The settlement of the Guianas started in the Paleo-Indian period, although there is no direct archaeological proof making it possible to specify exactly when this took place. The climate conditions were drier and human groups lived in a landscape made up of dense humid forest on the higher land, dry forest on the planes, and coastal and inland savannahs that covered a greater area than they do today. The sea level was also 100 metres lower meaning there was a larger land mass. The people of this period were nomadic hunter-gatherers living largely of hunting very large game that no longer exists (mastodons, megatheriums, and so on).

The Meso-Indian period was a formative phase during which the Amazonian man invented and innovated. Once the megafauna had died out the hunters had to make do with smaller animals, and certain human groups living on the Atlantic coast or along the middle stretches of the Amazon started subsisting on shellfish. The earliest traces of pottery appear around 6000 BC in the middle Amazon and areas of invention from slightly later dates have been identified along the coasts of Pará and in the north-east of Guiana. The first attempts to domesticate manioc may well have taken place during a dry period between 5000 and 2500 BC that resulted in an increase in open spaces and encouraged the growing of wild manioc.

From the Neo-Indian period onwards the climate and environmental conditions were more or less the same as they are now. Technical inventions originally developed during the Meso-Indian period started to be fully mastered and human groups became more sedentary. They progressively altered their mode of subsistence, domesticating new plants (corn) and intensifying their agricultural practices. In addition to this they selected and farmed various forest species which were useful either for their diet or for crafts. The number of people living in neo-Indian communities gradually increased, triggering local and regional instability and resulting in the emergence of more structured and better organised societies, as well as a more strident affirmation of the concept of territoriality.