American archaeologist, James Brant Petersen, 51, was murdered Saturday night in the Manacapuru region of the Amazon rainforest, about 14 miles from Manaus, the capital of Amazon state.
Petersen and three colleagues (one Brazilian and two Americans) on their way back from Manaus stopped in a restaurant by the Manoel Urbano state highway. The road also known as M-070 connects Manaus to the city of Iranduba.
They were celebrating the fact that they had found an indigenous urn in the area. While they were having dinner, two armed men invaded the place robbing the cashier and demanding that the restaurant’s customers put their belongings into a backpack. The robbers were already on their way out when one of them turned to Petersen and shot him.
“None of us reacted, we are shocked at the brutality of the crime”, said Eduardo Góes Neves, the Brazilian in the group, who is a professor of Archaeology at USP (Universidade de São Paulo).
According to Neves, the four of them did not react and they followed the instructions from the robbers to surrender their valuables.
The Brazilian anthropologist told reporters, “I translated the robbers orders to them, since they do not speak Portuguese. We put the cell phone and the money we had in the backpack they handed us.”
“I don’t know why but James seemed more nervous than the rest of us, but still he didn’t show any visible reaction. The robbers were already leaving when one of them came back and, in what seemed a random act, pointed the revolver at James and shot him in the chest.”
Petersen and Neves were studying the possibility that the Brazilian Amazon Indians had fought wars before the arrival of the Portuguese into the country in 1500. Theirs is a ten-year project They had already found in excavations remains of primitive fortifications that protected the old villages.
Petersen was a professor at the University of Vermont’s Anthropology Department. His work in Brazil had been the subject of scientific publications and BBC TV had made a documentary about his findings.
After being shot, Petersen was still taken to a nearby hospital by his colleagues, but he died on the way there. The case is being investigated by the Iranduba’s police, the city where the American’s body was taken to.
Two suspects were arrested and the police is searching for other three who might also have taken part in the crime. Police say the criminals were high on cocaine when they killed the American professor.
The body of the slain American, who was married but had no children, is to be flown Wednesday, August 17, to Burlington, in Vermont, where he will be buried.
He was the second American killed in the Brazilian Amazon this year. US missionary Dorothy Stang was slain by hired gunmen in February for her work against loggers and ranchers in the area.