Lagoa Santa’s Contribution to the Origins and Life of Early Americans

This article focuses on the lifestyle of numerous early Hunter-Gatherer skeletons recovered from the Lagoa Santa region in central Brazil, and discusses how old they are, how they got there, and what the habits of these groups were. Overall, the good preservation of these skeletons in the Lagoa Santa rock shelter provides insight into their way of life.

The Lagoa Santa skeletons represent some of the oldest skeletons known in the Americas, as confirmed by many excavations and analyses of the archaeological material since the 1960s. The most recent work in the region, starting in 2000, confirmed that the region was occupied between 11,000-7,000 years before present, and the local groups seem to have coexisted peacefully with extinct megafauna for at least the first half of this period.

How these groups are tied to the initial occupation of the Americas is still highly debated. The Lagoa Santa individuals, know as Paleoamericans, are distinct from modern Native Americans when we look at their skull shape, which raises the question on how this variation occurred – whether these differences originated before or after the initial migration(s) to the Americas. Based on the analysis of cranial data of several archaeological collections from South America, the authors suggest that the differences observed are actually too large to have originated after the settlement of the Americas and therefore they support the idea that the differences reflect a population split that occurred in Asia before any migration into the New World.

The lifestyle seen in Lagoa Santa is also different from what is seen among other Hunter-Gatherer populations on the planet. While they show a typical reliance on small to medium sized animals, they seem to have relied more intensely on plants than traditional Hunter-Gatherers, as shown by their oral health problems. Moreover, their skeletal features suggest they were less mobile than traditional Hunter-Gatherers. As such, it is safe to say that this particular population was unlike the rest of prehistoric Native Americans, but only time will tell how unique they really were.