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Researchers are impressed by the archaeological riches found on lands in the Brazilian Amazon, such as in the municipality of Monte Alegre, Pará, which is filled with rock paintings. Photo: Marcela/Press photo

Three hectares in the Brazilian Amazon bear the mark of three women. It is not the mark of destruction, so common in Pará. This piece of land in the municipality of Monte Alegre, where five archeological sites with rock art were found, became one of the region’s few preserved places. One of these three women purchased the area to keep it from becoming a pasture, giving this story a rare happy ending.

Edithe Pereira, a researcher and archeologist at the Goeldi Museum who has developed studies in the area for over 30 years, says some paintings are over 11,000 years old. “Although they are on private land, the sites belong to the federal government. But it’s very hard to protect them, with the owner depending on the land to produce food,” explains the second protagonist in this big little action. According to Brazil’s National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) there are over 36,000 sites in Brazil alone, with most exposed to the risk of the Amazon Rainforest’s rapid destruction.

In May 2023, Marcela Pereira Soares was taking part in an expedition through one of these areas in Pará when a resident in the region told the group of researchers accompanying her: “The owner is going to sell the area. It’s going to become a pasture.” Driven by the fear of this devastation, “I made the purchase in three hours,” she says. She paid R$ 40,000 for the area, registering the title deed with a notary public. It was through Iara Vicente, an environmental consultant and the third character in this trio, that Marcela learned about Edithe and her research.

In October, Marcela returned to the region. “Everything around it was burned. Just this part [the land she bought] wasn’t.” The businesswoman then began negotiations to also buy the neighboring area, which will need to be reforested to begin to recover what the fire has gobbled up.


Belém do Pará, 1982. Edithe Pereira was an undergraduate student in History at the Federal University of Pará who was trying to fulfill a dream that began when she was a child. When she was little, she would use sheets to build a tent in her back yard so she could pretend she was a researcher. She wanted to be an archeologist. But in Belém she had limited options to study for this type of a career. The closest thing was an undergraduate degree in History. Next came an invitation from a teacher: “The Goeldi Museum has an internship open. Do you want to try for it?” The job was in the museum’s archeology department. Edithe said yes. “I never left. I still work as a researcher at the museum to this day,” she says.

Edithe Pereira has been carrying out pioneering archaeological investigations in Brazil for 30 years: ‘It’s very hard to protect archaeological sites in private areas .’ Photos: Press photo

Edithe would then fall in love with rock art while doing her Master’s in History at the Federal University of Pernambuco in 1988. It was the start of a trajectory covering 30 years of pioneering archeological investigations in Brazil, as one of the first rock art researchers in the Amazon.

Edithe spearheaded a project to create Monte Alegre State Park, one of the oldest sites occupied by humans in the Americas and home to endangered animals in the Cerrado biome. In 2022, a report she wrote along with other researchers resulted in the park being chosen as one of 25 heritage sites around the world supported by World Monuments Watch.


Minas Gerais, 1982. When she was seven years old, Marcela shared the same dream that inspired Edithe as a child. She wanted to be an archeologist. “I was born in Minas [Gerais], I grew up in Belo Horizonte and, on weekends, I liked to go to Lagoa Santa, wander around the grottos, look at the rock paintings. Rock art touches on something very deep about humanity,” she says. Her desires, however, shifted as she grew.

Marcela enrolled in the Architecture program at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Soon, she would find the arts. She studied Fine Arts and Film at Paris 8 in France and at The City University of New York. But before leaving Brazil for Paris in 2002, she spent a month in the Amazon, traveling between the Negro and Solimões rivers. “I was very struck by what I saw… It was moving.”

She spent three years in France after this experience. From there, she moved to the United States and only returned to Brazil when the debates on the Forest Code – legislation establishing limits on property use in Brazil – picked up steam in 2010.

The artist embraced environmental struggles. She took part in the Rio+20 conference, where new sustainable development agreements for the world were signed, and she protested against backsliding in Brazilian laws. Within the Rio+20 movements, she learned about the Xingu Vivo Para Sempre movement, mobilizing the Xingu peoples against the Belo Monte power plant and led by Antônia Melo. “This contact with the people in Altamira was very strong, emotional. Antônia is a great inspiration to me,” she says.

Out of all the fights, this is the one that hurts Marcela the most. “I’ve been to Altamira so many times. In addition to all the humanitarian and environmental loss [from the Belo Monte Dam], we had a very rich cultural loss.”


Iara Vicente had yet to be born in 1982. She arrived a decade later, in 1992, when Edithe was already immersed in her archeological research and Marcela’s desire to be an archeologist had gone dormant. It was Iara who connected these two women’s dreams, which she also shares.

“I was lucky enough to live in the Amazon, among extremely humble people. I grew up wanting to make my contribution,” she says. Iara was born in Acre, she grew up in Rio Branco. She had this goal in mind when she went to the University of Brasília to study Social Sciences. Seven years ago, as a recent graduate, she created Nossa Terra Firme, a socio-environmental consulting firm. In her consulting work, she builds bridges between investors and causes focused on sustainable development and respect for traditional communities.

Iara and Marcela had met at protests against the Forest Code, in 2011. “I asked myself how I could do something as an individual,” Marcela says. With Iara giving her advice, Marcela realized that donations could be made to support archeology initiatives in Brazil. Edithe’s work was among the three proposals submitted for Marcela to choose a project to support. And that was when this triad formed. “I was enthralled by her research. I thought it was amazing,” says Marcela.

The research coordinated by Edithe and carried out on the land Marcela purchased uses new drone technology to map archaeological areas. Photos: Press photo

The research

The research coordinated by Edithe seeks to locate Monte Alegre’s archeological sites and identify the heritage they hold and the context in which this art was painted. All of this is done in a region that is subject to daily attacks. Edithe catalogs the sites and sends her work to the Institute for National Historic and Artistic Heritage. Because this is a very large area, preservation ends up being compromised. She has already identified around 60 sites in the Monte Alegre region.

The past is lost in areas that have been turned to pasture. “The cows come in, they wear down the rocks. We have a lot of sites destroyed by the presence of cattle,” Edithe explains. There are also burn-offs, planting is done, and countless other adverse conditions threaten the preservation and conservation of archeological sites.

After an eight-month long bureaucratic process mediated by the consulting firm, the artist and businesswomen made a R$ 150,000 donation so that Edithe could continue her research. In return, she asked to go with her while she worked in the field. “I don’t know one individual who has done something like this: a donation to archeological research,” Edithe says. “She donated an amount that, up to then, I’d never received.”

The women faced an arduous amount of red tape for the donation to happen. Edithe’s research is done through the Goeldi Museum, in partnership with public universities. She explains that because the Museum can’t receive individual donations, the funds had to be deposited with the Foundation to Support Research Development (Fadesp) at the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA), one of the partners in the studies Edithe is doing. The Fadesp has an agreement with the Goeldi Museum that allowed the funds to be disbursed.

The research team is using a drone to study the Monte Alegre region. “In the Amazon, access is very difficult. This way, we were able to optimize resources and time,” she explains. The next step in the project is to interpret the images in early 2024. “We have a very rich Indigenous past, an ancestrality that is not appreciated. We need to show the importance of these peoples, to look to their practices and knowledge,” the researcher stresses.

Together, the three women are now studying how to legally guarantee the land is used for conservation over the coming generations. Donating it to educational institutions or turning it into a preservation area with eco-tourism are among the options. “Our theory is that this region was an area of confluence for various peoples, who passed through there at different times. We need to understand,” says Edithe.

For Iara, in addition to preservation, this story could transform conceptions. “The purchase of this area shows local landowners that there are other ways of doing business. We created conditions to foster the local ecosystem and we have the chance to signal to the world that there are many areas with archeological riches in this region.”

The work doesn’t stop. Edithe and her team are still researching, cataloging, and preparing excavations at the sites. Marcela is still traveling between Rio de Janeiro and Pará. Yet there, in the immensity of Monte Alegre, the three women share a feeling of relief that there is at least one piece of land where ancestral memory will not be buried underfoot by cows.

Report and text: Daniela Penha
Fact-checker: Plínio Lopes
Proofreader (Portuguese): Valquíria Della Pozza
Spanish translation: Julieta Sueldo Boedo
English translation: Sarah J. Johnson
Photo Editor: Lela Beltrão
Layout and finishing: Érica Saboya
Editors: Malu Delgado (news and content), Viviane Zandonadi (editorial workflow and copy editing), and Talita Bedinelli (coordination)
Director: Eliane Brum

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