Research on an arrangement of massive granite blocks in the Brazilian Amazon has indicated that they were used as an astronomical observatory about 1000 years ago.
After conducting radiocarbon testing and carrying out measurements during the winter solstice, scholars in the field of archaeoastronomy determined that an indigenous culture arranged the megaliths into an astronomical observatory about 1,000 years ago, or five centuries before the European conquest of the Americas began.
Their findings, along with other archaeological discoveries in Brazil in recent years — including giant land carvings, remains of fortified settlements and even complex road networks — are upending earlier views of archaeologists who argued that the Amazon had been relatively untouched by humans except for small, nomadic tribes.
I still remember reading Charles Mann’s piece in 2002 about the mounting evidence against the idea of a largely wild and pristine pair of continents civilized and tamed by Europeans.
Erickson and Balée belong to a cohort of scholars that has radically challenged conventional notions of what the Western Hemisphere was like before Columbus. When I went to high school, in the 1970s, I was taught that Indians came to the Americas across the Bering Strait about 12,000 years ago, that they lived for the most part in small, isolated groups, and that they had so little impact on their environment that even after millennia of habitation it remained mostly wilderness. My son picked up the same ideas at his schools. One way to summarize the views of people like Erickson and Balée would be to say that in their opinion this picture of Indian life is wrong in almost every aspect. Indians were here far longer than previously thought, these researchers believe, and in much greater numbers. And they were so successful at imposing their will on the landscape that in 1492 Columbus set foot in a hemisphere thoroughly dominated by humankind.
That article turned into 1491, which remains one of my favorite books.
See also Ars Technica’s recent piece Finding North America’s lost medieval city.
In a 31-square-mile area in Brazil that is off limits to logging companies, the sole survivor of an uncontacted tribe lives. All by himself.
Advanced societies invariably have subsumed whatever indigenous populations they’ve encountered, determining those tribes’ fates for them. But Brazil is in the middle of an experiment. If peaceful contact is established with the lone Indian, they want it to be his choice. They’ve dubbed this the “Policy of No Contact.” After years of often-tragic attempts to assimilate into modern life the people who still inhabit the few remaining wild places on the planet, the policy is a step in a totally different direction. The case of the lone Indian represents its most challenging test.
A sad story. But perhaps only to the culturally modern. It’s almost impossible to be alone in today’s world; maybe that’s not such a good thing sometimes. Loneliness on the other hand…200 messages per hour from your Twitter pals still can’t cure that.
In Brazil, soap operas, and specifically the small families they depicted, might have been a form of birth control, lowering the fertility of the audience:
In 1960, the average Brazilian woman had 6.3 children. By 2000, the fertility rate was down to 2.3. The decline was comparable to China’s, but Brazil didn’t have a one-child policy. In fact, for a while it was even illegal to advertise contraceptives.
Many factors account for the drop in Brazilian fertility, but one recent study identified a factor most people probably wouldn’t consider: soap operas (novelas). Novelas are huge in Brazil, and the network Rede Globo effectively has a monopoly on their production…
Using census data from 1970 to 1991 and data on the entry of Rede Globo into different markets, the researchers found that women living in areas that received Globo’s broadcast signal had significantly lower fertility. (And yes, the study did control for all sorts of factors and addressed the concern that the entry of Globo might have been driven by trends that also contribute to fertility decline. I’ll spare you the gory econometric details.) Additionally, people in areas with Globo’s signal were more likely to name their children after novela characters, suggesting that it was the novelas specifically, and not TV in general, that influenced childbearing.
Update (by jkottke): The Sabido Method:
Named after the pioneer in application of this entertainment-education strategy, Miguel Sabido, the Sabido Method is based on character development and plot lines that provide the audience with a range of characters that they can engage with — some good, some not so good — and follow as they evolve and change. Sabido developed this methodology when we was Vice President for Research at Televisa in Mexico in the 1970s.
According to the Mexican government’s national population council, a soap opera called Acompaname was responsible for large increases in people requesting family planning information, contraceptive sales, and enrollment in family planning clinics. From 1977 to 1986, when these soap operas were on, Mexico’s population growth rate fell by 34%. The Sabido Method was also recently covered in the New Yorker. (thx, omegar)
If you played soccer for Brazil, what would your name be? Mine is “Jasa”, although I like the result better if I switch my first/last names: Jasinho.
The illegality of “Rio funk” music has driven it deep into the slums of Rio De Janeiro, controlled by the drug lords. “Funk songs used to pay homage to those who had died, but now it is fashionable to name-check those still alive. Juca is often asked by drug soldiers to write lyrics that include their names.”