National Geographic : 1979 Jan
Clues by the thousands, but no solution "TROPICAL EROSION awaits and |spares nothing," warned Eurico Miller before returning to Abrigo with National Geographic Society sup port in July 1977. What he found con firmed his worst fears: Downpours during the preceding rainy season had washed through the strata of untold centuries, creating eerie formations of earth (right), each capped by a small fragment of stone or ceramic material. Amid these spires, just outside the pro tection of the rocky overhang, many sherds may have fallen to levels dated by carbon-14 tests to earlier times. Matching dates with artifacts thus be came a near-impossible task. Several hundred pounds of pottery fragments were found in Abrigo's upper strata, as well as on the surface of 13 still unexcavated sites in the surrounding re gion. Numbering 8,960, the fragments display a remarkable variety, from in cised geometric patterns (top, left) some bearing the sun symbol (second from top)-to appliqued designs (third from top). The origins, as well as the fate, of the primitive artisans who fashioned these pieces remain a mys tery. The Wasusus and their Nambi cuara neighbors-among Brazil's most primitive Indians-make no pottery. In the middle strata of the dig, the remains of a preceramic Stone Age cul ture were found, and pottery fragments entirely disappeared. Here on the edge of the Amazon Basin-where no evi dence of Paleo-Indians had previously been found-were several millennia's accumulation of crudely chipped flakes (bottom), cores, and other assorted grinding and scraping tools. A number of carbon-14 test results indicate that the deepest of these artifacts might be 12,000 years old.