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Quaternary International 467 (2018) 292e296

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The association of palaeoindian sites from southern Brazil and

Uruguay with the Umbu Tradition: Comments on Sua rez et al. (2017)
~o Carlos Moreno de Sousa*, Mercedes Okumura
PPGArq, Dept. of Anthropology, National Museum, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The Umbu Tradition is an archaeological cultural unit created in late 1960s to better describe the vari-
Received 8 September 2017 ation observed in sites presenting lithic bifacial points in southern Brazil. Over the years, many Brazilian
Received in revised form archaeologists, when studying archaeological sites presenting bifacial points, have associated these to the
18 November 2017
Umbu Tradition, regardless of region or chronology. Since the 1990s, some authors have questioned the
Accepted 30 November 2017
validity of such an encompassing archaeological tradition. This article presents a brief history of the
association of archaeological assemblages to the Umbu Tradition and a few comments which clarify some
misunderstandings put forward by Sua rez et al. (2017). We agree with Sua rez et al. (2017) that these
Umbu Tradition
criticisms of the current concept of the Umbu Tradition are fair and that more data is still necessary to
South America further explore the relationship between what has been called Umbu and other sites from southern
Palaeoindians Brazil and Uruguay.
Bifacial points © 2017 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction 2. Origins of the Umbu Tradition definition and its

development in the last 50 years
rez et al. (2017) presented a case study providing new and
exciting data about the Tigre site in Northwestern Uruguay and its The origin of the Umbu Tradition definition, and the association of
implications for the initial settlement of the Uruguay River basin. sites to this archaeological culture, is related to the first systematic,
The Late Pleistocene dates and lithic technology analysis presented large-scale studies in Brazilian archaeology that emerged during the
by the authors are relevant to the better understanding of what 1950s and 1960s, carried out by the Programa Nacional de Pesquisas
conventionally has been called the “Umbu Tradition” (an archaeo- Arqueologicas (National Program of Archaeological Research)
logical tradition associated to sites presenting lithic bifacial points (PRONAPA, 1970). PRONAPA researchers applied the concepts of
in southern and southeastern Brazil). Sua rez et al. (2017) presented “phase” and “tradition” which were heavily inspired by the ideas of
and discussed some of the main problems related to the definition Phillips and Willey (1953). Material culture assemblages, especially
of the Umbu Tradition and provided some fair criticisms about pottery vessels and lithic formal artifacts were classified mainly by
assigning cultural origins to little known cultural entities, like the the size, shape, and decoration, as well as the types of artifacts and
association of different technological groups to the Umbu Tradition. the site settings. A new “archaeological tradition” would be created
However, more data, including chronological information as well as for each type identified, and the new assemblages presenting the
technological analysis, are necessary to fully understand the rela- same types were associated to these “traditions”. Similar types that
tion between those Late Pleistocene sites and the sites traditionally present slight regional or chronological differences were associated
associated to the Umbu Tradition in Uruguay and Southern Brazil. to subcategories known as “archaeological phases”. In the late 1960s,
Moreover, we aim to clarify the new understandings put forward by the works of Miller (1967, 1974) in the Sinos Valley and Maquine 
our most recent studies, which were not quite well understood by region (Rio Grande do Sul state, southern Brazil) resulted in the
the authors. creation of three archaeological phases that presented bifacial
points: Camuri, Umbu, and Itapuí. Umbu and Itapuí Phases were
associated with rock shelters, while Camuri Phase was characterized
by open-air sites. At that time, the author tried to discriminate these
* Corresponding author.
three phases in chronological terms. The Itapuí Phase was considered
E-mail addresses: (J.C. Moreno de Sousa), (M. Okumura). more recent than Umbu (4000e1000 years BP), presenting points
1040-6182/© 2017 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.
J.C. Moreno de Sousa, M. Okumura / Quaternary International 467 (2018) 292e296 293

with bifurcated stem, triangular body and occasionally serrated (Dias and Hoeltz, 2010 pp. 46e47). In this sense, sites previously
edges. Umbu was considered more ancient (6000e4000 years BP), associated to Humaita  Tradition should be associated to the Umbu
and the predominant bifacial point type was described as stemmed, Tradition. For example, boomerang shaped bifaces that are found in
with triangular body, including points with a lanceolated body (this southern Brazil from the early to late Holocene were first associated
description is an excellent example of how difficult it was to associate to the Altoparanaense industry, part of the Humait a Tradition
materials from new sites to either Umbu or Itapuí phase). Many other (Mengh, 1956) and later on were reclassified as part of the Umbu
attempts were made (mostly by researchers associated with PRO- Tradition (Hoeltz, 2005). Loponte (2012) describe problems related
NAPA) to organize the diversity observed in the bifacial points from to the Humaita  Tradition as a valid archaeological culture, since in
southern Brazil, resulting in the creation of a myriad of traditions and his research in the region of Misiones in Argentina, he identified
phases: Bituruna tradition (Chmyz, 1981), Iguaçu and Potinga Phases stemmed bifacial points - that could be associated to the Umbu
(Chmyz,1969), Vinitu Phase (Kern, 1981, pp. 215e220; Schmitz,1984, Tradition e together with boomerang shaped bifaces.
pp. 12e14; 1991), Itaguaje  Phase (Chmyz and Chmyz, 1986), Itaio 
Phase (Piazza, 1974), and Capivara Phase (Schmitz, 1991). Other au-
3. Discussion
thors kept associating some assemblages with bifacial points to the
Umbu Tradition (Mentz Ribeiro et al., 1989; Mentz Ribeiro and
It is likely that some of the most recent publications that we cite
Ribeiro, 1999). However, the lack of robust chronologies and the
here were not available at the time Su arez et al. (2017) were pre-
unclear definitions of the bifacial point classes (sensu Dunnell, 1971:
paring the manuscript. In any case, we will include them in order to
45) made the use of such nomenclature very difficult, especially
better present our ideas about the Umbu Tradition in southern and
when one had to assign a new site to one of these traditions or phases.
southeastern Brazil. We will focus on some of the statements put
The result was that later researchers, being unable to use such
forward by the Sua rez et al. (2017) and clarify them:
scheme, lumped most (if not all) sites that presented bifacial points in
southern Brazil into a single “tradition”- Umbu (Noelli, 1999/2000). “Several Brazilian researchers have recently reinterpreted some
Even in the case of sites presenting bifacial points in Sa~o Paulo state ideas and investigations carried out in the 1970s and 1980s.
(southeastern Brazil), the attempt to distinguish them from southern Some sites along the middle Uruguay River, in the Brazilian
materials (the Umbu Tradition) was unsuccessful. Miller (1972), border were originally researched by Miller (1987) and assigned
based on sites from Rio Claro region, defined the Rio Claro Tradition as to the “Uruguay phase,” are considered now part of the “Umbu
presenting bifacial points in some phases. Later however, Prous tradition” of southern Brazil according to new understandings
(1991, pp. 154) reports that this tradition would have been included (Okumura and Araujo, 2014; Araujo, 2015; Moreno de Sousa,
within Umbu Tradition (regardless of the fact that not all phases of 2017a, b)” [pp. 15].
the Rio Claro Tradition presented bifacial points).
Capelinha, an Early Holocene site from Ribeira de Iguape Valley
(southern Sa ~o Paulo state) which presented bifacial points was also
attributed to the Umbu Tradition (Lima, 2005; Alves, 2008; Figuti “Some researchers even extend the chronology of the “Umbu
and Plens, 2014), as well as the Santa Cruz site in central S~ ao tradition” from the late Pleistocene to historical times, including
Paulo state (Pardi et al., 2004) and Carcara site in eastern S~ao Paulo an extensive period of ca. 13,500 years. In this sense, it is sug-
state (Juliani, 2012); although no detailed studies were done to gested that “In chronological terms, the oldest age for Umbu is
understand the relation of such lithic industries to the southern 13,460 cal BP (11,555 ± 230 14C BP, site RS-IJ-68) and the
ones. Currently, the “Umbu bag” (to use the words of Sua rez et al., youngest ages reach the 17th century” (Okumura and Araujo,
2017) even encompasses sites in more northern settings, like Minas 2014, pp. 59)” [pp. 16].
Gerais state (Koole, 2007, 2014) and Mato Grosso do Sul state
(Kashimoto and Martins, 2009; Martins and Kashimoto, 2012).
The article by Okumura and Araujo (2014) aimed to explore the
Recent attempts to “empty the Umbu bag” have been made by
variability of bifacial points from the Garivaldino site, an early
researchers applying geometric morphometrics (Okumura and
Holocene site from southern Brazil presenting bifacial points and
Araujo, 2013, 2014; 2015, 2016), technological analysis (Moreno
good stratigraphic context, as well as chronological information.
de Sousa and Guimara ~es, 2016; Moreno de Sousa, 2014, 2017a;
Such variability was mainly explored in terms of size and shape,
2017b), and combinations of both (Bradley and Okumura, 2016;
applying geometric morphometrics, but raw material information,
Okumura et al., 2017) in order to explore the currently ignored
the frequencies of types, as well as metric data were also presented.
diversity in terms of size and shape, as well as technology, associ-
The assignment of the Garivaldino site to the Umbu Tradition was
ated with bifacial points from southern and southeastern Brazil.
made by the researchers who excavated the site in the 1980s
Another problem related to the Umbu Tradition was the associ-
(Mentz Ribeiro et al., 1989; Mentz Ribeiro and Ribeiro, 1999) and
ation of sites from the same coverage area and chronology to
such information is clearly presented in the article. Although the
another cultural entity known as Humaita  Tradition. To put it simply,
main purpose of the article was not to discuss the validity of the
in the same way that bifacial points became the “guide fossil” to
Umbu Tradition, the Okumura and Araujo (2014) state that:
classify a site as belonging to the Umbu Tradition, boomerang sha-
ped pieces were used to associate sites to Humaita  Tradition. “[…] problems started to arise when, after several decades of
Currently, most Brazilian archaeologists no longer take in account work, it became clear that this supposed ‘Umbu Tradition’ spans
the Humaita  Tradition, since it presents a series of problems very a chronological and geographic interval that seems too large: in
well detailed by Dias and Hoeltz (2010). According to the authors, geographic terms, it spreads across the southern part of Brazil
archaeological sites have been associated to Humait a Tradition comprising an area of, at least, 510,000 km2, but also encom-
mainly because of supposed differences on the use of spaces (loca- passing portions of Uruguay and Argentina (Caggiano, 1984;
tion of sites in the landscape) by hunter-gatherer and agricultural Rodríguez, 1992, Fig. 1). In chronological terms, the oldest age
groups in Southern Brazil, as well as the lack (with exceptions) of for Umbu is from the Ribeiro site (or RS-I-68 site), 13,460 cal BP
bifacial points. However, according to the authors, chronology and (11,555 þ- 230 14C years BP; wood charcoal, sample SI-3750;
the general characterization of the lithic industry indicate a clear Miller, 1987) and the youngest ages reach the 17th century”
contextual relation with the Umbu Tradition settlement system [pp. 59].
294 J.C. Moreno de Sousa, M. Okumura / Quaternary International 467 (2018) 292e296

excavated in the 1970s by Miller (1987). The RS-I-69 (Laranjito)

Therefore, Okumura and Araujo (2014) present what conven- site has a Fishtail point (Nami, 2013, pp. 16; see also Su
arez, 2017,
tionally has been considered as Umbu Tradition and they criticize pp. 188), was originally published in Fig. 13a,e by Miller (1987),
the idea of having an archaeological tradition so encompassing in and was reproduced recently by Moreno de Sousa (2017a,
terms of chronology and geography. Other articles by Okumura and Fig. 4A), who does not recognize the Fisthail point of RS-I-69
Araujo (2013, 2015; 2016), not included in the discussion by Sua rez site. Some ages of the Laranjito site (ca. 10,800 and 10,400 14C
et al. (2017) might help clarifying our position. The title of one of BP) are exactly within the range of expansion of the Fishtail
them, translated from Portuguese as “Undoing what was never groups in the Southern Cone (Waters et al., 2015). This high-
done: ‘Umbu’ bifacial points from Southern and Southeastern lights the incoherence in the terminology used to classify the
Brazil” shows our desire to dismantle the Umbu Tradition as site Laranjito (RS-I-69) as “Paleoindian-Umbu,” because the
something present in southern and southeastern Brazil. Okumura Fishtail groups do not have cultural or archaeological affinities
and Araujo (2016) state that: with Umbu” [pp. 16].
“[…] our preliminary results point to an important difference in
the morphology of the points from Sa ~o Paulo in relation to the Moreno de Sousa (2017a) presented original technological data
southern points of the country. Since Umbu tradition was on the lithic assemblage of the Laranjito site, with exception of the
defined based on the material found in southern sites, the points bifacial stemmed points since some of them were lost at some point
from S~ ao Paulo could not be considered part of this group. It may after the excavation and all information that remains refers only to
be possible that the points from Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso a photograph of these materials. Currently, there are only four
do Sul are also distinct from the points of the southern region. bifacial points (three of which are broken) supposedly, from the
[…] Our data shows, therefore, a very intriguing pattern, where Laranjito site (which are available for study) but they are missing
differences in point morphology seem to reflect territorial and contextual information. Laranjito site was associated with the
probably identity group differences between southern and Uruguay Phase (included in the Umbu Tradition) by Eurico Miller
southeastern hunter-gatherer groups in Brazil. These differences (1974/1976; 1987), the coordinator of the excavation. A complete
were not formerly recognized, due to the lack of both an explicit history of the research carried out by Miller in the Uruguay River
comparison between points of different regions, and of statis- basin is provided by Milder (2000, 2013). One of the points which
tically based studies as well. Far from being definitive, our data were lost, but recorded in a photograph, from the Laranjito site was
can be considered an initial effort in approaching this diversity identified as a Fishtail point by Nami (2013), based on its
[…]” [pp. 121e122]. morphology. If it were possible, a technological analysis would be
important to further support the classification of this specimen as a
Fishtail point. In fact, a few points which were classified as Fishtail
rez et al. (2017) also say that some authors continue to
points based mostly on morphology have been identified in
repeat and legitimate the Umbu Tradition concept that includes all
Southern and Southeastern Brazil (Loponte et al., 2016). Therefore,
palaeoindian sites from Southern Brazil and Uruguay:
it is not unlikely that the specimen from Laranjito could be classi-
“It is necessary to do a critical analysis of what the “Umbu fied as a Fishtail. More technological data on the bifacial points
tradition” encompasses (see below), as several contemporary from southern Brazil and Uruguay, including the ones previously
scholars have been trying to extend the chronology of what they identified as Fishtail type, are necessary to better understand the
call Umbu from the mid-Holocene to the late Pleistocene. If we Palaeoindian context in this region.
do a historical retrospective, we observe that from the mid- rez et al. (2017) criticizes that Moreno de Sousa
Finally, Sua
1970s to the present, sites with projectile points in south- (2017a) does not mention the previous research on Uruguay River
eastern Brazil are immediately classified and placed within the Basin. In this case, the author chose to narrow the discussion to
Umbu tradition, the next cite is one example: “The cultural unit sites that were previously associated with the Umbu Tradition.
known as the Umbu Tradition includes all archaeological sites However, such choice was not explicitly presented and we agree
presenting relevant bifacial-point production in the southern that the inclusion of such research on the Uruguay River Basin
Brazil region” (Moreno de Sousa, 2017a, pp. 80)” [pp. 16]. would have allowed a much more complete and contextualized
discussion about the prehistory of the region. As Suarez et al. (2017)
themselves clarify, there has been no mention of the concept of the
In this case, Moreno de Sousa (2017a) presents the general
Umbu Tradition in the Uruguayan bibliography in the last two de-
Brazilian understanding of the Umbu Tradition but makes clear that
cades. Still, we agree that including such research would result in a
his study:
better understanding of the regional archaeological record.
“[…] has presented the technological tendencies of only one
assemblage related to the Umbu Tradition; thus, additional
4. Conclusion
technological studies are needed to test the validity of the Umbu
Tradition hypothesis” [pp. 81].
The discussion presented by Sua rez et al. (2017) regarding the
need for a reassessment of Umbu Tradition in southern Brazil and a
In this sense, we agree with Suarez et al. (2017) that the Umbu better integration of such reassessment with the recent knowledge
Tradition may be taken as a hypothesis to be tested. that has been generated in the prehistory of Uruguay is undoubt-
Another statement by Sua rez et al. (2017) relates to the presence edly a topic that deserves attention from archaeologists working
of the “Fishtail points” in assemblages that were, at some point with lithic industries (with or without the presence of bifacial
identified as Umbu Tradition: points) from southern Brazil. Several Brazilian researchers have
argued for a better understanding of what is commonly named the
“[…] the site RS-I-69 (Laranjito) has been erroneously referred
“Umbu Tradition” (Hilbert, 1994; Milder, 1999; Dias, 2003, 2007;
to as “Paleoindian Umbu” (Moreno de Sousa, 2017a, Fig. 3). The
Morais, 1999/2000, to name a few) and our previous efforts
lithic material from the site that Moreno de Sousa (2017a, b) re-
(Okumura and Araujo, 2013, 2014; 2015, 2016; Bradley and
researches, comes from the RS-I-69 site (Laranjito), which was
Okumura, 2016; Moreno de Sousa and Guimara ~es, 2016; Moreno
J.C. Moreno de Sousa, M. Okumura / Quaternary International 467 (2018) 292e296 295

de Sousa, 2014, 2017a; 2017b; Okumura et al., 2017) are in agree- pp. 33e66.
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Eggers, S., Burchell, M., Klokler, D. (Eds.), The Cultural Dynamics of Shell Matrix
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Still, more data are needed to completely understand the context of Das Indústrias do RGS. PhD dissertation. Pontifícia Universidade Cato lica do Rio
the peopling of the region, and we expect that the abovementioned Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre.
Hoeltz, S.E., Lourdeau, A., Viana, S., 2015. Um Novo Conceito de Lascamento no Sul do
research, as well as new research groups that may be interested in Brasil: debitagem laminar na foz do rio Chapeco  (SC/RS). Rev. do Mus. Arqueol.
the subject, will bring us closer to this goal. In this sense, a move- Etnologia 25, 3e19.
ment is being made by us to bring a greater integration between Juliani, L.J.C.O., 2012. Relato  rio de Campo da Terceira Fase de Resgate Arqueolo gico
do Sítio CARCARA.  Loteamento Alphaville, Sa ~o Jose dos Campos, SP. Commercial
data generated in Uruguay and southern Brazil, beginning with the archaeology report, for IPHAN (Instituto do Patrimo ^nio Histo rico e Artístico
first attempt to identify Palaeoamerican points from Uruguay (Tigre Nacional - Brazilian Department of Antiquities).
and Pay Paso points) in southern and southeastern Brazil assem- Kashimoto, E.L.M., Martins, G.R., 2009. Arqueologia e Paleoambiente do Rio Parana 
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blages (Okumura and Sua ceramique du plateau sud-bre silien. PhD dissertation. Ecole
Kern, A.A., 1981. Le pre
endeavor could inspire more researchers to integrate data from 
des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris.
contextually related archaeological sites, regardless of current na- Koole, E.K.M., 2007. Pre -histo  ria da província C arstica do Alto S~ ao Francisco, Minas
tional boundaries. Gerais: A indústria lítica dos caçadores-coletores arcaicos. Master thesis. Museu
de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Universidade de Sa ~o Paulo.
Koole, E.K.M., 2014. Entre as tradiço ~ es plana lticas e meridionais: Caracterizaç~ ao
arqueolo gica dos grupos caçadores coletores a partir da ana lise de sete ele-
mentos e suas implicaço ~es para a ocupaça ~o pre-cera^mica da Regia ~o Ca
rstica do
This research was financially supported by the Coordination for Alto S~ao Francisco, Minas Gerais, Brasil: Cronologia, tecnologia lítica, subsiste ^ncia
the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (JCMS: CAPES PhD (fauna), sepultamentos, mobilidade, uso do espaço em abrigos naturais e arte
rupestre. PhD thesis. Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia, Universidade de S~ ao
Scholarship, CAPES PDSE 88881.132729/2016-01), British Academy/ Paulo.
Newton Mobility Grant Scheme 2014 (MO: NG140077), and the Lima, A.P.S., 2005. An alise dos processos formativos do sítio Capelinha: estabele-
Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Devel- cimento de um contexto microrregional. Master thesis. Museu de Arqueologia e
Etnologia, Universidade de S~ ao Paulo.
opment (MO: CNPq 443169/2014-9, 443242/2015-1). MO holds a 19102006-153609.
CNPq Research Productivity Scholarship (303566/2014-0). Loponte, D., 2012. Los extremos de la distribucio n: la llanura pampeana y la pro-
vincia de Misiones en la arqueología del nordeste. Anua rio Arqueol. 4 (4),
Acknowledgements Loponte, D., Okumura, M., Carbonera, M., 2016. New records of fishtail projectile
points from Brazil and its implications for its peopling. J. Lithic Stud. 3 (1),
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colleagues who have contributed to this work, especially those that Lourdeau, A., Hoeltz, S.E., Viana, S.A., 2017. Debitagem laminar no sul do Brasil
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