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Nutrition

A diet rich in fish

Pirarucu and fisherman in a late 19th-century drawing by Franz Keller

Franz Keller, The Amazon and Madeira Rivers: Sketches and Descriptions from the Notebook of an Explorer Pirarucu and fisherman in a late 19th-century drawing by Franz KellerFranz Keller, The Amazon and Madeira Rivers: Sketches and Descriptions from the Notebook of an Explorer

Pre-Columbian people in Amazonia ate not only corn, yams, and manioc, as recent studies have shown; they also ate fish regularly – including pirarucus weighing more than 100 kilograms, now rare in the region – and large turtles (Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, November 2015). Researchers from the University of São Paulo (USP), the Federal University of Western Pará (Ufopa), and the French National Museum of Natural History arrived at this conclusion after examining the remains of 9,474 animals consumed between 750 and 1230 AD by dwellers of the Hatahara archaeological site in the municipality of Iranduba, 25 kilometers from Manaus, at the confluence of the Negro and Amazon Rivers. Hatahara is one of the main sites in Amazonia where funeral urns, vases, eating utensils, and a complete indigene skeleton have been found, buried between the 8th and 12th centuries. Fish represented 76% of the number of identified species, with the pirarucu being the most common. They were followed by reptiles (20%), especially aquatic turtles of the genus Podocnemis (tracaja river turtle and Amazon turtle) and large snakes like the green anaconda. Mammals, amphibians, and birds were rare. These findings shed light on how people in the Amazon survived before the arrival of Europeans. So far, over 100 settlements have been discovered that were formed between 300 BC and 1500 AD in the Amazon region and probably had sizable populations.

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