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By Georgia Grimond, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Signs of human habitation and clues to Rio’s history have been uncovered by archaeologists working on the city’s new metro line, Line 4, in Leopoldina, Centro. Approximately fifty stone artefacts and 400 shells dating back between 3,000 and 4,000 years have been discovered.

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Claudio Prado de Mello, the lead archaeologist on the Line 4 works, holds up a recent find, photo courtesy of Metrô Linha 4.

They are thought to be from the period when the paleo-Indians lived and moved around Guanabara Bay, leading nomadic or semi-nomadic lives as fisherman and hunters-gatherers.

Included in the haul are spearheads for hunting, scrapers for cutting meat and separating fat from skin, hatchets, hammers and cudgels. The large number of shells found are thought to be part of a midden, or waste area, common to bay, mangrove and swap areas. It is where leftovers and debris would have been dumped away from living areas.

Archaeologists have been working on the site since 2013. Claudio Prado de Mello and his team have recovered and catalogued the recent finds.

“The prehistoric pieces will help us tell an important part of the history of the primitive population of Rio,” he told the Jornal do Brasil. “To come across a discovery like this downtown, in an area that has gone through several cycles of occupation and that is so busy, is something fantastic.”

Many of the objects were found in relatively shallow earth, between 30 and 120cm deep. Work on the line has gone as deep as 2.5m which is where archaeologists would usually expect to find artefacts this old. Mello thinks that the pieces may have been buried deeper in a nearby hillock but would have been moved as part of land-clearing in the 19th century.

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Some of the shells found at the Leopoldina site, photo courtesy of Metrô Linha 4.

The site has a rich history as more recently it was home to the city’s matadouro, or slaughterhouse, until it moved to Santa Cruz in 1881. The imperial palace was also housed nearby and the area is thought to have been used as landfill by the imperial family who lived there.

As a result close to 220,000 pieces from the era have already been recovered, many of them intact. In 2013, an ivory toothbrush with the inscription “His Majesty the Emperor of Brazil” was found. It was believed to have belonged to Dom Pedro II, who was ruler of Brazil between 1831 and 1889.

Other infrastructure works have uncovered more clues to Rio’s past. In January, work on the VLT, or light-vehicle on tracks, uncovered pavements from the 19th century.

All archaeological work along the new metro line is being coordinated by the state government and the Line 4 Consortium, and is being overseen by a number of cultural institutes. Once the metro line is complete further archaeological work will continue.

Line 4 is due to open in 2016, just ahead of the Olympics. When it is complete it will run from Barra, through Zona Sul (South Zone) to Centro, carrying 300,000 people per day and taking 2,000 cars off the roads at peak times.

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