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Retrospect

The multiple scientist

Some 136 years ago Charles Hartt carried out the first archeological research in the Amazon

“In the Amazon, the geologist who doesn’t have an interest in another branch of science will lose lots of time; because distant, as the geological localities here are from each other, he will have to travel for a number of days without being able to make an important observation.” This phrase begins the text of the book entitled, Mitos amazônicos da tartaruga [Amazon myths on the turtle] (Publisher: Perspectiva, 100 pages) and the clear disposition of its author, the naturalist Charles Frederick Hartt. The Canadian, naturalized  American (1840-1878) is referring to his visits to the Amazon when he had attempted to understand the geology of the region. In order not to waste time, he decided to carry out other types of research.

Intrigued by the different versions concerning the myth of the cleverness of turtle told by Indians, he compiled eight narratives and published them in 1875, in Rio de Janeiro, in English. In1950, the folklore artist Luís da Câmara Cascudo, an admirer of Hartt, whom he had considered “a precursor, a veteran of folklore”, translated the small book and added to it his personal notes. The American also dedicated himself to composing a dictionary of the Tupi Indian language, which remained unfinished.

Hartt was one of the naturalists who had visited Brazil in the 19th century. On the occasions in which he had been in the Amazon it was not only Indian mythology and the Tupi language, which had caught his attention. Hartt passed through geography, zoology, anthropology, ethnography, paleontology and archeology. “In the paper entitled, Contributions for the ethnology of the Amazonian Valley, he suggested that the Taperinha village, a fluvial sambaqui close to Santarém, must be very old because of its implantation into the landscape”, advised Eduardo Góes Neves, from the Archeology Ethnology Museum of the University of São Paulo (MAE/USP) and a researcher who has done considerable work on the Amazon. One hundred years later, the American Anna Roosevelt dated the shells collected by naturalist Hartt and confirmed them to have been of ancient times. She then decided to visit Taperinha and there, on re-digging at the site, found some of the oldest ceramics on the continent.. “He was the father of Amazonian archeology”, sums up Neves. In 2001 the professor of Brazilian literature at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Marcus Vinicius de Freitas launched the book, Hartt: expedições pelo Brasil imperial [Hartt: expeditions through Imperial Brazil] (Publisher: Metalivros, 252 pages) in a bilingual edition, filled with photos of the era and with illustrations by Hartt himself. Right after that, he published, Charles Frederick Hartt, um naturalista no império de Pedro II [Charles Frederick Hartt, a naturalist during the Empire of Pedro II] (Publisher: Editora UFMG, 282 pages), a synthesis of his doctorate thesis concerning the theme, written at Brown University, United States. Freitas’ research brought about new interest concerning the work of geology.

Hartt arrived in the country in 1865 in the Thayer expedition, led by the Swiss-American Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), the icon of science in the United States. An intransigent Creationist, Agassiz had believed that he could find, on Brazilian territory, geological proof of his theory concerning glacial action in the country that would knock down the evolutionist theory of Charles Darwin. He didn’t obtain success, but the fifteen months spent here convinced Hartt to return. In total the naturalist came to Brazil five times. In 1870 and 1871 he commanded his own expedition, named Morgan. With him came nine students from Cornell University, where naturalist Hartt d worked. Among them was Orville Derby, who would become an important person for geology in Brazil.

The naturalist directed the Imperial Geology Commission, founded in 1875 thanks in a large part to his own efforts. The service became extinct in January of 1878 for political motives and naturalist Hartt died in March of the same year of yellow fever, in Rio. He was 38 years of age. He left behind five books and more than 50 scientific studies, as well as designs, paintings and etchings about the country. “Until today there is unprecedented material by him waiting to be studies”, tells Freitas.

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