The verdict is still out as to when and from where the first indigenous populations arrived in South America. Dates vary from 10,000 to 30,000 years ago, and origins range from Asia (via a land bridge over the Bering Sea) to Africa (via canoe). Regardless of these conflicting theories, Brazilian Indians never developed the sophisticated cultures of their Andean neighbors, the Incas.
As such, to date, very few pre-Colombian traces have been uncovered aside from the richly decorative glazed ceramic pots fashioned by the Marajó and Tapajó Indians of the Amazon  and the expressive rock paintings found in the isolated caves of Gruta da Lapinha (Minas Gerais), the Parque Nacional da Serra da Capivara (Piaui), and the Amazonian town of Monte Alegre  (Pará). However, the identities of the peoples who created these works are shrouded in mystery.
When the first Portuguese explorers arrived in 1500, an estimated 3–4 million Indians lived in Brazil . Scattered in small groups, and speaking well over 100 languages, most lived in villages, where they survived by hunting, fishing, and gathering as well as cultivating crops such as corn and manioc. One of the main groups was the Tupi-Guarani, a seminomadic people who originally spread out from the Amazon Basin, migrating south and east to the coast. It was the fierce Tupi that greeted the first Portuguese navigators and their crew.
The Europeans were quite enthralled with these “noble savages,” and quickly began chronicling their lifestyles in manners both factual and fictional. When German mercenary Hans Staden was captured by a Tupi group in 1552, he was ritually fattened up and prepared for the feast—Tupi tradition involved eating one’s enemies, with the aim of imbibing their courage. When Staden was ready to become stew, his very un-warrior-like display of tears so disgusted the Tupi that they released him. Although wimpy in the eyes of his captors, Staden wrote a tell-all memoir of his adventures, which became a major bestseller back in Europe and considerably raised curiosity about the vast new land across the ocean.