Ecohistory of the Cerrado

Learn about the history of the first men in the Cerrado and central region of Brazil

By Museu do Cerrado

Life appeared on the planet 3.5 billion years ago... Pangea was a mega continent. The region we now call Brazil was the southernmost part of the planet. 8.7 million types of animals lived - not counting microorganisms -, including the dinosaurs that lived in the period from 65 to 145 million years ago.

Dinosaurs inhabited the Earth in the Mezoic era which is divided into three periods: Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous; in this last period the regions experienced an increase in animal population, with an abundance of birds and reptiles.

dinossaur Uberabatitan Ribeiroi (2021) by Anelisa Granato de SousaMuseu do Cerrado

This herbivorous dinosaur lived in the Cretaceous period 70 million years ago and belongs to the group of titanosaurs. At 4 meters high and 12 meters long, the Baurutitan britoi weighed 30 tons.

The fossils were found in Uberaba, in the state of Minas Gerais and the species was described in 2005. The name of the dinosaur refers to the geological formation of Bauru, which belongs to the region of Peirópolis.

Paleopaisagem (2012) by Marcelo AlbuquerqueMuseu do Cerrado

The Beginning of the Cerrado

The cerrado has the oldest forms of environment in the recent history of the planet, especially if we take into account plant formations. At the very least, the Cerrado began 65 million years ago and materialized 40 million years ago (Barbosa 2014). Let's start a journey from the beginnings of the Cerrado.

LIFE Photo Collection

Homo sapiens

Homo sapiens appeared about 100,000 years ago but only arrived in the Brazilian Cerrado 12,000 years ago. Humans did not live with dinosaurs anywhere in the world. But the first record of human presence in the Central Plateau coincides with the phase of extinction of the first recorded animals that inhabited the region.

Mapa dos sítios arqueológicos brasileiros (2021) by Caio Benevenuto RomãoMuseu do Cerrado

Humans probably entered the Americas at least 18,000 years ago, but effective occupation of the entire continent took place around 12,000 years ago.

Grande felino do gênero SmilodonMuseu do Cerrado


In the Brazilian Cerrado, up to about 15,000 years ago, there were elephants, known as Haplomastodons; giant sloths, known as Eremotheriums; giant armadillos, known as Gliptodons; many other giants comprised the megafauna of South America.   


 These animals were hunted by a large predator, from North America, popularly known as the saber-toothed tiger, a large cat of the genus Smilodon.

Paleopaisagem (2013) by Marcelo AlbuquerqueMuseu do Cerrado

Approximately 12,000 years ago, animals fell victim to the sudden decrease in temperature in a glacial period. Climate instability has caused environmental variations in the Brazilian Cerrado, such as desertification of the plains, decrease in pasture in the biome and increase in forest areas along the rivers.   

Capa do Livro História da terra e do homem no Planalto Central, de Paulo Bertran (1994)Museu do Cerrado

The Concept of Ecohistory

Ecohistory, a concept coined by Paulo Bertran (1994), is an historical approach that seeks to mark the relationship of human beings in their environment to build knowledge about the world, allowing a particular meaning to a particular region

Abrigo Santa Elina: escavações e corte estratigráfico de 27.000 a 2.000 anos atrás (2003) by Agueda Vilhena Vialou e Denis VialouMuseu do Cerrado

Santa Elina Archaeological Site in Mato Grosso

The Santa Elina Archaeological Site is located in Serra das Araras, in the municipality of Jangada-MT. This site is considered the second oldest in Brazil due to the presence of human remains; which proves the coexistence of humans and fauna. In it was found the bones of a giant sloth, extinct 10,000 years ago. 

Altair Barbosa com a cavera na mão by Altair BarbosaMuseu do Cerrado

The first Human Groups in the Cerrado

The expression Homo-cerratensis was created by researcher Paulo Bertran to symbolically name the discovery of the oldest human skeleton in the Americas - Man from Serra do Cafezal in Serranópolis, Goiás - made by professor and researcher Altair Sales Barbosa.

Altair Salles, detalhe de escavação arqueológica by Altair Sales BarbosaMuseu do Cerrado

In time, the term “homo cerratensis” also came to designate the traditional inhabitant of the Cerrado, fruit of the encounter of indigenous, Portuguese and African people. 

Mapa mostrando a localização da Lapa do Santo dentro da região de Lagoa Santa by Universidade de São Paulo (USP)Museu do Cerrado

A very important place is the Lagoa Santa region which is internationally famous for its enormous amount of archeological sites dating from the Early Holocene Period (11,500 to 8000 years ago) and studied since the beginning of the 19th century. This region is located in the middle of the Cerrado.    

Dr. Peter W. Lund (1903) by Honório EstevesMuseu do Cerrado

Peter W. Lund, who lived for 46 years in the region of Lagoa Santa, provided a landmark in Brazilian paleontology, archeology and speleology. In 1832 he made the first discoveries of fossils in caves and shelters of Lagoa Santa. 

Bioantropólogo e dentista Rodrigo Elias de Oliveira nos sítos da Lagoa SantaMuseu do Cerrado

It is interesting that pequi, marolo, and jatobá, available in the dry periods, when game is less abundant, was already an important source of food at that time, still enjoyed today in the region. They are carbohydrate-rich fruits and charred fragments of them have been found at Lagoa Santa sites.


Sítio Arqueológico Toca da OnçaMuseu do Cerrado

Human beings leave their traces through rock art, i.e. paintings and engravings made by prehistoric man, using stones as a medium or a background (Schmitz, 1984).

Sítio Arqueológico Toca da OnçaMuseu do Cerrado

Paints were made from animals, plants, and minerals. She decorates the shelters, no matter how inhospitable they may have seemed at first, making them homely and hospitable (Barbosa 2017).       

Sítio Arqueológico do BisnauMuseu do Cerrado

Bisnau Archaeological Site

The etchings or petroglyphs were composed of grooves made in the rock support.

Sítio Arqueológico do BisnauMuseu do Cerrado

The Bisnau Archaeological Site is situated 42 kilometers from the municipality of Formosa, in the state of Goiás, on the Taquari estate and is a 2600 square meter natural space of slightly sloping sedimentary rock with rock inscriptions in low relief.    

Pedra da Bisnau by Kenia de Aguiar RibeiroMuseu do Cerrado

Tourists visiting Bisnau have not helped to preserve it. To increase the visibility of the design, they scratch the bas-relief with chalk, paint, and other stones. Unnecessary action, because nature itself gives prominence to prehistoric work.

Pedra lascada no Sítio Arqueológico Cachoeirinha - DFMuseu do Cerrado

Eco-history of the Federal District

“There is the Federal District: all of it is palatable and useful, in line with the indigenous and sertanejo tastes. Its toponymy is eaten, dressed, used in ranches and domestic utilities and, above all, it builds a vast ecosystem discourse on the roots of history. Pure matter of Eco-History” (Bertran 2000:23).

Ponta de flecha em quartzo DF-PA-11 (2014) by Kenia de Aguiar RibeiroMuseu do Cerrado

Archeology in the Federal District

Iphan has registered 64 archeological sites in the Federal District, 30 of which are linked to hunter-gatherer groups, 8 are villages of agricultural and ceramicist societies. 26 historic sites related to farms, paths and the construction of Brasília (IPHAN-DF, 2019).

Mapa arqueológico do DF (2006) by BARBOSA, MARIZA e COSTA, DIOGOMuseu do Cerrado

The archaeological sites in the Federal District are located in the Administrative Regions of Ceilândia, Taguatinga, Núcleo Bandeirante, Brazlândia, Jardim Botânico, Santa Maria, São Sebastião, Riacho Fundo, Gama and Paranoá (IPHAN-DF, 2019).

Sítio Arqueológico do BisnauMuseu do Cerrado

In some archaeological sites, certain natural or anthropic factors act to speed degradation of the rock or the paintings.

Ecohistory is not a panacea, but a form of approach, a form of assault that presupposes a comprehensive understanding of Mother Earth and her children, with results that are, some good, others sociologically, economically and ecologically bad. From all this, we can draw one certain conclusion. We no longer know what the Central West or Brazil are, for example. Knowing what the cerrado and its children are, the human ecohistory of the Brazilian savannas (Bertran 1994).

Credits: Story

Museu do Cerrado
Director General: Rosângela Azevedo Corrêa
Technical Director: Bruno Corrêa
Curator: Rosângela Corrêa

Pré-história do Brasil gerou tesouros naturais,  Luiz Eduardo Anelli,  USP.
Os povos de Lagoa Santa, Rodrigo Elias de Oliveira, FAPESP.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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