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

Monday, February 7, 2011

horned burrowers in Patagonia? Darwin misquoted

horned gopher
Horned Gophers by R. Bruce Horsefall. Epigaulus hatcheri. From [1]

In my endless search for Patagonian cryptids, I stumbled across a book which looks into native American myths related to fossils. The book mentions Patagonia and a strange burrowing rodent:

In 1833 the Natives of Patagonia, Argentina, told Charles Darwin that mastodon fossils had belonged to an immense burrowing rodent.[2]

Rodent with horns?

I was quite excited because, I have already posted about horned beings in Patagonia and also about the possible existence of giant rodents in Patagonia. A horned rodent would be very interesting.

What if the Patagon natives were right? That it wasn't a Mastodon, but some until now unknown giant burrowing rodent with horns (the tusks may have been horns).

The author of the text quoted above, links a Navajo myth about a burrowing monster with a strange horned gopher, the Epigaulus hatcheri a horned gopher about 1 foot tall, [2] image shown above. It is has been extinct since the Pliocene and lived in Nebraska. [1]

So, I was quite surprised, more so since I have read Darwin's Beagle book several times and did not recall any encounter with Patagonian Indians and mastodon or giant rodent bones in Patagonia. So I decided to go to the sources, to find out more about this mysterious being.

Darwin's actual text was the following:

... but these were sufficient to show that the remains belonged to a species of Mastodon. The men who took me in the canoe, said they had long known of them, and had often wondered how they had got there: the necessity of a theory being felt, they came to the conclusion, that, like the bizcacha (sic), the mastodon formerly was a burrowing animal![3]

Darwin's Bizcacha, actually a Vizcacha (with "V", not "B") is a rabbit-like rodent found in several South American habitats, and the one that the locals knew was the Lagostomus maximus, which lives in the Pampas, and also by the Parana River.

Well, the facts are the following:
  • The Mastodon was found "on the banks of the Parana" [3], so they are not Patagonian (Patagonia is at least 500 miles (800 km) from the Parana River.
  • Not Patagonian natives, but men who lived by the Parana River: either Creoles or Guaraní natives from that area. But definitively not Tehuelches from the Patagonia

Conclusions: false alarm

So, no horned gophers here, just a bunch of Argentine Creoles trying to explain how bones the size of a Mastodon could have got underground. They thought up a very simple and straightforward explanation: they were burrowing animals and died in their burrows.

This does not mean that they were burrowers. It was that the locals could not conceive that the scenery could have changed so much and that the animals had died and were buried by the accumulating sediments piled up on them by the wind or floods.

Conclusion. Always check the original source, because misquoted texts can be confusing and lead you to the wrong conclusions.

It is a pity that there are no horned gophers in Patagonia. They are bizarre creatures, and the stuff that myths are made from.


[1] Extinct Animals. Online.
[2] Adrienne Mayor, (2005). Fossil legends of the first Americans. Princeton University press. pp. 124
[3] Darwin, Charles,(1839). Narrative of the surveying voyages of his majesty's ships Adventure and Beagle... Circumnavigation of the Globe. London: Henry Colburn. Vol. 3. pp. 147.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2011 International Year of Forests
2011 International Year of Forests Copyright 2009-2011 by Austin Whittall © 

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