lambayeque became known for the development of sophisticated goldsmithery techniques. Their ceramics are very similar to the Chimu’s, but it is particularized by the presence of appendices containing the representation of the “Lord of Lambayeque.”

Wool, Cotton, And Pigment Adornment
Decorative accessory. Fabric. Lambayeque. Late.

Moche Culture

Beginning of the Christian era until the 8th Century A.D. Peruvian Ceramics. In the Moche and Chicama river valleys, in the Northern coast of Peru, the exuberant Moche society flourished, between the beginning of the Christian Era and the 8th Century A.D. With a subsistence system based on agriculture and fishing, as well as a hierarchical social organization, with priests and warriors occupying the highest positions, the Mochicas founded a powerful and controlling state. They stand out as constructors of large ceremonial complexes, with gigantic pyramids and temples that continue along the coast. They are excellent in their work with noble metals, also producing ceramics with the highest technical and artistic quality in the pre-Columbian universe, made in casts in order to meet the large demand.

The iconographic representations that appear in this ceramic are so realistic about the everyday and ceremonial life of the Moche society, that they became the main source of information existent about it, in the absence of writing. The archeological findings of musical instruments made out of ceramics are frequent, usually in funerary contexts, with the role of accompanying the individual in his/her life after death.

Basket With Weaving Utensils
Rectangular basket of vegetable fibers containing threads, weaving instruments and several vibrant-colored fabrics.

Double Zoomorphic Vase
Double whistling vase, in the shape of a parrot with stirrup handle, found in the Moche funerary context.

Globular Moche Vase
Globular-shaped vase in which four copious fruits were aggregated, red and cream-colored.

Zoomorphic Vase
Felipe-shaped vase, with fangs and white paint over red.


The collection of Andean mummies of the National Museum allowed to glimpse important aspects of the funerary customs of the peoples of the region and was made up of specimens preserved both naturally, due to favorable geoclimatic conditions, and artificially, through religious and ritualistic practices.

From a grave in Chiu-Chiu, in the Atacama Desert, in northern Chile, there was a mummy of a man estimated to be between 4,700 and 3,400 years old, preserved in a sitting position, with his head resting on his knees and covered by a cap. from there. It was in this way that the attackers used to sleep due to the cold of the desert and also the position in which they used to be buried together with their belongings. A second specimen in the collection, an Aymara mummyof a male individual, found on the outskirts of Lake Titicaca, between Peru and Bolivia, was preserved in that same position, surrounded by a thick funerary burden. Finally, the museum conserved a mummy of a boy donated by the Chilean government and, illustrating the techniques of artificial mummification of the pre-Columbian peoples, a specimen of “shrunken head” produced by the Jivaro peopleof the equatorial Amazon, as part of their religious rituals.

Aymara Mummy
Funerary bundle wrapping a dead man between 30 and 40 years old. According to the Aymara tradition, the dead were dressed, seated with knees next to the chin and tied up. Next, a basket was weaved, wrapping the body around, leaving out only the face and the tips of the feet. Personal objects could also be placed in the interior of the bundle. In the case of this mummy, its cranium is exposed because the highest part of the head did not conserve well. The elongated format of the cranium is a result of a purposeful deformation, a common practice among the Andean peoples, probably realized for aesthetic or religious reasons, or to signal a distinction.

Prehistoric Mummy
The desert climate, associated with large concentrations of rock salt found in the soil of the Atacama, make this region one of the most arid in the world, which favors the preservation of organic matter. Consequently, many prehistoric bodies have been found in their sands in good conservation conditions. It is the case of the body of this individual, found in a grave in Chiu-Chiu, next to the city of Calama, at more than two thousand meters of altitude. Its grave, typical of the Atacama, was used between 4700 and 3400 years ago, period in which the desert cultures began their caravan activities.

In the cold of the desert it was common to sleep sitting down, with the head resting on the knees, possibly as a way of warming up under the ponchos and caps made out of llama wool. This was also the position in which the dead were buried, wrapped in clothes and covers, along with their belongings. In this case, all that was left was the typical Atacama cap that he wears, weaved in wool and adorned with llama hair. His body does not present external signs of the death’s cause. The visible lesion on the left side of the face, where the bone is fractured, resulted from a trauma. People from Atacama did not have a war tradition, but at times they fought and practiced violent rituals.

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.