What do Americans think of Brazilians?
Sensational find in Brazil
For a long time, research assumed that ice age hunters from Asia immigrated to the American continent on foot over a land bridge 12,000 years ago. In the Brazilian Serra da Capivara, however, people lived 30,000 years ago.
Brazilian, French and German archaeologists are jointly exploring the widely scattered sites in the now almost deserted and mysterious expanses of Eastern Brazil and are trying to find out more about the first Americans. The main find Pedra Furada is in the Serra da Capivara in the Brazilian state of Piaui. Markus Reindel from the German Archaeological Institute is enthusiastic: "This is one of the most important, oldest and most magnificent archaeological sites on the American continent." Niède Guidon was the first to investigate the concentration of more than 50,000 rock carvings, which is unique, and who recognized its importance. The reliable dating of the paintings and the remains of settlements found in the area posed a major problem.
Up until now it was thought that humans immigrated to North America from Asia via Alaska. But new research turns this theory on its head.
Was the first American from Africa?
There are various theories as to how the first humans came to the American continent. See all theories at a glance!
Theories of Settlement in America
Uwe Weibrecht, head of the Serra da Capivara National Park, introduces his park. Rock carvings of people who lived there 30,000 years ago have been found on the grounds of the Brazilian park.
National park of superlatives
The Terra X team shot with octocopters for the magnificent landscape shots from the Serra da Capivara National Park.
Shooting with the octocopter
Question: There are notably many sites here in the Serra da Capivara. What made this area a hotspot for America's first settlement?
Niède Guidon: Of course, settlement continuity is important here. People have lived here for a very long time. Up until 9000 years ago we had a rather humid, tropical climate here, like in the Amazon. There was food in abundance in the forests and that meant that people could live here for long periods of time. We have petroglyphs that are 28,000 years old. That is exactly the time when painting was also carried out on other continents. Cave painting also began in Europe, Africa and Australia at this time.
Question: What do the rock art tell us about the life of the first Americans?
Niède Guidon: The performance of these people is incredible. The pictures show an incredible wealth of different everyday aspects. Interpersonal relationships, hunting scenes, rituals and sexuality. The problem, however, is that if we see a religious scene, for example, then we cannot easily understand it in detail. We actually have to know religion in order to understand it. It's just like that: You can't get a driver's license if you don't know the meaning of the traffic signs. Some can be explained, others not. And it is exactly the same with the rock carvings: We cannot really understand these images because we have no access to the religion or the everyday life of these people.
Question: Do you have a favorite motif among the many thousands of pictures?
Niède Guidon: No. Sometimes I think one thing is really great and unique. But then days later I see another one and then I like that best for a while. And so it goes on and on. It's a bit like love. You always fall in love again and again in your life.
Question: Many critics doubt that the first Americans came across the open sea. How did the people manage that back then?
Niède Guidon: Maybe it wasn't your intention at all. They might have gone fishing and then a current picked them up and carried them all the way to South America. Today we have the example of the refugees from Africa. Not all boats arrive in Europe or capsize. We have occasionally seen refugee boats land here on the coast in northeastern Brazil. There was even a swimmer who was washed up to the coast and survived. These current examples already show that it is not only possible, but probable.
Question: What other evidence is there that the first Americans came from Africa?
Niède Guidon: The technological possibilities that we have today - for example DNA analysis - clearly show that there was an early African influence in Brazil and elsewhere. We also have Australian, Asian and Oriental influences. In this sense, the Clovis First theory has long been completely out of date. I think the person has come to America several times and much earlier than we thought. The fact that we found coprolites, i.e. human excretions, also speaks for an origin in Africa. Parasites were detected in them that clearly originate from Africa. It used to be assumed that these coprolites came from the African slaves who had been brought here. But then the remains could be dated to eight and a half thousand years, much older than the first African slaves. To this day there are a few indigenous groups in Brazil whose members are more African than Asian. In contrast to the vast majority of the indigenous population in Brazil, who can be seen from the Asian heritage to the present day, they clearly show African characteristics. It would be important here to use new technologies more widely. There are still indigenous groups here whose DNA has not yet been examined. Much remains to be done here.
Question: More and more archaeological evidence has recently been found for your theory, which assumes a very early settlement from Africa. Why do many scientists, especially from North America, still stick to Clovis-First?
Niède Guidon: It's about the technology, the way you dig. While the Americans are not interested in the older layers and have therefore not dug so deep for a long time, Prof. Boëda’s French team, for example, always really goes down to the rock. The entire stratigraphy is recorded. He has been doing this for 15 years and has thus developed a precise and clear idea of what really happened back then.
Question: Could political or national intentions also play a role in favoring Clovis First?
Niède Guidon: I don't think so. It really depends more on the way you dig. Today there are results in the Gulf of Mexico, the United States, Uruguay, Chile, and other locations that clearly support our earlier dating. I don't think there are political or national reasons for sticking to Clovis, but more a technical one. You can always find what you are looking for to a certain extent.
Question: Do you feel something like satisfaction now that your theory is also receiving more and more confirmation from abroad?
Niède Guidon: No, I'm completely unemotional. I always knew that my assumptions were based on stable facts. I had all the data. We had the results of biologists, geologists, climatologists, and other scientists. The new theory of the colonization of America has always been the result of the collaboration of a whole group of scientists. And because I had all of these results, I never had any doubts.
The interview with Niède Guidon was conducted by Peter Prestel.
Finally, Guidon got support from scientists in Europe. The Frenchman Eric Boëda has been digging here for 15 years. For the first time in 2016 he also used the so-called "thermoluminescence analysis" for dating. In this process, samples are taken from a shift in complete darkness and the radiation is measured later in the laboratory. From this, the age of a find layer can be precisely determined and thus also the age of the finds that were recovered from this layer.
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