Material records of pre-contact cultures include polychrome pottery excavated from artificial earth mounds on Marajó Island, at the mouth of the Amazon. These well-preserved vessels hint at Brazilian lifeways over a 700-year span in the first millennium A.D.
This collection is comprised of select, well preserved archaeological and ethnographic objects from the Amazon and Central Brazil. It includes fifty important vessels of polychrome archaeological pottery from Marajo Island, excavated around 1918 by anthropologist William Farabee of the University Museum, University of Pennsylvania. The pottery, excavated from well-known artificial earth mounds at the mouth of the Amazon, dates to AD 400-1100.
The Brazilian collection, specifically its ethnographic material, also includes more than 200 items of ceremonial paraphernalia and musical instruments from Tukanoan and Arawakan speaking Indians of the Northwest Amazon region; more than 200 articles of dress, artwork, containers, and tools for daily living from native tribes and rural peoples of the Middle and Lower Amazon and Northeast Brazil, including the well-known Caraja and Tapirape Indians and lesser known groups such as the Karapana. Theodor Koch-Gruneberg collected many of the objects from the Northwest Amazon, while the Museum acquired its Caraja collection from the collections of Erland Nordenskiold, an important synthesizer of South American anthropology, which were previously held at the Goteborg Ethnographic Museum.
More recent collections from the eighteenth- to twentieth-century are a testament to the resilience of Latin America's indigenous cultures and to the lessons we have still to learn from them. Among the most outstanding are clothing, tools, decorated vessels, ceremonial paraphernalia, and musical instruments from native and rural peoples of Amazonian Brazil. These beautiful objects show the ingenious use of natural materials, such as the bright feathers of toucans and parrots, and are a reminder of the current struggles of indigenous cultures for identity and human rights.