Archeologists, professors and students from the University of Brasília (UnB) are participating in the reopening of the excavation of the archeological site Gruta do Gentio II, in Unaí (MG). At the site they found the only mummy in Brazil and South America, in 1970. Now, the current researchers hope to discover other mummies and traces of bones for the study of human habitation in the Brazilian territory.
The site is a rocky shelter that worked as a cemetery for children and adolescents about 4,000 years ago. At the site, researchers found human and animal bones, corn cobs, fabrics, feathers, ceramics and cave drawings. According to researcher and project coordinator Francisco Antonio Pugliese Junior, the place has surprising preservation of organic material.
"There are hundreds, maybe thousands of individuals buried in the site. We found dozens of bones scattered around the site and the expectation is that we will find other mummies, because the site is exceptional from the point of view of the preservation of materials that were deposited up to 12,000 years ago," he revealed to Metrópoles.
The excavation project received authorization from the National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (Iphan) to conduct research in the region for, initially, three years. Until then, the cave had only been excavated in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the Brazilian Archaeology Institute (IAB).
The mummy found in the excavations carried out in 1970 are the remains of a 12-year-old girl who lived about 3,500 years ago. The bones suffered a natural mummification process due to the dry environment of the cave and are wrapped in a cotton net. The mummy was given the name Acauã. Now, the expectation is to find other remains in the place.
"We found remains of several individuals, but they are what we call secondary burials. There are those who went through rituals and the bones are scattered around the site. We need to understand why this cave is so special, taking into account that it is inserted in a tropical climate and has preservation equivalent to the desert context", says the project coordinator.
According to the researcher, for the archaeological communities is surprising the state of preservation at the level of the site. Even so, the excavations are undergoing an intense cleaning process due to decades of abandonment. Uncontrolled visitation, trampling and the presence of large animals caused irreparable damage to parts of the cave.
The excavation team is made up of researchers from the University of Florida, the University of São Paulo, the Federal University of Western Pará and the University of Brasília. In this project, UnB is a local partner institution through the Indigenous Archaeology Center (NAI/Ceam) and the Indigenous Ethnology and Indigenism Laboratory (Linde/DAN).
"The idea is that we can understand the relationship of these sites with history and identify patterns of human mobility, geochemical analysis of these burials, identifying something that may present us with some older regional characteristics," explains Francisco.
The researchers also wish to carry out archaeological research in a school-site format with students from the University of Brasília and the University of São Paulo in the municipality of Unaí. The idea is to involve systematic prospection and excavation in partnership with local communities, creating opportunities for theoretical and practical training through participation in field and laboratory activities.goal is to train new local archaeologists.
See images of the mummy in 3D.