Most people choose a city to live in after a pleasant trip or experience. Not so with archaeologist Gabriela Prestes Carneiro. Her epiphany to live in the Amazon came after she took a rain shower in Belém. Since then, she has been fascinated by human relationships with water, including in ancient times when activities such as fishing, well construction, and dam building were essential.
It’s no wonder that sambaquis (shell mounds or middens) are the archaeologist’s primary object of study. For Gabriela, the sambaquis are like books that preserve the history of the Amazon, where she discovers fascinating information, such as the fact that the diet of the pre-Cabral natives was much more varied than ours. The great-granddaughter of an Indigenous Guarani woman, Gabriela graduated in history from the University of São Paulo and obtained a master’s degree from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France. This institution and the University of São Paulo also awarded her a doctorate in natural sciences. A lecturer in archaeology at the Federal University of Western Pará, she still considers herself a “caipira” (a hillbilly) and a “mateira” (a woman who is skilled in the use of medicinal plants) at heart. Every time she looks at a tree, she sees herself as a little girl climbing a jambolão tree, imagining how the people of the past lived.
The armored catfish (cascudo), piranha, tambaqui, marbled swamp eel (muçum), ripsaw catfish (cujuba), pirarucu and many other fish. The diet of pre-colonial indigenous peoples in the past was much more diverse than our diet today. By studying thousands of fish bone remains, archaeologist Gabriela Prestes has discovered that various animal species were consumed in ancient Amazonian villages. Many of the fish once eaten (eels, piranhas, rays) are part of recipes we no longer know today but can recover. The project will study the sambaquis or middens of the Amazon, which are large mounds made of shells and earth and have been occupied for thousands of years. Thanks to the exceptional preservation of plant and animal remains in these places, each layer of a sambaqui is like a book that tells a chapter of the history of the peoples who occupied the floodplains and rivers of the Amazon.