Nevertheless the word índios ("Indians") was by then established to designate the people of the New World and stuck being used today in the Portuguese language to designate these peoples, while the people of India, Asia are called indianos in order to distinguish the two people.
At the time of European discovery, some of the indigenous peoples were traditionally mostly semi-nomadic tribes who subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Many of the estimated 2,000 nations and tribes which existed in the 16th century died out as a consequence of the European settlement, and many were assimilated into the Brazilian population.
The Indigenous population was largely killed off by the Spanish, declining from a pre-Columbian high of millions to some 300,000 (1997), grouped into some 200 tribes. However, the number could be much higher if the urban Indigenous populations are counted in all the Brazilian cities today. A somewhat dated linguistic survey found 188 living indigenous languages with 155,000 total speakers.
On 18 January 2007, FUNAI reported that it had confirmed the presence of 67 different uncontacted tribes in Brazil, up from 40 in 2005. With this addition Brazil has now overpassed New Guinea as the country having the largest number of uncontacted peoples.
Brazilian Indigenous people have made substantial and pervasive contributions to the world's medicine with knowledge used today by pharmaceutical corporations, material and cultural development-such as the domestication of cassava and other natural foods.
In the last IBGE census (2006), 519,000 Brazilians classified themselves as indigenous, even though millions of Brazilians have Amerindian ancestry.