Things we know about the Ancient Marajoara culture

Exhibit in the South American collection of the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA. Photography was permitted in the museum without restriction.

The Marajó or Marajoara culture was a pre-Columbian period society that thrived on Marajó island at the mouth of the Ancient Amazon River in northern Brazil.


Modern archeologists have discovered advanced pottery in their excavations on the Marajó island. These items are large and elaborately decorated, and engraved with representations of animals and plants. These presented the first sign that a complex society had existed in Marajó. Moreover, current evidence of mound-building suggests that complex, well-populated, and sophisticated settlements developed on this island, as only such settlements were believed capable of such extended projects as significant earthworks.

The size, complexity level, and resource handling techniques of the Marajoara culture have been disputed. Working in the 1950s CE in some of her earliest research, American Betty Meggers proposed that the society migrated from the Andes and lodged on the island. Many archeologists concluded that the Andes were exclusively populated by Paleoindian migrants from North America who constantly moved south after being hunters on the fields.

In the 1980s CE, another famous American archeologist, Anna Curtenius Roosevelt, led geophysical surveys and excavations of the mound Teso dos Bichos. She ultimately concluded that the society that built the mounds originated on the island itself.

The pre-Columbian Marajó culture may have evolved social stratification and established a population as large as 100,000 humans. Amazon rain forest’s native Americans may have utilized their working and developing method in Terra preta to secure the land suitable for the large-scale cultivation needed to sustain huge populations and complicated social formations such as chosen chiefdoms.

Agriculture and economy

Buried plant remains on Marajo Island show a living pattern that relied heavily on small seed crops and small fish, which were either protected or cultivated by indigenous tribes. Many of the neat carbonized seed remains have not yet been recognized, though they appear to be herbaceous and obtained from local grasses. Plants and trees such as the tucuma and açai palms also produced valuable supplements in the Marajo diet, as well being utilized for manufacturing items such as canoes or baskets. Confirmation from buried human remains reveals that Marajo tribes limited their consumption of starchy root products like manioc; instead, the heavy wear teeth pattern suggests a diet based predominantly on tree fruits, seed crops, and small fishes.

At Marajo, the agricultural tech was limited to, essentially, stone axes that were injected in the Marajoara Phase. Separate stone artifacts include griddles discovered at Teso Dos Bichos during Roosevelt’s excavations, although these are rare. Their scarcity is another marker of the absence of root crops from the Marajo diet.

Increased complexity of ritual wares and uniformity of functional wares occurred with the Marajoara period, implying ceramic manufacturing became a functional industry in this era.

Ideology and Religion

The Marajo people’s belief system is not entirely understood, though it almost certainly included important female figures similar to Ancient Hindu India. Marajoara art and iconography portray women with powers and roles, similar to ancient societies that consider origin through a female ancestor.

Marajoara ceramic, female symbol?

There were similarities with Amazonian cosmology, which interprets the universe to be gender divided, with women related to the moon and men to the sun.


While individual skeletal remains have not yet been analyzed for trauma patterns previously, they show peculiar muscle extension signs that strongly suggest constant warfare participation. The muscle development patterns are comparable to those in contemporary wrestlers who train and practice mainly wrestling. Discovering similar muscle development means Marajoarans were trained for combat. The discovered earthen mounds could serve shielding purposes in addition to prolonged flood protection. Other than the usual defensive position of residences atop earthen mounds, there is little evidence that can either deny or confirm the existence of localized violence or warfare. However, the appearance of warfare in every other society worldwide makes it unlikely that Marajoarans lived in tranquility and utter peace.

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