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Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall


Friday, December 31, 2010

Erectus in America, The Journey from Asia

 
Homo erectus
Homo Erectus. Adapted from [3] by Austin Whittall

Homo erectus remains have only been found, until now, in the Old World (Africa, Europe and Asia). They may have entered Australia (if my interpretation of the "robust" crania found in Kow Swamp is correct). However, no bones belonging to H. erectus have been found in America (yet).

I find this unusual, why would an intelligent hominid, a direct ancestor of modern humans, who evolved in Africa some 1.9 Million years ago, and shortly after (1.8 million years ago) moved out of his home into Asia not be able to reach America after colonizing the whole of the Old World?

He was bright (brainier than any other previous hominid) and in fact, during his time and until the appearance of modern man, he was the most intelligent creature on earth. He was, therefore, capable and well equipped to do so. Would he have stopped in northern China because it was just too cold to go on?

Modern man, when faced with the same circumstances, and with the same basic survival kit (furs as clothes, stone tools and the ability to light a fire), moved on, after his prey into America. H. erectus (which, by the way, means "upright man" in Latin) could surely have done the same.

The question is: Did he?

H. erectus was a very successful species, they survived for nearly 1.8 million years until they became extinct (perhaps wiped out by men and here wiped out means that: genocide, or, maybe they were unable to compete with us in the same ecological niche and just died out).

In comparison, we, modern Homo sapiens have only managed to keep alive for 150 thousand years, less than 10% of the time that H. erectus lived. Theris was quite a feat, and it is a clear indication of their capabilities.

Into America.

For H. erectus to reach America, he needed a route, the ability to do so and the gear to cope with the different colder regions he would have to trek through to get there, and also, have enough time to do so before men appeared in the New World.

As mentioned above, they had the capability to do so because they had already walked all the way from Africa to Java and northern China, and because they survived for over one and a half million years in a menacing world, packed with man-eating beasts.

Lets look at the other factors:

a. The time frame

After leaving Africa, and until modern man did the same thing some some 150 thousand years ago, H. erectus had the whole world for themselves. They walked our of Africa and peopled Eurasia. Their remains have been found in Indonesia and China and some intermediate spots outside of Africa.
So, we are talking about roughly 1.7 million years to walk from Africa to Tierra del Fuego; plenty of time.

b. The way

There is one easy way and one difficult way, the easy way is walking on dry ground, from China to Alaska and from there to the rest of America.

This would require a dry land route across Bering Strait, or (the difficult way), boats and able seamen to row them along the coasts of Asia and Alaska into America.

I am not taking into account a possible trans-Pacific route because I believe that it is quite improbable. There is limited evidence of island hopping erectus in the Indonesian area, which could be used to explain a coastal sea route for a bunch of these hominids from Asia to America, and even further, along the Pacific coast, all the way to Patagonia.

Read more about H. erectus the seaman and sailor.

Beringia

But lets take a look at the more probable dry route, from Siberia to Alaska which is an intermittent one, the "Beringia Land Bridge".

Though it first came into existence 70 million years ago during the Age of the Dinosaurs, it has formed many times since then and allowed exchange of animals across it.

Beringia is always mentioned as the route taken by modern man into America, and it is always placed in the most recent Ice Age context (not before 30,000 years ago). But for H. erectus to have crossed it, we must look further back in time, over half a million years ago, and maybe even one million years or even more.

The Bering and Chukchi Seas are shallow and the seabed (which is less than 100 meters - 330 ft. below current sea level) is very flat. When sea levels drop about 50 m below present levels, (and this happens when ice is trapped in glacial ice during the Ice Ages), it emerges from the receding sea levels and serves as a temporary land bridge linking Asia and America.

Then, when the climate shifts and warms up again, causing glaciers to melt, sea level rises, flooding the bridge and cutting-off connection between the Old and the New worlds.

We know that during the Villafranchian stage (a period which spans the Upper Pliocene and Lower Pleistocene from 3.6 to 1.2 Million years ago), Beringia was dry and and served as a bridge. During this period the American horse crossed into the Old World using the "bridge", and Archidiskodon elephants migrated into America from Asia. [1]

Also, during the last 500 thousand years, the bridge formed several times as the world cooled during glaciations.

The name "bridge" is actually a misnomer, as it was a vast flat treeless steppe covered with -depending on the weather of that period- grasses or tundra, on which the roaming megafauanal beasts fed.

Mammoths, woolly rhinos, bison, horses and deer (caribou) lived there as well as their usual predators. So there was a resource which could be exploited for food during the crossing.

Though cold, it was not covered with glaciers thousands of meters thick like the rest of northern America or the northern parts of Europe or Arctic Asia, it was not too different from the conditions they encountered in Asia at that time.
So we have a feasible route which was in place early enough to allow our distant ancestor to cross into America right after he reached Asia, during the late Villafranchian stage.

c. Cold and H. erectus

Assuming that H. erectus moved further north than his known northernmost territory in China, close to Beijing, he was well equipped to face the tough Siberian and Beringian weather, consider this [2]:

  • There is evidence that they used fire as early as 1.6 million years ago.
  • They had their own distinctive stone tools, the Acheulean, which they used to butcher the animals that they hunted.
  • They were hunter - gatherers and there is evidence that they engaged in big game hunting, a clear indication of their intellectual level and the possible use of language.
  • North China climate was cold, so it is likely that they used clothing.

Closing comments

So, it is possible that over one million years ago H. erectus marched from China into Alaska and from there dispersed across the New World. Surely he would have -as he did in Asia, remain close to the coast. Which due to lower sea levels of that time, was far away from the current coastline (and is now surely submerged). However there must be, as in Asia, caves and dwellings awaiting to be discovered or (as seems the case with several findings ignored by mainstream archaeology), acknowledged by science.

Bye bye 2010, hello 2011

Well, as this is my last post for 2010, I want to wish you all a Very Happy New Year, may 2011 bring out the best in all of us!

Sources.

[1] David Moody Hopkins, (1967). The Bering Land Bridge. Stanford Univ. Press. pp. 281
[2] Joseph Sneed. Colorado School of Mines. Homo Erectus.
[3] Aedeen Cremin, (2007). Archaeologica: The World's Most Significant Sites and Cultural Treasures. Frances Lincoln ltd. pp.204



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homo erectus and humans - American link

 
Yuki text
The "Yuki" of California... Homo erectus?. From [1]

Continuing with our Homo erectus - "hominid cryptids in America" set of posts, I have been reading the oddest stuff on the web. The image above mentions the possibility that some strange Californian natives, the Yuki, which may be related to H. erectus or to the Ainu (from Japan).

Lets see who were the Yuki and the Ainu people:

The Yuki

They spoke (past tense because the language is now extinct) a language, Yukian, whose "linguistic affiliations remain among the most unclear in native North America" [3], an isolate.

Apparently the Yuki "were extremely long headed and short-statured" and "may be called with reason the original Californian Indian all others [...] being late comers" [7].

Does the fact that they were long headed mean they were dolichocephalic?

If so (see my post on Homo Erectus in America - part 3), they shared this feature with old H. erectus and with the Paleoindians (the ancestors of current Indians).

Yuki woman
A "Yuki Woman" (1924). From [2]


Ammong some curiosities, we can mention that they, as well as theChumash, and the Salinin Californian natives, counted by fours and not by fives like the rest of us do. They did this because their number base was not their fingers but the spaces between them. [6]

The arrival of Caucasic Americans to California starting in the 1830s, forced them out of their lands and led to what some call a genocide. They were virtually exterminated. There is plenty of information on the Yuki in the following link, [4]:



Ainu

The article which opened this post mentioned the Ainu (name which in their language meant simply "human"). These were a native indigenous group of people that lived in Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, and also on the Kuril Islands and the southern half of Sakhalin Island. There are about one hundred and fifty thousand extant Ainu, though their culture has been gradually lost to the encroaching Japanese.

They are taller than the Japanese, and have dark eyes and are hairier than the Japanese (in this they are similar to Europeans). They surprised the Western explorers and traders who met them because of their appearance, which is quite different from that of the other northern Asian people.

See some Ainu photographs here,[5] which, as far as I can see are quite different from the woman shown above, their noses are not flat or wide.

To be continued...

Sources.

[1] Dreier, Frederick G., (1986). Homo Erectus in America: Possibilities and problems. Lambda Alpha Journal of Man, v.17, no.1-2, 1985-1986. Citing: Gifford, E.W., (1926). California Anthropometry. University of California Publications in Archaeology and Ethnology.22:217-390.
[2] Edward S. Curtis,(1924). The North American Indian. Photograph: A Yuki Woman. Facing pp. 24. Available at the: Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis's 'The North American Indian': the Photographic Images, 2001. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award98/ienhtml/curthome.html
[3] Edward Sapir, (1994). The collected works: Ethnology. Walter de Gruyter, pp. 179.
[4] Robert Heizer, (1978). Handbook of North American Indians: California. Govt. Printing Office. Vol. 3. pp. 249.
[5] Photographs of the Boone Collection. The Field Museum.
[6] John Kellermeier, Ethnomathematic Examples. Chap. 1
[7] Albert B. Elasser, (1980). The natural world of the California Indians.
University of California Press, pp. 20.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Homo erectus and humans (part 1)

 
Homo erectus in America: this is the theme I will be posting about in my next entries. I believe that our distant and ancient relative may be a reasonable, plausible, logical explanation for several Patagonian cryptids: the giant bellicose Tirenmen and Patagonian Giants and probably the "hairy men" found in the deepest forests such as the ape men at Taitao, Chile.

With this in mind, I began reading about fossils, remains and genetic clues that may prove (or disprove) that H. erectus reached America.

H. erectus genes survive in modern humans

In 2005, Daniel Garrigan and a group of colleagues of the University of Arizona have studied a very specific region of the X chromosome* known as RRM2P4, and found that if has a great variability between humans from different parts of the world. [1]

* The X chromosome is one of the two sex chromosomes in humans (the other is the Y chromosome). Men have an X and a Y (XY), while women carry two X (XX).

To do this they sampled about 570 people, in a group that included Africans, Europeans (Dutch, Italians), Melanesians, Chinese, Japanese, and Central Asians. Their findings are surprising:

The presence of this basal lineage exclusively in Asia results in higher nucleotide diversity among non-Africans than among Africans. A global survey of a single-nucleotide polymorphism that is diagnostic for the basal, Asian lineage in 570 individuals shows that it occurs at frequencies up to 53% in south China, whereas only one of 177 surveyed Africans carries this archaic lineage. [1]

Clearly RRM2P4 is “not African”.

The cause of this difference is an ancient genetic split, and after statistical analysis, Garrigan et al concluded that all these different forms of RRM2P4 share a common “ancestor” dating back to about two million years ago.

This is roughly when our ancestor Homo erectus moved out of Africa and migrated to Asia. Additionally, the oldest form of this RRM2P4 is not African, but Asian, where it is still found.

According to Cox, H. erectus may have still been alive in Asia some 30,000 years ago, and thus could have had plenty of time to meet, intermingle (i.e. mate) with modern humans H. sapiens, and share their genes with us.

In the words of Garrigan’s team:

It is possible that the divergent, […] may be the result of recent admixture between two divergent populations; that is, the expanding anatomically modern human population and Homo erectus. [1]

No erectus, just humans

However, those that disagree, say that this is no proof of mating with H. erectus, actually the same differences between the RRM2P4 between humans could have appeared without any external intervention and that these people who have them are “outliers”, the “tips” of a normal distribution (remember statistics? Gauss’ bell?, well, there is a small but likely chance that people have unusual genes not shared by others).

Another option is that those having the “Asian” kind of RRM2P4 originated in Africa, and those that migrated to Asia survived, passing on their genes to their descendants while those left behind in Africa died out.


Both of these options were also recognized by Garrigan et al: “It is possible that the divergent, basal lineage was carried out of Africa and subsequently lost in Africa and/or increased in frequency in Asia by genetic drift.”[1].


More evidence for an Eurasian "melting pot"

A group led by Etienne Patin has looked into the The human N-acetyltransferase genes, of which two varieties exist: NAT1 and NAT2 and found evidence to support the RRM2P4 findings:

An alternative and most likely scenario to explain our data is a demographic event such as ancient population structure. A number of studies have recently reported gene genealogies that present not only unexpectedly old coalescent times (∼2 MYA) but also long basal branches [...]
Our observations at NAT1, together with these studies, further support the view that some diversity in the genome of modern humans may have persisted from a structured ancestral population [...]
In addition, NAT1*11A appears to be absent in sub-Saharan Africa, [...]
Therefore, the observation that the NAT1 gene tree is rooted in Eurasia questions the geographic location of such a structured ancestral population (Takahata et al. 2001). The origins of NAT1*11A could thus be placed either in sub-Saharan Africa, from where it must have subsequently disappeared, or in Eurasia. Should the latter be the case, the NAT1 gene tree is at odds with the commonly accepted replacement hypothesis (Lewin 1987) and is more parsimoniously explained by the occurrence of partial hybridization between modern humans expanding from Africa and preexisting hominids in Eurasia.
[2]

In plain English, the gene is not found in sub-Saharan Africa so if it originated in Africa, it died out there. It is found in Asia, it is old (approx. 2 million years old - roughly the "age" of H. erectus). It is likely that modern humans received it due to "hybridization" (i.e. mating) with "preexisting hominids in Eurasia" (i.e. H. erectus).

The question is open.

I have been trying to find data on RRM2P4 in Amerindians and particularly in Patagonian natives, but have not found anything. If H. erectus had moved into America his genes would also be found there, if and when he had time to mate with humans before we exterminated them.
Lets take a look at the Patagonian's genome and see what it tells us.


Sources

[1] Daniel Garrigan, Zahra Mobasher, Tesa Severson, Jason A. Wilder and Michael F. Hammer, (2005). Evidence for Archaic Asian Ancestry on the Human X Chromosome. Molecular Biology and Evolution, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 189-192. Feb. 2005.
[2] Etienne Patin et al, (2006). Deciphering the Ancient and Complex Evolutionary History of Human Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase Genes. Am J Hum Genet. 2006 March; 78(3): 423–436.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homo Erectus in America - More

 
Melanesia map
Map of Melanesia. From [2]

Came across a very interesting article online today, it relates to some remains found in a Siberian cave, at Denisova, (I posted about this in my entry on Homo erectus in America - Part 2), which shared a common ancestor with modern humans about one million years ago.

"Densiovians" and Melanesians

Well, this article "DNA says new human relative roamed widely in Asia" mentions that these Denisovians were not restricted to their cave habitat in central Asia, but, seem to have spread out across Asia:

Scientists found evidence that in the genomes of people now living in Melanesia, about 5 percent of their DNA can be traced to Denisovans, a sign of ancient interbreeding that took researchers by surprise.[1]

Melanesia, as the map above shows, is just above Australia and comprises not only Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Caledonia, but also Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Somehow these distant relatives got their DNA into modern Melanesians in Southeast Asia, but there are two possibilities:

1. Mating with modern humans after we came out of Africa and reached that area some 55,000 years ago.
2. No intermixing. Both Denisovians and modern Melanesians have retained ancestral strands of DNA in our genes, sequences that other modern humans have lost.

"Denisovians" in America?

It would be interesting to see if modern Amerindian populations have the same ancestral DNA as Denisovians, which would indicate that either the Denisovians came to America first, and mixed with the later humans when we arrived in America later.
Or, that a group of humans with Denisovian DNA moved into America and settled there.

Perhaps Denisovians could explain the "hominid" ape men or "Bigfoot" sightings in America just as easily as Homo erectus could. What is needed is to prove that one or the other came to America: we must find remains or artifacts made by them.

Melanesians in America?

Regarding people in South East Asia and their possible migration to America, I wrote about it in my book [3]:

mtDNA taken from skeletons of the now extinct Yagan, Selk’nam and Alakaluf populations as well as Aonikenk Tehuelche show that they, from a genetic viewpoint, were different from all other American natives (including the Mapuche in northern Patagonia).
[...]
Human remains discovered in Brazil show a very strong resemblance to modern South Pacific people, suggesting that America was first colonized by the generalized human (Homo sapiens) population that inhabited East Asia in the Late Pleistocene. These people arrived in America in very ancient times long before the Mongolid morphology of the forebearers of the Clovis had evolved
[3]

Portuguese anthropologist Mendes Correia (1888-1960) proposed a migration route for these "Austronesians" from their homeland in Australia via Tasmania, the Antarctic and Drake Passage, instead of a trans-Pacific oceanic route, entering South America at Tierra del Fuego some 8,000 years BP. It his a highly disputed concept and lacks archaeological proof. Alternatively they could have sailed across the Pacific Ocean.

This same notion, but regarding the Melanesians reaching America through Polinesia was put forward by Erland Nordenskiold in 1931, [4] an event which would have happened long before the arrival of modern Polynesians in the region. This could account for many similar myths shared by peoples on both sides of the Pacific, and particularly, some that are common to Australians and Patagonians regarding mythical (or maybe real) monsters and entities such as: Yowie, Gubba, Mimi, Bunyip, the "Dreamtime". Or maybe these coincidences can be due to the "genetic memory" mentioned in yesterday's post, a shared "archetype" common to all humans.

Interesting reading on Homo erectus in America and very interesting topics regarding our ancient ancestor: The Pleistocene Coalition, they challenge conventional (or should I say "orthodox" views in a scientific way).

Sources.

[1] Malcom Ritter, (2010). DNA says new human relative roamed widely in Asia, AP Science writer. 22.12.10.
[2] ANU College of Asia & the Pacific. The Australian National University
Melanesia
[3] Whittall Austin. (2010). Unpublished. Patagonian Monsters. Zagier & Urruty. Soon to be released.
[4] Kenneth Emory, (1942). Oceanian Influence on American Indian Culture. Nordenskiold's veiw. Volume 51 1942 > The Journal of Polynesian Society. Vol 51 No. 2 pb 126-135


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chueiquehuecu (La Pampa) monster

 

Yesterday I mentioned a book by Alberto Vuletín on the name places of La Pampa province, Argentina, just north of the Patagonian border (marked by the Colorado River). Besides hairy snakes, the book also mentions another strange creature, the Chueiquehuecú.

Chueiquehuecú

There is a place close in the Capital Department of the province of La Pampa, known as Monte Chué, which is the abbreviated form for the Copse of the Chueiquehuecú.

This being is described as a "Fabulous animal" also known as "Chué" or "Chuel", that " lives permanently in the water or in very humid places. They believe that it harms those that swim and that sometimes it can be seen roaming the shady forests.[1]

According to historian Rodolfo Casamiquela [2], the name is not a Mapuche word but perhaps of the Northern Tehuleche natives, and its meaning is unknown.

The Mapuche occupied the region after the 1600s, displacing and absorbing the original inhabitants of Tehuelche origin. The Tehuelche in turn occupied the whole of Eastern Patagonia, and part of the Pampas prairies, from Tierra del Fuego (where they were known as Selk'nam) to Buenos Aires (they were named Pampas in that area). The Mapuche, after the Spanish displaced them from their homeland in Chile, crossed the Andes into Argentina and imposed their culture and language on the Tehuelche groups and also on other natives of Neuquén province of Huarpid origin (the Pehuenches, Pichunches and Manzaneros).

If the word is of Tehuelche origin, is is indeed ancient and predates any possible myths introduced by the Mapuche.

Chel or Chuel

On the other hand, another publication [5], referring to a Patagonian town named Choele Choel, set on the Negro River (which got its name from a large fertile island in the river), says that the words Choele and Choel may not be Mapuche; but if they were, the name is surely spelt incorrectly. It goes on to state that the closest similar word for "Choel" is: "Chel" a Mapuche word meaning "frightening or terrifying being".

You can read about the evil connotations given to the word "Chel" in my post on the Tachwull dwarves, related to evil spirits known as "chelule" or "sechu".

A word which, as we can see is a mystery in itself: is it Tehuelche or Mapuche?
Either way, its connotation is evil and inspires fear.

The Huallipen "sheep-calf"

However, Vuletín in another book [3] says that the Chueiqhehuecu is no other than the Mapuche myhtical beast, the "huallepéñ", which is definitively a Mapuche beast (see my post on Huallipen, the "sheep - calf"), which is an agile and dangerous aquatic beast that attacks people and animals fiercely.

So, here we have a creature that is common to two native groups and has a distinctive name in each culture: Chueiquehuecu (Tehuelche) and Huallipen (Mapuche).

Huecú

But you may have noticed that the name of the monster ends with the word "huecu", this, according to Chilean folklorist Vicuñ Cifuentes, is a "terrible", "ugly", "aquatic [being] that lives in shallow and solitary lakes", an "amphibian" that drags its victims under water with horse and all.[4] It is found in Chile.

Its horse dragging abilities are similar to those of the Gurufilu fox-snake.

The animal seems to have quite a wide range, from Chile to Northern Patagonia. What it is though, will remain a mystery.

Sources.

[1] Alberto Vuletín, (1972). La Pampa, Grafías y etimologías toponímicas aborígenes. B. Aires, Eudeba. pp. 142.
[2] Rodolfo Casamiquela, (1968). Geonimia: obra mapa de La Pampa., Biblioteca Pampeana, pp. 22.
[3] Alberto Vuletín (1982), Huecuvumapu. Gardenia, pp. 45.
[4] Vicuña Cifuentes, (1947), Mitos y Supersticiones, Nascimiento. pp. 53+.
[5] Boletín de la Academia Nacional de la Historia, Vol. 34. 1963, pp.798.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Giants in Brazil, not too far from Patagonia

 


Turner's Brazilian flat headed giants. From [1]

William Turner (1508? - 1568), the "Naturalist Turner" mentioned above, was an Englishman who had studied medicine in Italy, and was a "natural historian". He had befriended Conrad Gessner, a Swiss naturalist, whose work Historiae animalium which he published in five volumes between 1551 and 1558 is the starting point of the modern scientific study of zoology.

Turner and his Brazilian Giants

But getting back to Turner. Did he travel to Brazil? I have not found evidence that proves he was anywhere near Brazil. Yet not only does the article shown above [1], say so, but also several others printed in the second half of the eighteenth century. He died before the well known English expeditions to southern South America so these were not his sources. Perhaps during his exile on the European mainland he spoke to navigators who had sailed along Brazil or read their accounts. Yet, the date given in some accounts (1610) for his remarks about the flat headed natives, are 42 years after his death. Something does not fit in here!.

But getting back to his story: his giants with the hinder part of their heads [...] flat are indeed quite remarkable. But could people with such heads really exist?

Other people with a "flat occipital bone"

Not surprisingly we find that there really is a group of people with a "flat occipital bone" (the bone at the back of your skull), the Dinaric people, which are characterized as brachymorphic [2]. They are described as having an "extremely flat occiput" and also, as "tall statured people with average height of 172 cm, 5' 8"  " and living in the Dinaric Alps (whic span parts of Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo), Albania and parts of the Austrian Tyrol and Central Europe [3].

So, is the flat skull linked to tallness?, could the flat skulled giants mentioned by Turner be an extreme example of this trait? Perhaps yes: people suffering from Weaver Syndrome, a congenital genetic syndrome, are tall (average height of 194 cm in men - nearly 6' 3") and have "flat occiput" [4].

An anti-racist disclaimer

Having said all this, I do want to make it perfectly clear that I agree with the
American Anthropological Association Statement on "Race" (May 17, 1998), part of which I copy below:

it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic "racial" groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within "racial" groups than between them. In neighboring populations there is much overlapping of genes and their phenotypic (physical) expressions. Throughout history whenever different groups have come into contact, they have interbred. The continued sharing of genetic materials has maintained all of humankind as a single species.
Physical variations in any given trait tend to occur gradually rather than abruptly over geographic areas. And because physical traits are inherited independently of one another, knowing the range of one trait does not predict the presence of others.
[5]

Furthermore the notion of "race" has had hideous consequences: Ultimately "race" as an ideology about human differences was subsequently spread to other areas of the world. It became a strategy for dividing, ranking, and controlling colonized people used by colonial powers everywhere. But it was not limited to the colonial situation. In the latter part of the 19th century it was employed by Europeans to rank one another and to justify social, economic, and political inequalities among their peoples. During World War II, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler enjoined the expanded ideology of "race" and "racial" differences and took them to a logical end: the extermination of 11 million people of "inferior races" (e.g., Jews, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals, and so forth) and other unspeakable brutalities of the Holocaust. [5]

So, when I mention brachycephalic, flat occiputs, Dinaric people, etc. I am not classifying anyone in a strict "racial" niche or demeaning them, but, trying to find out if general trends shared by certain groups of people, may indicate certain links between genes and physical build, and point to eras long gone, when small bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the earth. Bands that through interbreeding may have concentrated certain traits within the group and led to a tribe of Giants.

Giants in Brazil and their link to the Patagons

This nice story of Turner's flat headed giants however does not link the Brazilian giants with Patagonia's giant Patagons, because, as I mentioned in a previous post on homo erectus in Patagonia, these were not brachycephalic but dolichocephalic.

It is a shame, because when I read Turner's story, I immediately thought that I had come across some evidence of a group of natives living along the South Atlantic coast of South America from Patagonia to the south of Brazil.

Sources.

[1] Giants, Second essay. The Lady's monthly museum, Vernor & Hood, 1822. Vol.16, pp. 312.
[2] Ilse Schwidetzky, A. B. Chiarelli and Olga C. Necrasov, (1980). Physical anthropology of European populations. Mouton, pp. 285.
[3] Ram Nath Sharma and Rajendra Kumar Sharma, (1997). Anthropology. Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, pp. 108.
[4] M. Cappa, M. Maghnie, S. Loche and G. F. Bottazzo, (2009). Endocrine Involvement in Developmental Syndromes Karger, vol. 14. pp. 57.
[5] AAA Statement on Race


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Monsters, Cryptozoology and Genetic Memory

 
DNA and monsters
Monsters, are they written in our genes?

Today I read an interesting post in a blog (see [1]) on Genetic Memory. Which was defined as:

a process in which a memory is passed down through the generations without the individual having to experience first-hand the topic of the memory. [1]

So, for instance, the fear of snakes, which is virtually universal across mankind can be explained as follows:

Snakes are really dangerous and we evolved in the tropical climes of Africa, where snakes are abundant. If we were frightened enough to keep clear of snakes, our survival (and our species’) would be greatly enhanced. So, this fear was somehow (alas, no explanation is given for the hard-wiring mechanism) incorporated into our genes and thus transmitted to future generations. So, even nowadays, people who have never seen a snake are frightened of them, and get out of their way.

Genetic memory would be an evolutionary adaptation to our survival, and, snakes are not alone as part of this "memory"; the post mentions several other “ingrained” fears:
  • Ape men (apparently caused by the rival Neanderthal hominds)
  • Universal Floods
  • Incubus, Succubus and demons
  • Ghosts
  • Lake monsters, wild cats, werewolves and terror birds

To his credit, the author states in a rational manner: “ Personally I think [Genetic Memory] is a really flimsy idea, somewhat logical when discussing global phobias but lacking in logic when it comes to modern day sightings of global phenomena” [1].

However, if it was true, this storehouse of latent memory traces that we have all inherited from our long dead cavemen ancestors, could account for our deep fears towards “monsters”.

This theory of a genetic memory was first forward by Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961|), with his “collective unconscious”, which he said was made up of unconscious images or “archetypes”, inherited from our ancestors, images that help us respond to the world in a certain way, and survive. God, fear of dark, babies and mothers instant bonding, etc., all derive from it.

And its relationship with cryptozoology, dates back to 1982: “ In effect, myths support and impregnate all our thoughts, and seem to have their roots in the subsoil of our being, in what CG Jung called ‘the collective unconscious’. “ [2].

In October 2009 I posted on Belief in monsters and Patagonian cryptozoology, and gave several explanations for the universal fear towards monsters, but I did not include Jung's collective unconscious or genetic memory as one of them. Today's post rectifies that omission.

Sources

[1] Theophanes. Examples of Genetic Memory or Something Else?
[2] Heuvelmans, Bernard, (1982). What is Cryptozoology?. Cryptozoology, Vol 1. International Society of Cryptozoology, Winter 1982. pp. 9+



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hairy snake in La Pampa

 
Mapa 1872 Alvaro Barros
Detail of the map by Alvaro Barros of 1872. From [1] pp 14.


A second hand book I bought recently La Pampa, Grafías y etimologías toponímicas aborígenes by Alberto Vuletín (1972) [1], has an interesting reference regarding hairy snakes.

book's cover
The book's cover.


The book explains the origin of the name places in the Province of La Pampa and focuses on those of native origin. Though La Pampa is officially part of the Patagonia region, (having joined the Patagonian Provinces) the historical northern boundary of that region has been set along the Colorado River, which also marks La Pampa's southern frontier. So, if I were a purist, I would not mention this as a Patagonian creature, but as the natives that peopled the area also lived in Patagonia, I will included in the blog.

Its author includes a map by Alvaro Barros, drawn in 1872, a few years before the Argentine government undertook a military campaign (1878-1884) to occupy the region and snatch it from the native's hands. Interestingly, it mentions a Calchochá or "Snake with hairs" ("Víbora con pelo" in the Spanish original), close to the border between the provinces of La Pampa and Buenos Aires.

It is just north of a place named "Agua fria dulce" (cold freshwater) which, in the native language was known as "Atreucó" (from Athé = cold, = water or uúvco = spring) which is set close to the provincial highway number 18 (37°07'S, 63°48'W).

There are several lakes in that region, but none of them bear nowadays the name of "hairy snake".

In a post nearly one year ago, on the "Patagonian" Hairy Snake, I included a comment by a military commander along the Pampa frontier Federico Barbará, who mentioned a lake named precisely "hairy snake", perhaps it was the same lake mentioned above.

The book has some other interesting things, I will mention them in my next post (the Chueiquehuecu monster).

By the way, Alvaro Barros was the first Governor of Patagonia Territory (1878-1882), so it may be correct to include the Pampean hairy snake as part of Patagonia's mythical fauna.

Sources.
[1] Alberto Vuletín, (1972). La Pampa, Grafías y etimologías toponímicas aborígenes. B. Aires, Eudeba.


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Teddy Roosevelt and the lake monster hunt

 
Roosevelt and the plesiosaur
Detail of the original NY Times article. From [1]

Former US President Teddy Roosevelt was approached by the American gold prospector Martin Sheffield in 1903, who suggested that he organize an expedition to hunt a mysterious huge lizard-like monster with a curved neck-.

This information surfaced in a New York Times article published on March 31, 1922:

ROOSEVELT WANTED TO HUNT MONSTER; Ex-President Thought of Patagonia Expedition When He Went to South America. KEEN OVER TALE ... John Barrett Gave Him in 1903 an Explorer's Account of Strange Amphibian.

The newspaper heard about it from Mr. John Barrett, late Director of the Pan American Union and Minister to Argentina during President Roosevelt’s administrations during the famous 1922 plesiosaur expedition (sent to hunt a plesiosaur close to Lake Epuyen).

According to Barret, Sheffield "had reported that he had seen what appeared to be a plesiosaurian monster, or huge amphibian, swimming in the waters of a Southern Andean jungle lake, I recalled that nearly twenty years ago, in November, 1903, ". [1]

Apparently Sheffield had fought in Cuba during the 1898 Spanish-American war, and has somehow met Roosevelt there.

Interesting and verifiable

This is indeed interesting. Because it could be verifiable:

  • We could check when Sheffield arrived in Argentina (before or after 1898).
  • We know that in 1903 he had met Clemente Onelli then working with the Argentine Border Committee marking out the frontier with Chile. Onelli later (1922) organized the Plesiosaur expedition. Could he have been in Buenos Aires at the same time?
  • Why did he wait for 19 years (from 1903 to 1922) before reporting the "lizard" again? Did he tell Onelli in 1903? And was ignored by him?
  • Can the details mentioned by Barrett be tracked and proven? Did any of those mentioned in the article record the event?
  • What about the handwritten letter by Roosevelt himself? Did Roosevelt write memoirs?
Anyway, it may all be a lie, made up by Barrett. It may be true, and if so, Sheffield saw something in 1903 and then saw it again in 1922. An active and long living monster (or perhaps its offspring). Enjoy the full text at the NY Times site. See reference [1] below.

Sources.

[1] Roosevelt wanted to hunt monster New York Times, NY. 31.03.1923.



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homo erectus in America (part 3)

 
See the previous entries on this thread: (Part 2) or (Part 1).

Dolichocephalic (long headed) skulls are those which are rather narrow in comparison to their length (breadth - length ratio of about 75%), shorter skulls (ratio of around 80%) are known as Brachycephalic (broad headed), and those in between, Mesocephalic.

These ratios or cephalic indexes were invented by Swedish scientist Anders Retzius in the early 1800s as a tool for anthropology. Of course, ignorant bigots have used them for their horrible racist or nationalist purposes, trying to prove that certain traits imply the superiority or, the inferiority of certain groups (and we all know the kind of suffering that those absurd notions can cause).

Cephalic indexes are not 100% reliable and even within one same group of people living in their own homeland, there is considerable variability. What is more, environment and other conditions modify skull shape in babies (i.e. cultures that bind and elongate their malleable toddlers heads), which in turn alters cephalic indexes.

Having said this, it is however easy to apply. Simple measurements and a division let you calculate the index in a quick and straightforward manner. It also seems to have a correlation with heredity and thus to race or ancestry. So, without digging too deeply into which "race" has which cephalic index, we can reach some interesting conclusions:

1) Some studies [2] have suggested that skull shape may be an adaptation to handle climate, as Brachycephalic skulls are better suited for cold climates while the longer Dolichocephalicones are best in a hot climate.
2) Most of the South American and North American Indians, are Brachycephalic, indicating a common origin. Actually there are some native Americans that are exactly the opposite, being Dolichocephalic. Which may be an indication of a different origin.

This discrepancy among native Americans has led to the theory of two different groups peopling America, which came here from the Old World in two (or perhaps more) migratory events: [3]

  • The Palaeoamericans, or Paleoindians, who were characterized by long and narrow cranial vault (i.e. dolichocephalic morphology) and a narrow face, which are purportedly the first to have arrived in America.
  • The Amerindians, from which most of modern American groups derive, and who exhibited short and wide cranial vault, along with wide faces (i.e. brachycephalic morphology). These would be the ‘newcomers’ –arriving some 10,000 years ago.

Skull shape, Patagonian natives and H. erectus
The Patagonian natives exhibit "the most robust and dolichocephalic crania" among a sample of South American natives [4].

Though, the authors of the above quoted statement believe that " mechanisms other than genetic drift (e.g., natural selection) could have acted to shape the pattern observed in some craniofacial structures "[4] of these natives. It could of course have been caused by the fact that they were a small intermarrying group of "surviving" Paleoamericans whose isolation in the arid and harsh tip of Southern South America saved from being wiped out by the second wave of brachycephalic invaders.

Now, the interesting part is that: "Homo erectus developed a dolichocephalic shape of skull" [1], this may be due to two causes:

1) That they were “long skulled” or
2) That their prominent brows were included in the length and therefore exaggerated their length of their skulls.

Either way, and even if we take their brows into account, they have long skulls.
Now my suggestion, based on the Multiregional theory of the origin of Modern Man (in a nutshell: Homo erectus moved out of Africa, spread out around the Old World, and there as well as in Africa, continued evolving until all became modern Homo sapiens humans.

This is in conflict with the opposing Out of Africa hypothesis which states that only the African erectus kept on evolving, turning into modern men, who then left Africa and overtook the world leading our old and less brainy ancestor erectus to his demise (either by absorbing them or killing them).

An alternative explanation

My suggestion is that: erectus kept on the move, entered America a long time ago (maybe 500 to 300 thousand years ago) and evolved here into dolichocephalic modern humans along the lines of the Multiregional hypothesis.

These were the Paleoindians. So we rid ourselves of the notion of an ancient first wave of humans or Paleoamericans. These in turn, were overtaken by a wave of Old World brachicephalic humans some ten thousand years ago.

Sources.

[1] Clare V. Merry, (2005). Mind - Primary Cause of Human Evolution, Trafford Publishing, vol. 1 pp. 327}
[2] S. R. Prabhu, (1992). Oral diseases in the tropics. Oxford University Press, pp. 37.
[3] Perez SI, Bernal V, Gonzalez PN, Sardi M, Politis GG, (2009). Discrepancy between Cranial and DNA Data of Early Americans: Implications for American Peopling. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5746. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005746
[4] Perez, S. I., Bernal, V. and Gonzalez, P. N. (2007). Morphological differentiation of aboriginal human populations from Tierra del Fuego (Patagonia): Implications for South American peopling. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 133: 1067–1079. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20633


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Homo erectus in America? (part 2)

 
Continuing with yesterday's post on possible entry of Homo erectus into America and their survival until relatively recent times, I decided to see if there was more data available and came across the following, which is indeed interesting as it changes the conventional view of how the world was peopled some fifty thousand years ago.

The traditional "linear" model is that man evolved in Africa from apes, which got brainier and at a given moment in time, walked out of Africa (such as the Homo erectus) to people the world while others stayed behind and continued evolving. The migrants (and nobody explains why [**]) remained static and did not change or evolve but those that remained behind did. So then came Homo heidlebergensis and Homo neanderthalensis who moved out of Africa and, finally, after more evolution towards better and bigger brains, we appeared, marched out of Africa and replaced all the others. Only modern man (Homo sapiens) managed to reach America (our 'superior' brains gave us the advantage and let us handle the tough Siberian and Alaskan climate and make it into the New World).

[**] Well, yes, there is a theory, the "Multiregional" one, which in sharp contrast with the "Out of Africa" theory states that modern man did not only appear in Africa, but that Homo erectus evolved in different regions (hence the theory's name) into modern men.

More varieties of humans?

However, the picture seems different: there were other people and also, they all lived at about the same time, sharing overlapping territories:

An article published on March 24, 2010 tells us about DNA extracted from a 40,000 year old finger bone found in a Siberian cave has yielded surprising results: it was not human and it did not belong to a Neandertal either (the only two possible sources of human bones!). It belongs to another New and hitherto unknown lineage of ancient humans. So that makes at least three kinds of humans (actually if we include the Flores Hobbits -Homo floresiensis, it makes four) sharing our planet some 40,000 years ago.
The finger bone was found at the Denisova Cave in 2008. The cave is located at the Altai Mountains in Russia, Central Asia, and has many archaeological layers that span nearly one hundred thousand years of occupation.

Neanderthal remains and modern men stone tools have been unearthed ther. Also broken bone remains, among which was this finger bone which has been radiocarbon dated to between 30 and 48 thousand years ago.

The bone was ground and a minute sample of Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted for genetic sequencing.

mtDNA is a special variety of DNA which is found in cellular organelles called mitochondria, which are found inside every cell and help them produce energy.

mtDNA mutates (by chance) at a roughly given rate, and the accumulated mutations found in cells of different species give us an idea of how long they have been diverging apart from a common ancestor.

Now, for those not too familiar with the "drift" and mutations, please bear in mind that these are minute: Modern humans are, despite the differences that exist today between racial groups, a remarkably homogeneous population. A single species of chimpanzee has a difference five times greater than ours among its members!

Nevertheless, the differences exist and are a useful tool.

The mtDNA sample results

The group that sequenced this mtDNA had previously done similar work on Nenderthal genetic material.

The team then compared the finger's mtDNA with that Neanderthal and with modern human's mtDNA data discovering that:

  • Neandertals differ from modern humans at an average of 202 nucleotide positions in the mitochondrial genome
  • The Denisova "person" differed at an average of 385 positions from modern humans and 376 from Neandertals

Then they compared the Denisova mtDNA with that of chimpanzees (a common ancestor to all humans) and came up with an estimated age for the Denisova people: we H. sapiens, the Neanderthal and the Denisova people shared a common ancestor about one million years ago.

This is younger than the age of our other ancestor, the Homo erectus who left Africa shortly after it evolved roughly 1. 7 million years ago. And, on the other hand it is older than the departure date of the H. heidelbergensis (our and Neanderthal's nearest relative [*]), who is first recorded some 650 thousand years ago.

[*] H. heidelbergensis evolved from H. erectus in Africa and Europe, later evolving into modern man (in Africa), and Neanderthal (in Europe). [2]

So, the Denisova cave results is making scientists wonder if there may have been other hominds exiting Africa or that human evoultion is more like a flow of differing humans instead of a step by step linear process.

But what about H. erectus?

The article does not mention any Homo erectus mtDNA sequencing, so this had led me to wonder if the Denisova people were not simply h. erectus.
As only small bones have been found the telltale signs of an erectus small brain and thick brow bridge have not been found.

Why conjecture about another unknown species when we could simply state that these were surviving erectus.

If so, it is a clear sign that erectus, against common belief, persisted until quite late in mainland Asia (and not only in isolated Asian islands, as was the case I mentioned yesterday in Indonesia).

This time frame overlaps modern man, who may have entered America at that time some 30-40 thousand years ago (this is a highly controversial point as remains older than some 15,000 years in America are disputed and cause of heated debate among archaeologists).

The big "if" however is, "if erectus ever made it to America", because, as I mentioned yesterday, the proof on their presence here is sketchy, flimsy and not widely accepted. And we do lack firm evidence such as their characteristic stone tools, which would be a clear sign of their entry into the New World.

Read the final post (Part 3).

New on Dec. 23, 2010: Read more on the "Denisovians" and their possible link to modern Melanesians: Homo Erectus in America: More.

Sources

[1] Krause J, Fu Q, Good JM, Viola B, Shunkov MV, Derevianko AP, and Paabo S., (2010). The complete mitochondrial DNA genome of an unknown hominin from southern Siberia. Nature. 2010 Apr 8;464(7290):838-9.
[2] Frederick Lawrence Coolidge, Thomas Wynn, (2009). The rise of Homo sapiens: the evolution of modern thinking. Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 208.


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Homo erectus in America?

 

In a previous post on Patagonian ogres and hairy giants, I suggested that this variety of Patagonian Bigfoot, might be a surviving Homo erectus, a direct ancestor of modern man (we are Homo sapiens).

Today I will look into this interesting subject. Interesting because, official orthodox archaeology does not believe that H. erectus ever reached America, and does not place modern man here earlier than some 20,000 years ago.

However, there is some controversial evidence (dismissed by mainstream archaeologists) that suggests an earlier peopling of America, roughly a quarter of a million years ago.

Recent survival of Homo erectus.

Homo erectus is an extinct species of humans that lived between 1,8 million years ago and at least 200,000 years ago (and probably even later than this last date). That is, during the Pleistocene Epoch. These hominids were intelligent creatures and manufactured stone tools, which we classify as belonging to the Acheulian culture. They were the first men to master fire. They were also explorers and were the first humans to break out of Africa, our birthplace and spread across the Old World.

Their remains have been found in Europe, Asia (as well as Africa). The oldest fossils are found in Africa, where they continued evolving into modern men. The African strain is different in comparison to the other H. erectus populations of the Old World and have been classed in a separate species named Homo ergaster. There is some debate whether H. ergaster or H. erectus is our direct ancestor.

Their use of a novel stone tool technology and fire, made them successful in spreading around the Old World and occupying different environments.

This may have been due to their larger brain size in comparison to our other older and more primitive ancestors. Their cranial capacities ranged from between 700 cm3 to 1,250 cm3, averaging 900 cm3. Their skulls had a thick cranial bone and large browridges over their eyes. Their braincase was long and low, with a receeding forehead.

They were not small like their ancestors, an adult H. erectus could weigh over 45 kg (100 lb) and measure 1,67 m (5 ft. 6 in).

Fossils of H. erectus found at Ngandong, Java, have been dated to as recently as 53,000 to 27,000 years ago. These dates were obtained by Carl Swisher of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and colleagues. [1]. This is interesting because, it indicates an overlapping with modern man who arrived in that area roughly some 40 to 50 thousand years ago. So, if they managed to get to America, they could have also overlapped with modern man during some 20 to 30,000 years (which, would mean that they may have survived until a relatively recent date, or even still be alive somewhere out there).

In America?

During the late 1960s, at a site close to Mexico City, Mexico, named Valsequillo Reservoir, in the State of Puebla, some geologists of the United States Geology Survey (USGS) dated possible hominid remains as being 250,000 years old!. The team was led by archaeologist Cynthia Irving-Williams, and the results were published in a reputable scientific journal in 1969 [5] but were quickly dismissed by mainstream archaeologists as being ridiculously old (nearly ten times the accepted dates for human presence in America - the Clovis First theory). [2]

Click to see Photographs of the excavations and the artifacts.

These remains are part of a:

"rapidly growing dating evidence from fission- track, U-series, diatoms extinct by the end of the Last Interglacial Stage (Sangamonian), etc. for (pre-Wisconsinan) humans in America (>80,000 yr BP), which has been ignored or denied by members of the American archaeological establishment " . [3]

So, they may be modern human (i.e. Homo sapiens) remains that predate the orthodox time-frame of some 20,000 years for human arrival to America.

Other ancient remains of stone tools have been found at Calico [4] in California, US at around the same time. They have been dismissed by mainstream archaeology as natural (not human) artifacts.

Conclusions

As far as I am concerned, the case remains open and undefined. The evidence is interesting and definitively points to an early peopling of America.

H. erectus had the brains and the physical aptitude to trek from China (his known northernmost habitat) to America through Beringia, just like modern man would do later. He could also have rowed along the coastal waters of Asia, Beringia and America all the way down to Southern Chile.

Lack of interest and funding (specially in South America, where research is restricted due to lack of governmental or private support) to look into these non-conventional ideas may delay the final proof, but it will surely be unearthed in the near future.

Impact on cryptozoology. Leaving aside Bigfoot for my North American colleagues, as it is not a Patagonian "monster", the presence of H. erectus could account for many native Patagonian myths regarding "ogres" or "man slaying" primitive men, it can also explain the "wild-men" legends and some "hairy" or "ape-like" creatures reported in Patagonia.

Continues tomorrow in Part 2, Homo erectus in America?

Sources.
[1] Mark Rose, (1997). Homo Erectus Survival. Archaeology. Vol. 50 Number 2, March/April 1997
[2] Christopher Hardaker and Charles Naeser, (2007). The First American: The Suppressed Story of the People Who Discovered the New World. Career Press.
[3] Sam L. Vanlandingham. Extraordinary Examples of Deception in Peer Reviewing: Concoction of the Dorenberg Skull Hoax and Related Misconduct. Online.
[4] Chris Hardaker, (2010). The Abomination of Calico. Pleistocene coalition news, Vol 2. No. 5 pp. 10. Oct. 2010.
[5] Barney J. Szaboa, Harold E. Maldea and Cynthia Irwin-William, (1969). Dilemma posed by uranium-series dates on archaeologically significant bones from Valsequillo, Puebla, Mexico. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Vol. No. 4, July 1969, Pages 237-244


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Matuasto - the monstrous midget lizard

 
Matuasto (top left) from Tehuelche Rock Art. From [1]

The image above portrays a Matuasto (upper left) and a regular lizard (bottom right), it was drawn at the basaltic plateau by Lake Buenos Aires in northwestern Santa Cruz province, Argentina.[1]

The natives depicted their staple food (which they hunted on foot until the late 1600s, and then on horseback) such as guanaco (a South American camelid similar to llamas an vicuñas), and the South American rhea (an ostrich-like flightless bird). They also represented human steps and hand marks, and geometric shapes. But, why would they draw lizards? And not only one, but two varieties? What was so special about the Matuasto?

Midget monster, the Matuasto lizard

I had mentioned this lizard in a previous post (The Horse-Eating frog - Chile), but did not provide much information. Today we will go a bit deeper:

Matuastos (Diplolaemus darwinii) are found in Chile and Argentina, where it ranges from Patagonia in the south, through Cuyo (Mendoza, San Luis and San Juan provinces), Catamarca, Santiago del Estero and Tucumán provinces.

The word is of Quechua origin, a language not spoken in Patagonia but in Peru, Bolivia, and to a lesser extent, the norhtern reaches of Argentina. It was the language of the ancient Inca empire. Its meaning is "homeless" or "whose cave is not known". Which is quite reasonable, since lizards run around the ground, from here to there.

The interesting point is that it is widely feared. For instance, outside of Patagonia, in San Luis, it is regarded as poisonous and capable of giving a terrible bite; once it closes its jaws, it cannot be removed. It holds fast to its unfortunate prey.

Just for the record, it is NOT poisonous.

In San Juan and Mendoza (also outside of Patagonia) there is a myth about a woman Pericana who morphs into a giant matuasto and devours children.[6]
The main features of this small "monster" is its short tail and stout body, a big squat head and very powerful jaws.

What is even more surprising is that such a small animal (it grows to about 5 to 9 cm long - 2 to 5.6 in.) can stir such great fears!

Patagonian Matuastos

It was a widespread myth, and found in Patagonia, because, the creature was mentioned by British explorer George Musters who in 1870, after traveling from Punta Arenas to Carmen de Patagones with a band of Tehuelche, wrote:

Another animal supposed to be possessed of magical powers is a flat toad-like lizard, which is believed to lame horses by mysterious agency, and is killed whenever met with. [3]

The Tehuelche natives of eastern and southern Patagonia named it "k'amter", so this is what they must have told Musters that it was called.

Fernández, [4] records that the Mapuche natives took them for creatures possessed by "evil spirits" (snakes fell into the same category). The Mapuche word for it was "kirke", which simply meant: "lizard".

The Mapuche people at Neuquen province, describe it as a lizard with a stunted tail that is "aggressive and poisonous, that can jump, and once it has bitten it will not let go". [7]

The bringer of fire

The creature is also mentioned in a Tehuelche myth, as the one who invented the use of fire. The native group of Quilchamal, Tehuelche who speak Mapuche language (there was a process of Araucanization in northern Patagonia by which the Mapuche culture and language was adopted by the Tehuelche, even though they belonged to two distinct ethnic groups). This tribe lives in the province of Chubut, in Argentina.

One of the natives, Alberto Quilchamal recorded the legend, in which the Patagonian hare (mara) steals the flames from a matuasto (which Alberto calls kirke), he describes the lizard as "harmful and poisonous: 'they live from poison, the poison they have does not let them die'.", that is, they were immortal. Furthermore, to be able to kill them, they should be burnt (like European witches) or they will not die. [5]

The matuasto is therefore immortal, the inventor of fire, a poisonous, jumping strong jawed monster. Possessed by evil spirits and evil itself. The question is: Why? Why endow such a tiny lizard with such a repertoire of evil powers?

Perhaps not so tiny

I have seen the rock art at Cueva de las Manos (where I took the photograph shown in the horse-eating frogs post mentioned above), and these paintings were big. And by big I mean about 40 cm (3.3 ft long) and about the same width (look at the adult human hands stamped beside the images to get a sense of size). Those would be really big lizards. And also look at their clawed paws. Nasty indeed.

Could there have been some giant matuasto living in Patagonia in Paleo-Indian times?

For the time being I have not found any evidence or myths to support this notion, but who knows, maybe I will find something.

Sources

[1] Eduardo E. Berberián and María Ester Albeck, (2001), Historia argentina prehispánica. Ed. Brujas. vol. 1. pp. 856, Fig. 6, image 14. After Gradin (1993).
[2] Juan Wenceslao Gez and María Estela Gez de Gómez, (1939), Geografía de la provincia de San Luis. Ed. Peuser. vol. 2, pp. 96.
[3] Musters George Chaworth, (1969). At home with the Patagonians: a year's wanderings over untrodden ground from the Straits of Magellan to the Rio Negro. (1869).Greenwood Press, pp. 182.
[4] César A. Fernández, (1999). Cuentan los mapuches. Ed. Nuevo Siglo. pp. 14a
[5] Ana Fernandez Garay and Graciela Hernandez, (1999). Origen y uso del fuego
mito recogido entre los tehuelches araucanizados de la patagonia argentina
, Amerindia, N°24, 1999.
[6] Marcos de Estrada, (1985), Leyendas y supersticiones sanjuaninas: contribución al estudio del folklore en la Provincia de San Juan. BPR , pp. 119.
[7] Gregorio Alvarez, (1981). El Tronco de Oro. Siringa Libros, pp. 295


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

The Hooded Grebe - Maca Tobiano

 
Some people suggest that there are no cryptids or mysterious animals out there because they say that they should have been discovered a long time ago. After all, Europeans have been roaming around Patagonia and its coast since 1520. Aren't 490 years enough time to discover a strange species?

Well, as we all know, species unknown to science crop up quite often (though not as fast as those that are known and become extinct through our actions -or rather our lack of actions!).

Among these "recently discovered" species is one endemic to Patagonia, that is, found only in Patagonia, and more specifically, in certain small habitats within Patagonia.

I am talking about the Macá Tobiano or Hoded Grebe (Podiceps gallardoi), a tiny aquatic bird found only in the windswept lakes of Southern Patagonia's basaltic highlands.[1][2]

It was discovered and described barely 36 years ago, in 1974, by Mauricio Rumboll (a well known naturalist and ornithologist, son of Hilda and Bill Rumboll who, in 1976 reported sighting Nahuelito the Nahuel Huapi lake creature. at Bariloche, Patagonia - isn't it a small world?).

This bird, so recently discovered is at risk of becoming extinct. Its numbers are dropping quickly (its population has fallen by nearly a 73% over the last 21 years) and no one knows why. Birdlife International has ranked it as Endangered, [3] and also on the IUCN red list as Endangered. [4] A real tragedy!

It seems that human action may be causing this dramatic drop in its population (garbage may be increasing the population of predator gulls that attack the Macá and its young). Furthermore, the introduction of exotic fish (trout and salmon) into the lakes that the Macá uses to mate and build its floating nests seems to have had a negative impact on them. Though the exact reason is not yet understood.

I love fishing in Patagonian lakes, but, I do realize that these rainbow, brown, brook and lake trout (plus the Pacific salmon on the Pacific watershed and some sea-run brown trout on the Atlantic basin) are a serious problem (see my posts on this issue and their negative impact for other species such as the naked minnow).

Sources

[1] Imberti, S. & Casañas, H.. 2009. Hooded Grebe (Podiceps gallardoi), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=91111.
[2] SIB. Sistema de Información de Biodiversidad Podiceps gallardoi
[3] Birdlife. Hooded Grebe.
[4] The IUCN Red list of thratened species. Podiceps gallardoi



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Myth of Nahuelito: An article

 
article on Nahuelito
Article published 25.Nov.2010 in The Argentina Independent.
Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

Yesterday, November 25, 2010, a very interesting article by Mr. Sam Mustafa was published in the online newspaper The Argentina Independent, it deals with the mysterious lake creature "Nahuelito".

I appear quoted in the article, and my book (soon to be printed) is also mentioned. I am very honored that Mr. Mustafa took the time and effort to interview me and also, to publish my comments and thoughts on this matter.

By the way, Mr. Mustafa visited Bariloche (the town on the Nahuel Huapi Lake, home to Nahuelito) to get a first hand impression of the place and to interview possible eyewitnesses. His article, which can be read following the link below is very interesting:

Click to read the full article The Myth of Nahuelito: A Monstrous Symbol of Argentina | The Argentina Independent.

This is my blog's post on Nahuelito.

Thank you Sam! It has been a delightful experience.


Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Strange (dinosaur?) in Tierra del Fuego

 
strange Fuegian creatures
Some strange Fuegian creatures. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

The image above is just a detail of an ancient map, Tabula Magellanica qua Tierrae del Fuego drawn in 1671 by John Ogilby and Jan Janssonius. The Strait of Magellan can be seen just above the two central blue colored arrows. The Pacific Ocean is on the lower left side, by the green arrow.

The map shows several animals and some natives too, on the island, named Magellanica.

Normal people and animals

The map shows some Rhea or ñandu being hunted by the local natives (though there are no "South American ostriches" on the island - see my post about the intriguing ohi for more on this matter). The "ostriches" are marked with blue colored arrows and are roughly to scale.

Then there are two penguins (green arrow), also drawn to scale.

Weird creatures

But then, there are two bulky bodied animals with long swan-necks and also long tails (marked with the red arrows), which have a bird-like (or reptilian) look.

They are quite similar to an image that I posted some time ago in my post Patagonian living dinosaurs.

I wonder what they are. They are big, about the size of an adult person. Too big to be any of the known Patagonian birds.




Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 
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