Pre-Colonial Cultures in the Amazonas Region

German-Brazilian Cooperation Project Probral (DAAD)

Modelling and GIS-based Analysis of Migration Movements of Pre-Colonial Cultures in the Amazonas Region with the Help of an Analysis of the Occurrence of Terra Preta


Project Description:

Two models of the history of settlement will be tested and put into a chronological order by analyzing culture and considering ethnographic and ethno-historical data. The first model is based on the assumption that indigenous cultures developed outside of the Amazonas region and then spread both from the Andes in the West and from the Northern Caribbean borderlands along the Amazonas into the South and East to the Atlantic. The second model assumes that there is a center of diffusion in the area of the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes, from which autochthonous Amazonas cultures spread into all directions, following the tributary streams.

In a first step a general model is constructed that illustrates the interaction of a tribe with their environment. The focus here is not on the interaction of single persons with the environment, but instead the project will take on a point of view that observes the tribe as a whole, taking into consideration the size of the living environment, the needed resources (water, wood, clay, cropland, hunting grounds), the influence on other cultures e.g. by trading, as well as migration movements. Specific details about the living environments of pre-colonial tribes can be reconstructed by analyzing archeological data such as sites, artefacts as well as their characteristics. Using the environmental psychological theory of affordances, it is possible to deduce the geographical environment and thus, by abstraction from these concrete models, to develop a model of living environments that explicitly takes into account the geographical environment and thus inhomogeneous space.

Earlier models of settlements and migration movements consider an inhomogeneous space only rarely, meaning that it is unusual that the suitability of a geographical space for a tribe is analyzed or modelled. One potential result of this project is a spatial evaluation pattern that regards the explicit suitability of a geographical space for a specific pre-colonial tribe.

 digitalizar0011Terra Preta at the Amazonas: Humus is only rarely found here.

Terra Preta

In order to analyze the culture we will use archeological and ethnographical data about indigenous pre-colonial tribes, which will be supplied by our project partner as well as his father, the famous Amazonas archeologist Peter Paul Hilbert and their colleagues. For the administration we have set up a database that will be filled during the course of the project. Already existing data is from the area around Santarém and contains temporal information of identified horizons and traditions.

An additional data source lies in the occurrence of terra preta do indio in the Amazon Basin. The terra preta (“black earth”) is an anthropogenic soil. It consists of a mixture of charcoal, manure, and compost. Archeologists discovered numerous potsherds, which were inclosed in very nutrient-rich “black earth”-soils, indicating a former existence of advanced civilizations. Led by Dr. Bruno Glaser, a team of the University of Bayreuth was able to prove that terra preta is man-made. Thus, we can assume that each terra preta alludes to a living environment of a culture.

The intended comparison between the cultures will be conducted by simulation, preferably a multi-agent-simulation. This second step depends on the results of the first part of the project and previous work on the subject, which also used affordances in a geographical context.


Duration: 2014-2015

Project board:

Prof. Dr. Sabine Timpf (Uni-A, Deutschland)

Prof. Dr. Klaus Hilbert (PUCRS, Brasilien)


Researchers in Germany:

Carolin von Groote-Bidlingmaier, Dr. Jens Soentgen.