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The Southern Hemisphere jigsaw puzzle

When I was still a child, I was especially fond of the simplest, visually clean maps and had a particular antipathy for those that seemed to me highly confusing, with so much information that it was impossible for me to take them in as one unit. And so I enjoyed, for instance, the political maps of Brazil, of South America and of the United States, with their right angles and almost square states, whereas I abhorred the maps of physical geography, full of untidy lines and the irregularity of the land and river basins. I recall having traced, with great pleasure, around the age of eight or nine, the copy of a map showing the distribution (which must have been precarious at that time, I imagine) of Brazil’s indigenous tribes, because the presence of the gês, tapuias, tupis, guaranis, aimorés and other tribes was indicated within the line of the country’s territory with little crosses, small circles, stripes and other such patterns that, for me, spoke of fun. These memories come back when I saw the proof copy of the cover article of this issue; I looked with enjoyment at the map of South America, with the various areas highlighted in black, blue, gray, white, with some striped segments, others that are spotted, and I realize how lasting certain perceptions of natural childhood are. It is a great pleasure to look at and to read this map.

Still, I cannot be unfair: it is the object per se, beyond the map, and the fine quality of the report by our special editor Carlos Fioravanti that makes this set of six pages, chosen as the cover feature of this Pesquisa FAPESP issue, enjoyable. Here we stand in front of geological studies that call on our imagination to reach into the Earth’s very distant past while also offering precious empirical evidence in the form of pillow lava, basalt magma bodies that are similar to bubbles or, as the name suggests, to pillows, to underpin the scientific assembling of the geological jigsaw puzzle with pieces from different origins and from different times that resulted in South America. It is well worth checking this out starting on page 18.

I suggest to our readers that they pay special attention also to the article on new data about the diet of Luzio, the oldest (10 thousand years) pre-historic inhabitant found in the state of São Paulo, in 2000. It was written by our special editor Marcos Pivetta (page 44). The same applies to the report by Carlos Haag, our humanities editor, on the growing weakness of umbanda, [an Afro-Brazilian religion] one of the country’s religions, despite its ongoing power of cultural inclusion (page 84). Regarding technology, I suggest paying attention to the report by Evanildo da Silveira on the research that showed that high-resistance concrete, contrary to the general belief held by engineers until now, neither explodes nor degrades at high temperatures. In other words, it seems to be a very suitable raw material for making buildings fire resistant (page 66).

Finally, another fine exploration of subjects concerning the Southern Hemisphere. Or, better said, the South Atlantic. I am referring to the back-and-forth interview with historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro, which starts on page 10, whose key point is the extent to which Brazil’s formation was determined by the economic and political relations established in the South Atlantic, i.e., between South America and Africa, from the sixteenth century up to the end of slave traffic in the second half of the nineteenth century. What he says is fascinating, among other reasons because, based on rich documentation, he avoids the traditional vertical axis of North-South relations. Instead, to address the historical formation of Brazil, he tells a story about ourselves that we know very little about.

Enjoy your reading!