RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Nearly 60 archeological sites dating back 6,000 years have been unearthed during construction of a road near Rio, an archaeologist said Thursday.
“Last week, we found a small stone well dating back to the (Portuguese) colonial period with clear water and we stopped work,” said Jandira Neto, who led the 40-member team of the Brazilian Archaeology Institute (IAB) that made the discovery.
The archeologists unearthed very old vestiges such as “sambaquis” (shell mounds) of the various population groups who were scattered along the coast of the Americas 8,000 to 6,000 years ago, 2,000-year-old burial urns and ceramic pipes of Tupi-Guarani indigenous people as well as 19th century European crockery.
“The relics pointed to overlapping habitation. This shows that the European settlers occupied the same areas as the indigenous people. They thought that since people lived there, the land had to be good. They just seized indigenous lands and settled there,” she added.
The history of the region — crossed by the 70-kilometer (45 mile) road nicknamed “Metropolitan Arc” which runs from the industrial park in the northern Fluminense lowland to the western port of Itaguai — had until now been known based on travel accounts from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Now, archeologists scour the area and when they find something, the work stops.
“We began (in 2008) hoping to find very few sites and in one year we went from 36 to 58 sites and we will find others,” Neto said.
“The construction of the road was very useful in helping preserve the region’s historical heritage,” she added.
But the archeological bonanza is causing a major headache for engineers of Rio state’s public works secretariat.
The road project initially was scheduled to be completed in 2011 at a cost of $511 million, but it has been delayed to 2013 because of the work stoppages.
The new road is meant to relieve bottlenecks on Rio’s Avenida Brasil on which more than 250,000 vehicles transit daily, ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics which the city will host.