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Archaeology of Violence


Forests landscapes are, to a large extent, foreign spaces in the discipline of architecture and urban planning. Our ways of thinking about cities is conditioned by the dialectics between the urban and the countryside, the city and the rural. Forests are a sort of “third-space” which has raised little interest for architects and planners. Since we cannot find significant traces of human action in forest-spaces, traces of inhabitation, we have paid little attention to them: they have not been “modified” enough to enter into the historical grammar of urbanism and architecture, which is fundamentally concerned with the human impacts over natural landscape. The only possible way in which forests interest us because they represent “empty”, “non-historical” spaces in need of planning – territories lacking proper spatial organization, in need of intervention.

They are a resource of naturalness. They are the spaces of radical alterity to urban-rural landscapes, and in that sense, they are the spaces against which the discipline of planning defines itself, allowing us to think in terms of a seminal – “ontological” -- separation between humanized and non-humanized environments, culture and nature. Archaeology of Violence dwells within this “third-space” -the forest – a territory which does not so much lack architecture but, to be more precise, is against architecture.


About the master plan of Brasília, urbanist Lucio Costa wrote: “It was born out of the primary gesture of one who marks or takes possession of a place: two axes crossing at a right angle; the very sign of the cross.”

Only in the early 1970s, when Brazil was under military rule, did Brasília become the de facto center of national political power. By that time, the colonial logics embodied in the design of the modernist capital, --- an urban cross demarcating the occupation of foreign territory ---, both symbolic and functional, had been expanded towards the depths of Amazonia. Two years after the US-backed civilian-military coup d’état of 1964, General Castelo Branco launched “Operation Amazonia”, a large-scale program of regional development that sought to convert practically the entire Amazon Basin into a vast frontier of resource extraction and agricultural expansion.

Recasting colonial ideology, geopolitical strategists and planners described Amazonia as a space engulfed in chronic lack – demographic emptiness, economic stagnation, technological backwardness, territorial isolation -, a continental void outside the capitalist market and refractory to the geometries of the nation-state. Starting with “Operation Amazonia”, and continuing throughout the 70s and 80s, this vast and complex ecology was subjected to a series of radical experiments in spatial planning, which were conceived and deployed in such a manner as if ‘Amazonia’ could be designed in its entirety, a single and homogenous tabula-rasa open for intervention.

Maneuver: In the book Geopolítica do Brasil (1967), a territorial interpretation of Brazilian history that exerted great influence on the armed forces during the military dictatorship, General Golbery do Couto e Silva, arguably the most important intellectual of the regime, described Amazonia as a giant island floating at the margins of the national polity, “mostly unexplored, devitalized by the lack of people and creative energy, and which we must incorporate into the nation, integrating it into the national community and valuing its great physical expression which today still is almost completely passive.” The first map show the Brazilian territory divided into four regions: the ‘central nucleus’ connected with three ‘peninsulas’ located at the south, center-west and northeast. Floating at the margins, the ‘Amazonian Island’. The second map describes the “maneuver for the integration of the national territory”. (Golbery do Couto e Silva, Geopolítica do Brasil - Rio de Janeiro: Livraria J. Olympio, 1967).

Deep Cartography In order to identify zones of strategic geological and surface natural resources, a large-scale mapping survey named Radar Amazonia -- or RADAM -- was initiated in the early 70s. Employing radar-based remote sensing technologies firstly used by the US Army in the Vietnam War - which allow sensing the terrain bellow the tropical forest foliage and its moisture atmosphere -, in combination with Landsat imagery and extensive ground sampling, RADAM was responsible to produce the first detailed biophysical and geological inventory of Amazonia, and completely altered the ways by which Amazonia was visualized, interpreted and intervened upon. (SLAR-image of the region of the city of Manaus, RADAM Project, 1973.)

Territorial Design: On the ground the general’s blue print for Amazonia was translated into a matrix of highways of continental proportions interlinking a series of “poles of development”. The poles were designed as modernizing enclaves equipped with the infrastructural capacity to accommodate large-scale resource extraction operations (dams, railways, airports, seaports). The highway-matrix was planned as the primary channel through which agricultural and cattle frontiers could expand towards the interior while at the same time serving as routes for the massive migration of labor-force. (Map of Plan of National Integration, INCRA - Institute for Agrarian Reform and Colonization, 1971.)

The drive to “occupy and integrate� Amazonia was informed by multilayered practices and discourses which combined geopolitical doctrines of security, modernization theories and the toolbox of modern spatial planning. Aided by the development of earth-sensing technologies, Amazonia was as visualized as a deep resource-terrain upon which a series of novel cartographic imaginaries, governmental discourses and grand planning strategies would be projected and deployed, and which in turn would lead to dramatic changes in both its natural and social landscapes.

Similarly to the new capital BrasĂ­lia, the “construction of the Amazonâ€? played both an economic and a symbolic role, acting as the source of primitive accumulation of capital that drove the high levels of GDP-growth experienced under the military regime, as well as constituting a space through which a hegemonic national imaginary that helped to legitimize authoritarian and violent forms of state control was gradually built up.


In the early 1900s, as the booming coffee business in Brazil was hungry for consuming new lands, the rapid expansion of “national frontier” towards the interior confronted fierce resistance of indigenous groups. US-imported Winchester rifles made for a disproportional war, and the bloody lawless conflicts witnessed in southern Brazil were leading to the slaughter of entire native communities. The State’s response to mediate this situation was the creation of the Service for the Protection of the Indian (SPI) in 1910, a governmental agency whose mandate was to establish peaceful contact with indigenous groups, securing lands for their survival and overseeing their welfare.

Ethno-historic map of Brazil elaborated by ethnologist Curt NimuendajĂş in 1944.

XVIII century map of an indigenous “reduction� village planned by the Portuguese Colonial Government. SPI Indigenous post, place non-identified, part of the photographic dossier of the Figueiredo Report (1968).

The SPI founding ethos was simultaneously pacifist and expansionist, humanitarian and governmental, ideologically opposed to the extermination of the indians while at the same time serving as one of the most efficient mechanisms to open up their lands for colonization. Originally named SPILTN, which adds to the acronym the phrase “and Localization of the National Worker” -- the agency employed a similar strategy to colonial “reductions”, concentrating dispersed indigenous communities in so-called Posts of Attraction, which later turned into agricultural colonies where the “pacified indians” were gradually introduced to the habits of white civilization.

Map of the network of outposts and bases of the SPI in 1946.


more images can be included in this section

By late the 1960s, when the SPI counted on a network of more than a hundred posts distributed throughout the Brazilian territory, its humanitarian/governmental mission had degenerated into a corrupt and criminal state-bureaucracy and the agency was accused of being complicit to the extermination of indigenous groups. In 1967 the Minister of Interior established an Inquiry Commission to investigate the SPI. Coordinated by attorney Jader de Figueiredo Correia, the 7000-plus page report documents a series of heinous crimes, ranging from the massive usurpation of lands, to bacteriological warfare and the bombing of villages, to the abduction of children, torture, rape and massacres.

The commission findings were made public in March 1968, leading to the dissolution of the SPI and the creation of another similar agency named FUNAI, the National Foundation of the Indian. It was believed that the “Figueiredo Report� had disappeared in a criminal fire set at the headquarters of the Minister of Agriculture soon after it was made public. It was recently uncovered by human-rights activist Marcelo Zelic from the archives of the Museum of the Indian in Rio de Janeiro. The Figueiredo Report is one of the most important evidences currently being examined by the Brazilian Truth Commission. Here are presented images from the photographic dossiers of the report.


more images can be included in this section if necessary

In December 1968, months after the creation of the new indigenist agency FUNAI, dictator General Artur da Costa e Silva issued the infamous Institutional Act No. 5, a state-of-emergency law that gave overwhelming powers to the “Supreme Command of the Revolution” over every aspect of civilian life. From that point onwards, a much more pervasive surveillance apparatus came into effect and Brazil descended into the most repressive period of the dictatorship. Commanded by General Bandeira Melo, a former officer of the military intelligence service, the philosophy of FUNAI was oriented towards the tenets of the National Security Doctrine. Subordinated to the rapid expansion of the development schemes, the pacification campaign assumed the brutal face of the regime. The images presented here are extracted from documentary footage recorded by visual-anthropologist Jesco von Puttkamer in 1970. The film documents the graduation ceremony of the first group of the “Rural-Indian Police Unit” (GRIN), a special police force implemented by FUNAI within pacified indigenous communities in the early 70s.

Un-edited and without sound-band, the raw footage was recently uncovered from the archives of the Museum of the Indian in Rio de Janeiro. Puttkamer labeled the reel as “ARARA”, which is also the name of an indigenous group that lives in the Xingu River Basin in eastern Amazonia. Contrary to what the ethnographic logic of the archive within which it is located may lead to suppose, the reel’s title does not refer to the Arara people. At a certain point of a ceremonial parade performed for the eyes of politicians and military men, GRIN officers demonstrate the infamous torture technique called Pau-de-Arara – the macaw’s porch -, which was extensively used by the military regime against political opponents. This image is perhaps the first known public record of the “Pau-de-Arara” being actually used by the military regime. Jesco von Puttkamer, a Polish-Jewish refugee of the Nazi regime who later worked as a photographer in the Nuremberg Trials, was most probably trying to conceal from the State the documentation that -- he sensibly foresaw -- could latter turn into evidences of the violence his camera was witnessing.

“FEITORS CORRIGEANT DES NEGRES”: The “Pau-de-Arara” torture technique as documented by Jean Baptiste Debret in Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil, ou Séjour d’un Artiste Français au Brésil, 1834–1839, Vol. 02, Plate XX.


Waimiri Atroari villages photographed in the 70s during the operations of FAWA

In 2012, nearly three decades after the process of “transition to democracy”, Brazil belated established the Comissão Nacional da Verdade (CNV), a truth commission entitled to investigate grave human rights violations committed by the State between 1946 and 1988, and particularly during the twenty years-long military dictatorship that was installed after the coup of 1964. One of the most contentious issues being examined by the CNV refers to the indigenous peoples of Brazil. As the generals vowed to accelerate the “integration” of the hinterlands into the national economy and close the frontier, the politics of pacification became increasingly militarized, leading to a situation of structural violence and systematic human rights violations against indigenous populations. One of the groups most severely affected by the general’s expansionist strategy was the Kinja people, an indigenous group that lives in central Amazonia, and who are named by the Brazilian national society as Waimiri Atroari. Strategic located just few hundred kilometers to the north of the city of Manaus and containing abundant deposits of cassiterite, the ancestral land of the Waimiri Atroari was designated as a central ‘pole of development’ within the planning schemes elaborated for Amazonia.

In the early 70s, after successive failed attempts of the SPI to enter the area and make contact, FUNAI created the “Waimiri Atroari Attraction Front� (FAWA, 1970 - 1987), a special pacification mission aimed at contacting the Waimiri Atroari and removing their villages from the zone of influence of the highway BR-174, the Balbina Hydroeletric Dam, the Tamboca Mining Fields and other projects of agricultural colonization. It is estimated that nearly 2000 Waimiri Atroari disappeared between the late 60s and the early 80s, either because of direct action of state-security forces, who were responsible for the highway construction, or indirectly through the deadly epidemics brought by workers and settlers. By 1984, when Brazil was entering into civilian rule, 321 Waimiri Atroari have survived the pacification efforts of FAWA. Most of them had been relocated to three major statecontrolled Indigenous Posts.

Pages extracted from the plan of pacification of the Waimiri-Atroari designed by father João Giovanni Calleri in 1968 after an identification flight over the Alalaú, Abonari and Uatumã Rivers. The plan consisted in the establishment of two “attraction posts” at the margins of the Alalaú and Abonari Rivers, and a larger “aldeamento” up north at the headwaters of the Alalaú, outside the route of the BR-174, where the population would be resettled. Father Calleri was killed in a raid conducted by the Waimiri Atroari in October 1968. In June 1969, the indigenist Gilberto Figueiredo re-initiated attempts of pacification. Together with his crew Figueiredo was also killed in similar conditions in 1973.


The map series presented here show the potential identification of Waimiri Atroari village clusters that existed before the pacification campaign conducted by FAWA/FUNAI (1968 – 1987). The study employs an automated mapping procedure known as TAMA (or Threshold Age Mapping Algorithm) to identify and attribute age to secondary forest. Originally developed to help modeling the carbon cycle of tropical forest zones, this technology allow to differentiate between old-growth and young forests, making possible to identify patches of recent anthropogenic action in forest landscapes otherwise difficult to trace. Waimiri Atroari territorial patterns of inhabitation, as similar to other Carib-speaking indigenous groups of Amazonia, are defined by networks of small villages dispersed throughout the margins of major river tributaries.Villages are constructed according to a rigorous geometry: a large communal house, circular in shape, is placed at the centre of a larger ellipsoid plaza, which is surrounded by gardens of fruit and nut trees and small agricultural fields. Agricultural fields rotate seasonally, describing another circular ring that extends the village area to hundreds of meters. Oval-shaped patches of anthropogenic forest older than 27 years are identified and interpreted as archaeological index of Waimiri Atroari villages



In 1999, while flying over the west-southern edges of the Amazonia, one of the regions that had been most severely affected by the colonization schemes implemented during the 1970s and 1980s, the Brazilian palaeontologist Alceu Ranzi noticed traces of various geometric earthworks of large dimensions scattered throughout the deforested areas of large cattle-ranches. Before Operation Amazonia, the so-called Amazonian Geoglyphs were hidden underneath the vegetation cover, but as the forest was cleared out and this region turned into a vast landscape of savannahs, the earthworks became increasingly visible. Using remote sensing technologies, so far archaeologists have located more than 210 geoglyphs distributed over an area covering 250 km2 in western Amazonia. They are shaped in perfect circles or rectangles of 90 to 300 metres in diameter

sculpted by ditches of approximately eleven meters wide and roughly one to three meters deep, which are surrounded by earthen walls up to one meter high. Radiocarbon analysis of soil samples date to the year AD 1238, coinciding with the period of rapid urbanization of the medieval towns in Europe. The archaeologists who led research contend that many more similar structures are buried beneath the forests that remain standing, and estimate that only ten per cent of the total of possible existent geoglyphs have been identified. These impressive architectural forms are interpreted as evidences of the ancient presence of “complex societies� that for centuries modified an environment that until now we thought to be pristine. The consequent conclusion is that Amazonia’s deep history is not natural, but human. (50)

One of the sixty artificial mound complexes that are known in the valley of the Upano River, Ecuadorian Amazon. Likewise the geoglyphs, the geometric urban patterns were only possible to identify after the forest was cleared. (image courtesy of archaeologist StĂŠphen Rostain).

Palm-trees, especially fire-resistant species of palm-trees, are one of the most recognizable traces of past human interference in the landscape of Amazonia. Deeply incorporated into the Amazonian material culture, “palm-tree gardens� are successively inhabited and abandoned, signaling the existence of long-term cycles of human-interference in the forest structure. (image courtesy of Nigel Smith).

Terra-preta (black-soil) profile clearly demarcated within a trench excavated by archaeologist Eduardo Neves in the Laguinho Field, central Amazonia, near the city of Manaus. Terra-preta de Ă­ndio, anthropogenic black-soils that are very rich in carbon compounds and highly fertile, are the most singular archaeological evidence in Amazonia. (image courtesy of Eduardo Neves)

Garden fires burning across one of the sites excavated by archaeologist Michel Heckenberger in the upper Xingu River Basin. Indigenous slash-and-burn agriculture, traditionally produced in seasonal cycles of use, abandonment and re-growth, are responsible to produce positive disturbances in forest biodiversity.

Until the 1970s, the relations between nature and society in Amazonia were framed by scientific descriptions dominated by socio-evolutionist theories, which portrayed the region as a hostile environment populated by dispersed and demographically reduced tribes, constrained by harsh environmental determinants and therefore unable to overcome a primitive stage of social-political organization and develop larger polities. During the following decades, and increasingly so in the last ten years, a series of archaeological findings such as the geoglyphs, or the identification of many sites containing terra preta—anthropogenic black-soils that are rich in carbon compounds and highly fertile—, or the incredible urban clusters mapped out by archaeologist Michael J. Heckenberger at the Upper Xingu River Basin are radically transforming this image of Amazonia. (51) The usual ethnological and ecological perception that we have of Amazonia is largely derived from the romantic views of the eighteenth century, which were forged at a moment

when the majority of its population had already been wiped out by the violence of colonial conquest. An important fact supporting those views was the lack of physical indexes showing traces of urbanization. Heckenberger’s recent archaeological excavations show evidences that in the Upper Xingu region there existed highly populous societies spatially organized in regional networks of fortified villages, forming a pattern that he calls “galactic urbanism.” Because of the sophisticated resource managing system developed by these societies in relation to ecological dynamics of tropical forests, he compares the Xinguano’s “regional planning” and modes of settlement and land-use with Ebenezer Howard’s model of the Garden City. “Much of the landscape was not only anthropogenic in origin but intentionally constructed and managed,” Heckenberger explains, further claiming that today we cannot assume that any part of Amazonia is pristine “without a detailed examination of the ground.” (53)

“GALACTIC URBANISM”: maps of the ancient “Xinguano Urbanism” traced by archaeologist Michael Heckenberger in the Upper Xingu, southeastern Amazonia. The Xingu regional cluster was organized in networks of fortified villages, forming a spatial pattern that Heckenberger calls “galactic urbanism.”


Up to now, Amazonia has been the quintessential representation of what western civilization calls “nature.” New archaeological findings and studies are showing that, in fact, this image is the product of colonial violence. Amazonia was imagined as the quintessential representation of the natural space, a territory sparsely populated by reduced and nomadic “tribes” who exerted minimal influence over the forest’s ecology. Constrained by environmental determinants, these human groups were unable to overcome primitive stages of spatial-political organization and technological development. A fact supporting these views was the lack of traditional material evidences demonstrating the former presence of “complex societies”, typically archaeological urban complexes. In Amazonia, however, observing traces of the past demands a radical shift in perspective. The ways by which certain trees are distributed and arranged in space, or the presence of particular types of trees and soil formations, for example, as much similar to the ruins of stonewalls and marble temples, are archeological indexes of forms of inhabitation.

It is not so much the case, therefore, that Amazonia is not urban (and consequentially a-historical, ‘natural’ etc.), but perhaps that the very category of urban must be set free from its colonial origins and radically change. The cartographies presented here interpret Amazonia as a “constructed landscape”, an environment historically shaped by political and cultural forces, and which ‘spatial forms’ can be read as archaeological evidences. The traces of the “anthropogenic-forests” that identify the Waimiri-Atroari villages clusters that were destroyed by the Brazilian military government in the 70s are just a tiny fragment of a 500-years long history of political violence against the indigenous populations of Amazonia which remains inscribed in very ‘natural’ environment of the forest.

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