Brazilian coastal pre-colonial skeletal series were examined for accidental fractures, which were grouped according to biomechanical interpretation of the causative events, and results were interpreted based on cultural and environmental aspects. More than 19% of the shell mound builders and 27% of the fisher–hunter–gatherers presented healed fractures. Both series presented balanced values between male and female (18.7 and 20%, respectively, for shell mound builders; 28.1 and 25.6%, respectively, for fisher-hunter-gatherers), and more than the double that proportion of the individuals (69.6% for shell mound builder and 88.5% for fisher–hunter–gatherers) had localised lesions, associated with only one traumatic event. The most common type of fractures were those caused by falls blocked by lower limbs (47.8% for shell mound builders and 46.1% for fisher–hunter–gatherers), interpreted as a result of moving along the rocky coastal cliffs. Despite these similarities, both series presented particular aspects which were related mainly to differences in subsistence strategies. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.