Niede Handlebar



The scientist who became a bird

Niède Guidon is a globally recognized name in the field of archaeology. The São Paulo native from Jaú, daughter of a French father and a Brazilian mother, changed the history of the Americas through her ethnographic research in Serra da Capivara, in Piauí.

Graduated in Natural History from USP, Niède Guidon did not have an easy life. Threatened by the military dictatorship, she had to go into exile. In his own words, “I was from the University of São Paulo. And I had an aunt who had a friend who was a general. One day he called her and said: 'Niède has to leave today because she's going to be arrested'. My aunt came to my apartment, put me on the plane, and I left. It wasn't just me that happened. At the time, people who had not passed the USP professorship competition, who had come in second or third place, denounced their colleagues who had been approved to take their place. That was what happened.[1]

In France, he received his doctorate in Prehistoric Archeology at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Soubonne, specializing in rock art. After a few years teaching at École des Hautes Études in Social Sciences, he obtained support from the French government to research the region of São Raimundo Nonato, in Piauí, returning in 1973, and where he still lives today. The first studies of the Franco-Brazilian Archaeological Mission were organized by her, with the help of Silvia Maranca and Luciana Pallestrini, from USP.

Until then, the most accepted theory about the peopling of the Americas, which you probably learned at school, proposed that the pioneers crossed the Bhering Strait, between Siberia and Alaska, and went down to South America. One of the arguments is that this would justify the physiognomic similarity between Asian people and American Indians.

Another current believes that America was populated by navigators who crossed the Pacific – it is not known whether by accident or intentionally – and sought to establish connections with the Malays and Polynesians. These two theories work with the hypothesis that this occurred between 20 thousand and 35 thousand years ago.

Niède Guidon's research in Piauí reached surprising results. Documenting hundreds of cave paintings, artifacts and remains of fires, and even making contact with the last indigenous people of the Serra da Capivara region, the scientist put into the scientific world, for the first time, the hypothesis that African navigators were the first to set foot on the Americas. The dates of their discoveries reach 58 thousand years.

An earthquake in academia. How does a woman (a woman!) claim that the first Americans were black? Or, at most, Arabs? The types of prejudice that Niède Guidon faced in order to be heard have yet to be narrated in detail. For more than 50 years she photographed, excavated, researched, compared and discussed her discoveries with her peers.

Opponents argue that the artifacts she found are actually geofacts (products of action of natural forces). If we search the internet today about “population of the Americas”, we will see that her name is barely mentioned. O "homo sapiens academicus”, variety Sunrise, does not allow female competition. And not even if Africans arrived first.

The brave warrior didn't just fight at the Academy. In 1979, together with other researchers and with support from UNESCO, she managed to create the Serra da Capivara National Park under the João Figueiredo government. In 1991, the park was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In São Raimundo Nonato (PI) she created the Museum of American Man Foundation, of which she is president emeritus.

Other areas of science, less jealous, embraced the scientist. And a very special tribute comes from biologists: this week (June/2024) the magazine Nature published an article that recognizes a new species of bird, typical of the caatinga, popularly called the northeastern hatchet. Its scientific name becomes Sakesphoroides niedeguidonae.

Niède Guidon, at the age of 91, can smile and quote Mário Quintana's well-known verse in an absolutely personal way from now on: “They will pass, me little bird!”

* Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.


[1] Cristina Serra, “Niède Guidon, Half a Century of Struggle in Serra da Capivara".

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