Stratigraphy of a tropical civilization

 

Earlier this year I participated in an excavation at the site of Camorim, in Jacarepaguá, in the west zone of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Under the direction of PhD student Sílvia Peixoto, the team excavated the remains of a 17th century engenho (sugar mill/plantation/place where masters and slaves resided), unearthing kilos and kilos of ceramics, some Portuguese fine-ware, and some with Tupi or African decoration, made by the slaves themselves (the first slaves were native, then were replaced by those from Africa). More striking than the stratigraphy of the site itself, frozen in time, for me is the stratigraphy of the landscape. The ruins were, as is natural, overgrown with vegetation, which obscured them as much as it protected them. For the 2016 Olympics, condos were constructed to  house foreign journalists, which destroyed much of the colonial archaeology —there is a rumor that there was a sambaqui (prehistoric shell-mound), but any evidence of that is now long gone. The construction was approved by INEA, an environmental agency, without consulting IPHAM, the national foundation for heritage. To further complicate the issue of these condos,  which have the appearance of  nuclear facilities, the forest they knocked down to construct them was used as a play-ground, baptism site, and sometimes cemetery for the present inhabitants of Camorim, who claim direct heritage from the engenho slaves. While these quilombolas suffer from power cuts and must spare water, efficient sewage systems and water facilities were constructed for these condos, now empty, with government money. The stratigraphy of Camorim tells much of the anatomy of a tropical civilization.

 

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