At the beginning of the Christian era, potterymaking groups started occupying the southern region of Brazil (the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Paraná: FIGURE 1), their origins closely related to former inhabitants, mainly hunters and gatherers. Two major groups are recognized, from the hundreds of identified sites. Vestiges of the first, dispersed in settlements in the southernmost area and in the low savanna landscape, show that settlers of mounds — cerritos — were nomadic, their economy based on hunting, fishing and gathering. In the second, dispersed in the plateau and along adjacent coastal plains, settlers depended on gathering; at least in a few areas and in more recent periods they were sedentary, with the rudiments of more complex social and political patterns. The two settlement systems are in very different environmental, cultural and temporal contexts. Current research takes a normative view of culture, in which pottery has a place of honour and is classified by archaeological ‘traditions’ and ‘phases’. Yet both groups present pottery industries rather matched in time and space, obscuring evidence of internal differentiation or cultural change processes.