The Camutins Chiefdom: Rise and Development of Social Complexity on Marajo Island, Brazilian Amazon

Denise Pahl Schaan

PhD Thesis 2004

The emergence and development of complex societies in the Amazonian lowlands has been historically debated as a funstion of the relationships between human populations and the natural environment. Culture ecology on one hand, and historical ecology, on the other hand, have offered different views on cultural development, without providing compelling archaeological testing.

The present study proposes an ecological-economic model to account for the emergence of social complexity on Marajo Island. This model predicts that in areas of abundant aquatic resources, communal cooperation for the construction of river dams and ponds allowed for the development of a highly productive fishing economy with low labor investment. The production of surpluses created opportunities for kin group leaders to compete for the administration of the water-management systems, leading to control over resources and surplus flow. The differential access to resources created social stratification, and the development of a complex religious-ideological system in order to legitimize the political economy. Focusing on one of the Marajoara chiefdoms, a group of 34 mounds located along the Camutins River, the study demonstrates that the location of ceremonial mounds in highly productive areas was related to control over aquaculture systems.

The study suggests that the existence of similar ecological conditions in sevearl other locations on the Island led to the multiplication of small chiefdoms, which, once in place, competed for labor, prestige, and power. Based also on data provided by other researchers, this study proposes a chronology for the emergence and demise of complex societies on Marajo Island, as well as defining the main periods within Marajoara phase.