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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Bigfoot DNA sequenced? or is it some fantasy?

One of this blog's greatest supporters Pablo Infantino (thank you very much Pablo), drew my attention to this "strange" press release [1] which seems to imply that human (H. sapiens) and "something else" have merged their genes (nuclear DNA not mtDNA, the latter is 100% human).

The News

“Our study has sequenced 20 whole mitochondrial genomes and utilized next generation sequencing to obtain 3 whole nuclear genomes from purported Sasquatch samples. The genome sequencing shows that Sasquatch mtDNA is identical to modern Homo sapiens, but Sasquatch nuDNA is a novel, unknown hominin related to Homo sapiens and other primate species. Our data indicate that the North American Sasquatch is a hybrid species, the result of males of an unknown hominin species crossing with female Homo sapiens."


if mtDNA is identical to modern humans, the question is: Amerindian? Asian? which haplogroups are involved?

If the mTDNA IS A, B, C or D we can be sure that admixture took place in America or Beringia, otherwise it may have taken place in Asia or, be some kind of contamination of the samples due to mishandling by those who collected them (cough on, sneeze on or excessively touch the "bigfoot" hairs and... yes, your DNA gets into the samples!

“Hominins are members of the taxonomic grouping Hominini, which includes all members of the genus Homo. Genetic testing has already ruled out Homo neanderthalis and the Denisova hominin as contributors to Sasquatch mtDNA or nuDNA."


So Sasquatch male line predecessors were not Neanderthals or Deinsovans

“The male progenitor that contributed the unknown sequence to this hybrid is unique as its DNA is more distantly removed from humans than other recently discovered hominins like the Denisovan individual,” explains Ketchum."


Then it is older, much older: It is an ancient hominid

“Sasquatch nuclear DNA is incredibly novel and not at all what we had expected. While it has human nuclear DNA within its genome, there are also distinctly non-human, non-archaic hominin, and non-ape sequences. We describe it as a mosaic of human and novel non-human sequence. Further study is needed and is ongoing to better characterize and understand Sasquatch nuclear DNA."


This is odd: non-human means: not modern Homo sapiens, non-ape: not chimp, gorilla or orangutang. Non-archaic hominin: what is archaic? Neanderthal and Denisovan? If so, the "non-human sequence" may belong to Homo erectus or Homo habilis.

The Ancient Human lineage (H. erectus or H. habilis) fits in nicely with some of my previous posts in this site: a pre-sapiens colonization of the Americas.

For instance: Homo Habilis got to America First

However my skeptical side cautions me to read the paper: Naughty people on the web have written that Ketchum said her samples had "angel" DNA, if so, it is "snake oil" and pseudo science. Angels have no place in science, they belong to another realm.

So, I will sit, wait and read the paper when it is published

New July 2014. A recent scholarly study analysed hair from alleged Yeti and Bigfoot and confirms that Bigfoot is a fake

Lets wait for the formal paper if it is ever published.... you can read the formal press release here:


[1]‘BIGFOOT’ DNA SEQUENCED IN UPCOMING GENETICS STUDY Five-Year Genome Study Yields Evidence of Homo sapiens/Unknown Hominin Hybrid Species in North America

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Back Again

Hi!, I am back from a well deserved vacation.
The whole book launching was very tiring. I decided to take a break, gather my strength, read some old papers and simply relax!
I am getting some new posts ready and will be back online later this week. I apologize for my sabbatical leave but, after producing a book, you have to take a break.
The photo shows lake Correntoso, where I camped with my parents back in 1972 and 1973. We had an "encounter" with a puma (nowadays this would not happen since Villa La Angostura has grown into a big town). I have not found any references about "lake" creatures in Lake Correntoso, but , it is a beautiful lake, long, narrow and very deep. We caught some nice trout there back in the 70s.
Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

More Evidence on Prehispanic Patagonian horses

painted horse hide Tehuelche
Cerro Johny, Chile, a piece of Tehuelche painted hide.

During my recent book signing event at the recent "Feria del Libro", I enjoyed browsing some books at the stand of "Patagonia Sur Libros", whose editor, Mario Pazos kindly exhibited my books and gave me the chance to sign books at his stand. As the name suggests (Patagonia Sur = South Patagonia), the books he exhibited and had on sale, of many publishers, some from Patagonia, dealt with the big "P", Patagonia. So I went on a mini buying spree and purchased some hard to get books.

A new book and an interesting piece of information

Among these books was one by Mario Echeverría Baleta about a native mummy found inside a cave by Lake Argentino close to the modern day town of El Calafate (Santa Cruz, Argentina).
Here, during February 1877, Argentine scientist Francisco Pascasio Moreno (aka "Perito" Moreno) while navigating the lake, took shelter on its southern shore and decided to explore the surroundings. He came across the mummy which he took back to the La Plata Museum in Buenos Aires province.

Echeverría Baleta describes the mummy, the caves and gives other interesting information. He also talks about the "Quillango" (key-djan-go) which was the typical Tehuelche native fur cloak. They made it from furs of different animals (skunks, foxes) but they prefered the soft wool of baby guanacos -known as "chulengo". Guanacos are a wild variety of South American camelid, from which the better known llama and alpaca were domesticated.

Quillango, the Tehuelche fur cape

Quillangos were large rectangular pieces, made from many "chulengo" furs sewn together. They were worn with the woolly fur towards the inside, and the leathery part towards the outside. This external leather surface was usually painted with native mottiffs using mineral pigments (yellow, blue, red, ochre, black). Some of these survive and an example is shown below together with some of the colorfull motifs:

Tehuelche quillango cape
Samples of Quillango paintings and a complete Quillango. From [2].

The purpose of these furry chulengo capes was to keep the user nice and warm in the hostile windswept Patagonian steppes. They were wrapped around the body and were far superior to any European garment. Patagonian Pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s bought them by the hundreds from the Tehuelche to keep warm.

The Tehuelche also made mortuary Quillangos, shrouds, to wrap the dead, these were made from horse hides. Horses had a special spiritual meaning, as conveyors of the spirit into the afterworld. As with the Mapuche natives of Northern Chilean Patagonia, the Tehuelche used to sacrifice several horses (including the dead person's horse) during the burial ceremonies. These were to assist the deceased in their journey into the afterworld.

The Pali Aike Shroud: Patagonian horses?

The book, while mentioning the mummy and quillangos adds an interesting comment, which I transcribe below (Echeverría Baleta writing in first person):

"I have seen at the Instituto de la Patagonia at Punta Arenas, Chile, a piece of horse hide belonging to a Tehuelche burial found in the region of Pali Aike. It is decorated with beautiful drawings, the main figure being the "karrukeuek" (shapes of a carancho). The dating done in London gives it an age of 450 years BP. There are some errors here. In the first place, the identification. In the report given by the laboratory it says that it is a hide of Lama guanicoe (guanaco). However the guanaco do not have hair but wool and this specific hide has hair and not precisely the color of guanaco's [wool]. Furthermore it is thicker, just like that of horses. And in second place, the chronology. The dating mentioned corresponds approximately to the year 1450, but during that period no horses were known in South America."[1]

It is clear that the radiocarbon dating is correct 450 BP = 1450 C.E., and that the British scientists knowing that there were no horses in Patagonia prior to the discovery of America by Spaniards in 1492 (actually horses arrived in Southern Patagonia in the mid 1700s), assigned the piece of fur to a guanaco.

Echeverría Baleta on the other hand, knowing it is a piece of horse hide, thinks that the age is wrong and should be mor recent.

Both are wrong, and refuse to see what is clear: given Echeverría Baleta's comment on the fact that it is not woolly but hairy and that these hairs a thick and not soft, that the colour is also wrong, I wonder... what if it was a horse, a horse from 1450?

As I have posted before there were probably hoses in Southern Patagonia prior to the arrival of the Saniards. This is some more evidence that buttresses that theory.

I have tried to identify this "Pali Aiken" hide but found nothing, it is not from there, but from another site, close by where in the mid 1970s, a body was found:[2]

  • Wearing "a non-tanned Mortuary Cape" (so it would very likely be made from a horse hide).
  • It is the oldest known Quillango.
  • It was found at Cerro Johny (Johny Hill, yes, with one "n") at the Ranch Estancia Brazo Norte, in Magallanes, Chile, close to the Pali Aike site.
  • It shrouded an adult, who was mummified.
  • "the design shows certain similarities with those painted on hose hides".
  • The body was dated to 1400 - 1500 CE.

Patagonian Horses again

This evidence corroborates Echeverría Baleta's dating and the fact that it may be a horse hide (if the scientists were able to think outside of their mental boxes, they would see things with a clear view: if its design is like those painted on horse hides, it is used for the same purpose tha t a horse hide was used, it looks like one, then, even though it is dated to well before horses were introduced into Patagonia (and America) by the Spanish, then, it is a HORSE!

Some papers which I have not been able to get my hands on yet, were written about this finding, maybe they can shed some light on this issue:

Martinic B., Mateo. 1976 Hallazgo y excavación de una tumba Aónikenk en Cerro Johnny (Brazo Norte) Magallanes. Punta Arenas. An Inst. Pat :95-98,
Jackman, J. 1976 Apéndice I Examen y tratamiento de cueros provenientes de una tumba tehuelche. An Inst. Pat :99-101


[1] EcheverríaBaleta, Mario , (1995). La Momia del Cerro Gualicho, Cumacú, B. Aires.pp. 31
[2]Caviglia, Sergio, El arte de las mujeres Aónikénk y Gününa Küna - Kay Guaj'enk o Kay Gütrruj (Las Capas Pintadas). Relaciones de la Sociedad Argentina de Antropología XXVII (2002) 2003. B. Aires, pp. 50

Monstruos de la Patagonia - Criptozoologia, Mitos & leyendas de la Patagonia
Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall ©

Horse Tracks in Ancient Patagonian Rock Art (which horses?)

rock engravings of horse tracks. Patagonia
The image above comes from Natalia Carden [1]. Fig. 10. It depicts: (A) a drawing of an ichnite of an extinct Hippidion sp. measuring 13 x 10 cm, found at Pehuen Có site in Buenos Aires. (B) Modern horse track –without shoe: 12 x 10 cm. (C) the tracks engraved at Alero El Galpón (each track about 10 x 10 cm).

This is another post in my series on the subject of the survival of native American horses until recent historic times. We all know that according to the “official” story, horses originated in America, and moved on towards Asia where they thrived while they became extinct in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene. The New World spent about 10.000 years without horses until the Europeans reintroduced horses after Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492. The horse spread through the Americas at the pace of its Conquistadors and reached the southernmost tip of the continent in the 1700s.

I have read an interesting paper by Natalia Carden (2009)[1], on Patagonian petroglyphs (rock carvings) that depict animal tracks, and, not so surprisingly, also horse tracks.

The image above is from her paper, which I will summarize below:

At Piedra de Museo, Santa Cruz, at the site known as Alero el Galpón (AEG), has several types of prints engraved in rock. Some of hem are cloven (i.e. guanaco prints), but others are definitively representations of one-digit ungulates such as horses.

Their hoofs are nearly circular and have a ‘V’ shaped notch on the rear part. The rocks have imprints that are very naturalistic as can be seen in the image above and image below (A). Other sites in Patagonia display similar designs but slightly more complex (B) and (C) below. Motif (C) has also been interpreted as a Labyrinth.

paleoindian rock art
Comparison of Rock Art motifs by N. Carden [1]

Carden addresses the age of these petroglyphs and the problem they present: rock engravings are Holocene and date from about 4,000 to 2,000 B.P. At the AEG site, the rock has been dated to middle/late Holocene some 7,400 years B.P.

Both lines of evidence, according to Carden would mean that the rocks are far too old to represent modern Old World horses brought by the Europeans and too young to represent Hippidion saldiasi New World horses, as these became extinct several thousands of years earlier (11 to 10,000 years B.P).

To explain how / why the Patagonian Paleo-Indians depicted extinct horse hoofs, engraving them in stone, Carden discusses the issue in diachronic terms: the prints were painted from memory, and re-signified by these natives who had never seen them.

Drawings like (B) and (C) are deformed due to this “re-signification”. The “memory” mentioned above is apparently a “mythical history”, and the horses are symbols of a mysterious past and reinterpreted. She puts forward as evidence the fact that “... the presence of Pleistocene bone remains in Holocene layers from the Patagonian and Pampean regions implies that fossils were collected by humans[...] and probably reinterpreted and imbued with symbolic meanings” [2].

She adds that the site may have been a good hunting ground and that the track petroglyphs are part of the mythical symbology of the “place”.

A very neat theory, well documented which fits nicely into the official view of Patagonian prehistory.

However, I am not constrained by Academia and can allow myself to be less cautious and fling some wild theories into the open: what if... the Pleistocene bone remains found in Holocene layers actually belonged to “Pleistocene” animals who survived well into the Holocene, and when they died, laid their remains in those Holocene layers without any human hands placing them there (perhaps we humans helped them pass away with our spears and arrows).
The theory that our distant ancestors dug up megafaunal fossils and gathered them in assemblies is a bit far-fetched. The simple answer is that the native American horses were alive and kicking at that time.

And, they were depicted from nature in the rocks.


[1] Carden, Natalia. (2009), Prints on the Rocks: a study of the track representations from Piedra Museo Locality (Southern Patagonia), Rock Art Research 2009- Volume 26, Number 1, pp.

Monstruos de la Patagonia - Criptozoologia, Mitos & leyendas de la Patagonia
Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall ©

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Buy "Monsters of Patagonia" & "Monstruos de la Patagonia"

The Book
Buy my book here. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

Maybe some of you are wondering how can you get your hands on a copy of "Monsters of Patagonia" or its Spanish language version "Monstruos de la Patagonia".

Well, it is quite simple:

Visit the website of my editor Sergio Zagier at or e-mail him

You can pay for either of the books using your credit card or Pay Pal, both from Argentina or from any other country.

Alternatively, they are available at Monsters of Patagonia and Monstruos de la Patagonia.

Buy my book here. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

"Monsters of Patagonia" my first book signing event

Feria del Libro

The 22ª Feria del Libro Infantil y Juvenil de Buenos Aires begins today in Buenos Aires at the "Centro de Exposiciones de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires", at the intersection of Figueroa Alcorta and Pueyrredón Avenues. It will take place during the next three weeks and close on Saturday, July 28th.

I will be attending the event to sign my book at the stand of Patagonia Sur Libros, number 208, which can be located in the following map in the upper central part of the exhibition center:

layout exhibition

Patagonia Sur Libros specializes in Patagonian books too, so it might interest you.

The idea of autographing my books, is quite a novelty and I am really excited.

The Exibition's timetable is the following:
  • Monday July 9: from 11:00 to 06:00 PM
  • From July 10 to 13: 09:00 AM a 06:00 PM
  • From July 14 to 28: Saturdays and Sundays: 02:00 PM ato 08:00 PM and Mondays to Fridays 11:00 AM to 08:00 PM.

Book Signing of "Monsters"

Yes, I will be autographing my book at the Exhibition on the following dates:

  • July 24 (Tuesday)...... 06:00 to 08:00 PM
  • July 26 (Thursday)..... 06:00 to 08:00 PM
  • July 28 (Saturday)..... 06:00 to 08:00 PM

You can also check them out at the Book Show's official website.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Book is here!

Book Monsters of Patagonia

The cover of my Book -English version

I have waited a long time for this moment! Yes, at last, after all these years, the "Book" in both Spanish and English languages is going to be available in less than two weeks from now.

I am delighted (to say the least). At Amazon if you enter the phrase "Monsters of Patagonia" or "Monstruos de la Patagonia" in the search box, you will come across the title that has not been released yet.

I will keep you updated on the launching of my book.

And of course, thank you all for your patience and support, it has helped me along the long road from inception to publication!

Now I must start working on the presentation here in Buenos Aires!



Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Chilludo - A Patagonian Yeti

lon chaney
Lon Chaney as the werewolf. Would The Chilludo look like him?

The Chilludo is another Patagonian hominid, which I mentioned briefly in a post (Patagonian Bigfoot?). Today’s entry will deal with this strangely named being.

Origin of the name

Though the word “chilludo” may seem to derive from the Spanish verb “chillar” which means to scream, to yell, to screech, to squeal or to squeak, it actually comes from a local Argentine word: “Chilludo: Said of people who have long straight and bristly hair or the body covered with this type of hair”.

The word is applied to sheep and goats that have long straight wool (Lincoln variety sheep are “chilludos” while Merino sheep are not).


The only “old” source that I can find referring to it is in Gregorio Alvarez (1889-1986), who was Patagonia’s first native born to graduate as a Doctor in medicine in 1919. His book El Tronco de Oro compiles his anecdotes and experience during his years as a country doctor who rode about on horseback taking care of the ill children in the Andean region of Neuquén province.

Trivia: a dinosaur discovered in that region in 1991 bears the name Alvarezsaurus.

So, getting back to the Chilludo. Alvarez recorded it in the 1950s:

”The Chilludo” is the name of a giant that appeared for the first time at Colo Michi Co, a rugged place where the stones engraved by the ancient Pehunches can be found, and whose meaning is still a mystery. According to don Julio Della Cha, the first report of the apparition of The Chilludo was around 1950. A youth, upon seing it, lost his mind.
He is described like “a big man” covered with long hair (chillas), that runs and jumps about the mountain slopes and gullies; a kind of yeti or snowman like those seen in the Himalayas

He adds that in that same place, Colo Michi Co, a Hungarian miner named Bela Beico also went mad (Patagonian Cabin Fever?)

According to another source, this man, Della Cha, owned a ranch in the area, at Cancha Huinganco, close by, so the man existed.

The stones mentioned by Alvarez, engraved by the native Pehuenche Indians, can be seen online at the following site:
Colo Michi Co rock art, they date back to about 500 AD.


Gregorio Alvarez. (1981) El tronco de oro: folklore del Neuquén. pp. 116.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One "Monster" less HydroAysen shelved

An extremely short post, which made my day. One of the two partners in a mega-dam scheme in Chilean Patagonia, Colbun, said that it was putting its plans in the freezer as the Chilean government had withdrawn its backing. The other partner, a Spanish company named Endesa was rethinking its options.

The project: "HidroAysen dam", would severely damage the environment in a pristine area of Chile and probably harm the endangered Huemul deer.

Lets hope Endesa shelves their plans too!.

Have a nice Saturday.

Read more here: Colbun will drop their Dam project in ChileanPatagonia.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project

Yes, you can now prove that those tufts of hair or organic matter that you believe belongs to bigfoot or yeti, are real. A team of scientists has requested that you send them these samples for DNA Analysis and publication in a formal scientific journal!

The Oxford-Lausanne Collateral Hominid Project

Prof. Bryan Sykes and Dr. Michel Sartori, write at their site: "As part of a larger enquiry into the genetic relationship between our own species Homo sapiens and other hominids, we invite submissions of organic material from formally undescribed species, or “cryptids”, for the purpose of their species identification by genetic means.".

Read more at the Oxford University's Wolfson College site

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, May 28, 2012

South African musings

Cape Agulhas
Cape Agulhas, southernmost tip of Africa. Photo by Austin Whittall May 2012.
Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

I visited South Africa. During the last two weeks my wife and I have taken a lovely vacation to that great country at the tip of the African continent. This is not the place to go into its turist attractions, the beauty of its landscape, the friendliness of its people, its wildlife, great food and wines, so please be assured that I won't bore you with my travel anecdotes. Instead I will post some thoughts on the peopling of South America starting out from the African Continent.

The nasty waters south of Africa

I had the opportunity to see the rough South Atlantic Ocean beating upon the rocky shores of the Cape of Good Hope, Hermanus and Cape Agulhas. I also experienced the Indian Ocean's surf roaring against beaches and cliffs along the south of South Africa between Port Elizabeth and Cape Agulhas. The sea is really rough.

The sight of these choppy waters has has made me reconsider the theory that I have mentioned in previous posts (The South African Out of Africa), which suggests that our ancient ancestor Homo erectus crossed these waters and skirted the Antarctic continent to reach America.

No man (or hominin) in his senses would dare venture into those roaring waves.

The photograph above was taken at the southernmost point of Africa, Cape Agulhas (34° 49' 58"S, 20° 00' 12"E), where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean waters meet.

Ancient record of humans in Southern Africa

I also had the chance to visit a caveat Mossel Bay, on the point, under the lighthouse.

Located at 22° 10' E and 34° 12' S the Cape of St. Blaize separates the rough Indian Ocean waters from those of Mossel Bay. The tip of the Cape was named after the Saint of the day Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias spotted this part of the world, in February 1488. He named the place Aguada de Sao Bras (Watering place of St Blaize).

The cave is actually an overhang, is known as Bat Cave and is set on Cape St. Blaize. It was excavated partially by Leith in 1888 and again in 1932 by A. J. H. Goodwin and B. D. Malan, who reported their findings in 1935. [1] The stone tools were described as Middle Stone Age "Mossel Bay Industry" and record about 165,000 years of human presence in this area.

The cave itself is about 30 m (95 ft) above sea level and is about 90 ft wide by 40 ft deep (27 by 12 m). It faces towards the southeast and offers a lovely view of the surf below. The following photograph shows both cave under the lighthouse:

Bat Cave Mossel Bay
Bat Cave at Mossel Bay. Photo Austin Whittall Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

So, modern humans have lived here for most of our existence as a distinct group of hominins. On the flight back to Buenos Aires, I read an interesting article [2] that made me wonder if other more ancient groups such as Australopithecus sediba may have lived at Mossel Bay or roamed the coasts of Southern Africa.

A. sediba may be the link between our homo genus and the more distant and primitive Australopithecines and has been proposed as an ancestor to H. erectus . These hominins lived about 2.3 Mya and their remains have been found at Johannesburg.

Could they be the ones that made it to Georgia? Was it they who left Africa before H. erectus? Since I am now discarding the South Atlantic route, could they have drifted across the more benign Equatorial route pushed by ocean currents? (see my post on the Trans Atlantic route) Or did they trek all the way into America across Asia and Beringia?

Further reading

[1] A. J. H. Goodwin and B. D. Malan, Archaeology of the Cape St. Blaize Cave and Raised Beach, Mossel Bay. Annals of the South African Museum, Vol. 24, part 3, S. 111-140

[2] Kate Wong, First of Our Kind: Could Australopithecus sediba Be Our Long Lost Ancestor?. Sensational fossils from South Africa spark debate over how we came to be human. Scientific American. March 20, 2012.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ukumar and bears or Homo erectus?

I have already written about the "Yeti" in the southern parts of South America , (Jan 18, 2011), but I will go over this subject again since several cryptozoology blogs and books [2] mention hairy ape-like men in the High Andes and some cite an event reported in the Puna region in Salta, Argentina, in 1956, at the small village of Tolar Grande (try googling "tolar grande 1956 sighting" and see the results).

Yeti and the media

The context is always important when you look at repeated reports of similar phenomena in a given period of time (for instance witches in the middle ages, UFOs in the 1950s and 60s).

The Yeti burst into the public eye and mind in the early 1950s: footprints were reported by Eric Shipton in 1951, and the team that were the first to conquer the summit of Mount Everst, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay also reported them on the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953. [1]. Later, in 1954 an expedition was sent to find one alive, funded by the English newspaper, the Daily Mail.

So it is not surprising that the Yeti was something that would crop up when strange hairy mountain beings were reported in the fifties. Also, the early 1950s was a period when UFOs began gaining public attention and newspapers published sightings weekly.

Cerro Macón

Cerro Macón (5.611 m - 18,396 ft.) also known as Icomán is a mountain located in the Province of Salta in northwestern Argentina (24° 27' S, 67° 15'W) it is part of the Cumbres del Macón Range of the Andes Mountains.

It is located in between the enormous salt flats of Pocitos and Arizaro and juts out above the surrounding extremely high Puna plateau which in this area is about 4,100 m high (13,440 ft.); it is an ancient sacred site for the local native Americans.

On its summit, there is a mound of stones 1.4 m (roughly 5 ft.) high, where the local natives leave their offerings (coca leaves, cigarettes) as well as two rectangular platforms 0.8 m (nearly 3 ft.) above ground level, these were evidently built during the period of Inca domination in the late fifteenth Century AD.[3]

The following map shows the location of Cerro Macón in the Puna, Salta province, Argentina. The village of Tolar Grande is at the tip of Route "27" and is set at 3.528 m (11,567 ft.) above sea level. It has only 148 inhabitants and was built in a lonely spot next to the railway station of the Salta - Antofagasta railroad.

Ver mapa más grande

The events of the mid 1950s

Below is a summary of what happened in the mid 1950s, I have found an interesting website [4] which has posted the actual cuttings from a local newspaper. I have translated the relevant parts.

  • July 17, 1956. The "El Tribuno" daily, of Salta city, reported that people had seen, close to Macón Mountain, "enormous human foot prints that are bigger than the size of those of elephants", it added that cigar shaped aircraft had been seen in the Puna skies as well as a "mysterious crash reported on the slopes of Cerro Macón, of which nothing else has been heard about to date". In other words, a Roswell accident in the Puna!
  • July 18, 1956. Same newspaper. An engineer by the name of "Audio Level Pitch" (odd indeed, sounds like an electronic device) saw "tracks going towards the imposing summit of the mountain, which are of a formidable size and that by logic deduction cannot belong to a human being or the animals of the region [...] the tracks are very similar to those of the "abominable snow man". The 50's context: Yetis and UFOs in one story. A newspaper seller!
  • July 19, 1956, Same source. The witness' name changed to "Claudio Level Spitch" . The tracks were spotted in the "cold sand and snow" , and are similar to those of the Yeti, but, must be of extraterrestrial origin since there was a "crash on the slopes of the Macón Mountain"
  • July 27, 1956. El Tribuno. A man named Ciriaco Taritolay, an animal driver from the Escoipe Canyon area (south of El Tolar Grande, and an access to the southern part of the Puna. Map of this area), saw at the entrance of the "Agua Chulla" Canyon, a "supernatural being", the man "remembered the descriptions he had read in EL TRIBUNO about the Yeti Man and thought that it may be Snow Man" , bearing this in mind he chased the creature with his shot gun but it quickly got lost in the hills. He described it as follows: "Tall, sturdy, its body covered with hair resembling frost, its feet 45 to 50 cm (18 - 20 in.), and very agile".

Comments on these incidents

The odd name of the source, Audio Level Pitch, loudly says "hoax". So I belive it was made up by some bored reporter at the El Tribuno. UFOs and Yeti were hot eye-catchers at the time, so it would have tempted someone to write about them.

The final article though it actually confirms that the eye witness read about the Yeti in the EL TRIBUNO!, points towards another local mythical being a hairy ape man, or, more correctly, the "bear-man".

The Ucumar

I will skip all the more recent authors who cite this book which I will mention below, and all the websites that copy and paste. I will go directly to the source, a treatise on Argentine popular myths written by Dr. Berta Elena Vidal de Battini, an anthropologist and sociologist who gathered local lore from direct sources all across the country, in the 1950s, tales, myths and popular stories which she published in her ten volume work "Cuentos y leyendas populares de la Argentina" (see sources below where you can read the digital book). [5]

Dr. Vidal de Battini specifically mentions the Ucumar in the stories she compiled (#2304 to #2310), the date is given at the end of each entry; all are in the early 1950s:

  • "The Ucumar is like a bear, like a bear-man. They say that it lives in places deep within the canyons, in the caves in the cliffs. They say he is stubby and has a pot belly. He has a long beard and his feet and legs like those of bears... the Ucumar steals women and takes them to live with him and he also nabs children. They say he has small but bright eyes. There are many cases in which the Ucumar has stolen women and had children with them. They say that after some time the wife and child run away from the Ucman and come to live with the woman's family". 1953. Salta.
    Comment. Notice how he compares it with a bear but calls him bear-man, who can mate and have offspring with humans.
  • "The Ucumar is an animal thal looks like a man, its body is completely covered with long black hair. It lives in the forest in uninhabited areas. The people fear it...". 1950.
    Comment. This person also mentions that it kidnaps women.
  • Calling it Ucumar: "On some nights, screams could be heard at the tops of the hills... [a man, in the forest stopped to drink at a stream and heard his dogs bark] he saw a being that resembled a man with long hair that covered his face, which he lifted to be able to see... he had the aspect of a hairy, long haired man". 1952
  • Calling it Ucumari: "it is a creature like a big man, that always goes about on two feet. The arms and legs are hairy or woolly and the face is very similar to that of a person". 1952. The story teller reports that it also steals women to have children with them.
  • Calling it Ucumare: "it is a small man, with his body covered with hair and his feet turned backwards... it is a monster-man, with extraordinary strength. The Colla women have told that they have had to fight with them to avoid being carried off whenever they come across one. They say that he has stealed women, taken them to the forest and that they have never returned" . 1958.
  • "Ucumar is a ugly creature that takes off people. If it is a male it will steal women; if it is a female it will take of the youths... Once a Ucumar female took a young man with her to the deepest jungle and put him in a cave, blocking the entrance with a stone. After some years she had a baby with the man." 1952.

Dr. Vidal de Battini outlines the main thread of all these stories: a bear that kidnaps women and has children with them. The bear-man is indeed the image of a real bear that lives in the Andes but is quite rare in northern Argentina. The stories about Ucumar were known by all those that lived in this area in the 1950s.

The bear that originates this myth according to Vidal de Battini is the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), the only bear found in South America. A shy jungle beast found from Venezuela to Bolivia on the eastern slopes of the Andes, in the tropical rain forest, and infrequently spotted in Argentina.

It can appear man-like since it, like all bears, can stand up on two feet (see a excellent National Geographic photograph of a standing spectacled bear)

The following image also shows a standing spectacled bear and, a Native American dressed up to resemble it!, more below: [6]

ukuku dancer and spectacled bear
An ukuko - ukuku dancer and a spectacled bear. From [6]

Ukuku "dancers" in Peru

During the Catholic festivity of Corpus Christi, at the Catholic Sanctuary of "Señor de Qoyllorit’i", at Mawayani, in Quispicanchi, close to Cusco, Peru, there are dances and celebrations. One group of "dancers" (they don't actually dance, but accompany the dancers) are men are known as "paulucha", "ukuko" or "ukuku".

They use costumes that make them look bear-like (see photograph above). The dress is called an "unku", which is a kind of long tunic with woollen fringes from which bells and mirriors hang. The man wears a balaclava called "waqollo" that gives his face a bearish look, and carries a whip. He does not dance, actually he follows the dancers and walks around in a clumsy manner. [6]

Their name comes from the native Quechua word for bear, "ukuku". And it originates in an ancient native myth.[6] According the myth, the ancestor of the ukuku was the son of a bear and an Indian woman. He was half man, half animal. He protects humans from the "condemned" that roam around the mountains. These are "living dead", zombies that have been fated to walk the slopes due to the sins that they comitted (especially incest) when they were human. Interestingly the ukuku has a "falsetto" shrill voice, a female voice in a male body.[7] How did our distant relatives the H. erectus vocalize? did they have a squeaky voice?

Bears in the Puna?

The spectacled bear is found in northern Argentina, in Jujuy and Salta, but in the jungles a the foot of the mountains that cordon off the high plateau of the Puna. Its habitat is a jungle known as the "Yungas" ecostystem, with a subtropícal climate. [8]

The Puna (where Mount Macón and Tolar Grande are located, as well as the Escoipe Canyon) is a very arid place, with scarce vegetation and high altitude (averages 4,000 m - 13,100 ft.). No jungle here, only rocks, cliffs, sand flats, boulders, sand, cacti and dry grasses. Rainfall is scarce.

Bear or hominid?

Probly the myth moved from the jungles of the lowlands to the arid high plateau with the natives in Pre Hispanic times. Alternatively the Inca from Peru may have brought their Ukuku myth with them when they conquered the area in the 1450s. Or, the myth may be local and refer to an endemic hominid that lives in the Puna (it could hunt the local camelids: llama, vicuña and guanaco or the taruca deer).

The bear myth seems to have pervaded the Natives of the southern tip of South America, and is found among the Mapuche in Patagonia: see my post on Patagonian bears.

In any case, the myth may or may not refer to a bear. Those who Vidal de Battini interviewed seeme to make it clear that it was bear-like. But they did not say that it Was a bear. Perhaps some grotesque interpretation of a hominid led them to compare it with a bear.

The fact that it can mate with women and men, means that it is a hominid very close to us, modern humans, very likely a H. erectus.


[1] Edmund Hillary. Epitaph to the elusive abominable snow man. Life Magazine. pp. 72. Jan 13, 1961

[2] George Eberhart, (2002) Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. ABC-CLIO, pp. 565

[3] María Constanza Ceruti. (2997). Prospecciones en sitios de alta montaña en el noroeste andino argentino: informe preliminar. 49th Congreso Internacional Americanista, Quito, Ecuador. July 7-11, 1997.

[4] Caso Cerro Macon.

[5] Vidal de Battini, Berta Elena, (1960). Cuentos y leyendas populares de la Argentina Vol. 8. Alicante, 2010 pp. 823

[6] Carlos Olivera. (2011). Los ukukos en Qoyllorit’i June 01, 2011

[7] Fernando Martínez Gil, Gerardo Fernández Juárez. La fiesta del Corpus Christi. Univ de Castilla La Mancha. pp 353

[8] Del Moral J. Fernando, Bracho Andrés E. Indicios indirectos de la presencia del oso andino (Tremarctos ornatus Cuvier, 1825) en el noroeste de Argentina . Rev. Mus. Argent. Cienc. Nat. [revista en la Internet]. 2009 Jun [citado 2012 Mayo 12] ; 11(1): 69-76. Disponible en:

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

HTLV-II and the peopling of America

HTLV-2 in Africa
Map showing HTLV-II in Central Africa. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

Human T cell leukemia / lymphoma virus (HTLV) is found in four types numbered from one to four, they are closely linked to similar virus found among simians (STLV). Collectively, the HTLV groups and their STLV analogues are called “primate T-lymphotropic viruses” (PTLV).

In today’s post we will focus on the two main HTLVs (they are retrovirus that causes cancer and other disorders). The first of them is known as HTLV-I; it is closely related to a simian virus (STLV-I) and is considered an Old World virus, which has affected both humans and apes in Asia and Africa for milennia. [2]

The other type, HTLV-II is a cosmopolitan endemic illness among Intravenous Drug Users (IUD) all around the world. However, in 1990, it was unexpectedly discovered among an isolated group of American Indians, the Guaymi in Panama and a year later among other native Americans in the US. This came as quite a surprise which is difficult to explain how it could have appeared among separate Amerindian groups.

HTLV-II the American virus

Further research has established that HTLV-II is found among highly separated and often geographically isolated native American groups and this poses a problem because, highly influenced by the prevailing theories, nobody dates the arrival of HTLV-II type to America beyond the established 10,000 - 40,000 years ago that fits the orthodox temporal window for the Asian migration into the New World through Beringia.

As we mentioned above, HTLV-II, is prevalent all across the globe in intravenous-drug users (IUD), and the dispersal they caused is a very recent event. They surely picked up the infection sharing needles with Native Americans in the US, however the point of origin is not yed defined.

The interesting part is that prior to IUD dispersal, HTLV-II was only found in America, where two (actually three) subtypes can be found:

  • HTLV-IIa is only found exclusively among some groups of American Indians such as the American Indian tribes of North, Central, and South America, including the Navajo and Pueblo in New Mexico and the Kayapo, Kraho, and Kaxuyana in Brazil. (this endemic Brazilian Amazonian subcluster is slightly different and have been designated as HTLV-IIc[1], it may differ due to a founder effect and is intimately linked to the original Paleo Indians who peopled the region.[10]
  • HLTV-IIb is the other strain which is also found exclusively among Amerindians: Guaymi in Panama, the Wayu and Guahibo in Colombia, the Toba and Mataco in Argentina, and some Navajo and Pueblo in New Mexico. It is known as the “Paleo Indian strain” [7] [1]

As it was found among isolated Amerindian groups, and at high frequencies, initially the HTLV-II virus was thought to have originated in America. However, and this is another surprising fact, the virus is also present among Pygmies in Africa.

The fact that there are two reservoirs of HTLV-II, one in indigenous American populations and the other in African pygmies, groups which are as far apart within H. sapiens as one can find, is indeed a deep mystery.

The Pygmy connection: Africa

Besides infecting Pygmies, there is also an African simian virus very similar to HTLV-II that affects bonobos (a relative of the chimpanzees). This may indicate an African origin for the human virus, derived from the simian one. Furthermore, HTLV-IIb is found among Cameroonian Pygmy people but has very close phylogenetic relation with Amerindian HTLV-2b strains. [1].

The strains are “highly similar to each other (below 1% nucleotide divergence) , as well as to Amerindian HTLV-2b strains”[9]; a molecular clock analysis indicates that it has been endemic among the Bakola Pygmies for “a long time”.[9]

The HTLV-b strain has also been found in a non-Pygmy Gabonese family. If we cannot rule out some transoceanic contact with Paleoindians, then this virus must have originated in Africa [7]. We will look into this later (see below: Conclusions).

There is also another strain, HTLV-IId discovered among the Congolese Efe Pygmy (Bambuti Pygmies), a group which is not very admixed with other groups and are considered one of the oldest African people.[1]

So, we have two distinct groups of Pygmies infected with two different subtypes of HTLV-II, the Bambuti and the Bakola, each located at the extreme eastern and western points of the Pygmy territory. These are people which are completely different from their neighbors with whom they do not mix and have been separated from them for ten to twenty thousand years . Their isolation and lack of admixture means that they must be an ancient reservoir of the HTLV-II virus. [7]

The paper that deals with the Pygmy strain of HTLV-IId, [1], states that as the closest simian virus is found among the bonobos in Africa, the human strain must have originated there too, remained in Africa and, had the “longest independent evolution” among al HTLV-II strains. It goes on and says that the other two strains reached America on human hosts[1], in two different “waves” [7].

We will look into this assertion later (see below: Conclusions)

But, and this is an interesting question: How did HTLV-2 reach America? And why are there two varieties (“a” and “b”) found in America? There is no evidence of HTLV-II in Asia, the route upheld by orthodox science as the one taken by modern humans “Out Of Africa”, across Asia and through Beringia into America. I will try to answer both below.

To clarify the picture, the following figure, (from [10]) shows the different HTLV-II strains:

  • HTLV-IIa (Amerindians) in Yellow
  • HTLV-IIb (Amerindians) in Green. IUDs not shaded; cosmopolitan distribution
  • HTLV-IIc (Amazonian strain) is shown in blue.

Pygmies are highlighted with an arrow, the “b” and “d” subtypes. And also an “a” type. Which I had not found mentioned in the bibliography.

HTLV-2 strains
From Fig 2 [10].

In America but not in Asia how can that be?

Assuming that the contemporary Asian descendants of the humans who peopled America had HTLV-II, a group of scientists [2] sampled 778 Siberians in 1993 at Tchoukotka and Sakhalin island and at other Northern Siberian populations. The sampling spanned a wide range of ethnic groups: Tchouktche, Nivkh, Evene, Yakoute, Eskimo, Russians, Dogen, Orok, Nganas, Evenke, Nenetse, and various other ethnic origins, surprisingly, not one of them was HTLV-II positive. A similar finding was reported by Neel et al. (1994) (sample n=473). [2]

Trying to explain this odd situation that defies the logic of the Beringian entry into America, the authors suggested several possible explanations:

  • the sample did not cover groups that had the virus.
  • A founder effect (population bottle neck that wiped out those carrying the original virus).
  • The extant population contains only a small proportion of the ancient mongoloid group that peopled America (and had the virus).
  • The virus disappeared due to a drop in transmission rate caused by (unexplained) cultural and / or environmental changes. [2]

The final and most likely probable cause given was that the current Siberians are not related to the group that peopled America and hence, don’t have the virus.[2]

In no other part of Asia has the HTLV-II virus been found with the exception of a single report of HTLV-IIa serological profiles in three Mongolian women, which was reported in a 1994 Annual Meeting of Virologists (W.W. Hall et al. 1994). [3]

However this finding was not printed later in any journal and, the author professor Hall, who is a world authority on HTLV-II, did not mention the issue again in the 18 years that have gone by since then.

Hall has recently studied HTLV infections in America and in Asia, his team was, of course, seeking the source of Amerindian HTLV, so knowing that Siberia showed no signs of the virus, “the researchers decided to go to Outer Mongolia” there “Hall's group found HTLV-I among remote peoples in Mongolia, but no HTLV-II. Not finding HTLV-II was significant, as it suggested an American origin [of the virus].” [4], a conclusion that is in contradiction with the Pygmy findings in Africa and the African origin of the virus.

Based on this evidence we can safely conclude that there is no clear proof available on the existence of HTLV-2-like viruses in modern Asian human and nonhuman primates.

So, how did the virus get to America without leaving any traces in modern Asian humans? Furthermore, HTLV-1 is present in Asia and also in America, so the human host who brought it into America managed to live on in Asia with it (in a future post we will take a look at HTLV-1 and the peopling of America). Why did HTLV-2 leave no traces in Asia?

Quick answer: it was not taken there by modern humans but by other now extinct hominids More below, see Conclusions.

It is a matter of Time and divergence

When comparing the different strains of virus, scientists look at the differences (nucleotidic divergence) and take it as an indication of how long they have evolved separately. The more differences, the longer they have been apart.

The divergence between HTLV-IIa and HTLV-IIb is about 4.8%. What can this tell us?

Since the internal divergence of HTLV-IIb between the different Amerindian groups varies from 0 to 0.4%, on an average 0.2%, and these people have been isolated for milennia, a very simple and straightforward calculation (and a very approximate one also) would allow us to calculate that the “a” and “b” strains have been apart for about (4.8/0.2 = 24) twenty four times longer. [7]

Of course, evolution rate may not be constant as time passes (accelerates, decelarates, stops and starts), it may vary along the nucelotide, quicker in some areas, slower in others. This is reflected in the range given for the evolutionary rate in the bibliography: evolutionary rate is estimated at 0.1 to 1% per 1000 years (a tenfold difference). Furthermore, it seems that it may even be lower in populations with predominantly vertical (mother-child) transmission such as Amerindians [8]

Virologists test their divergence estimates against “established” mileposts defined by anthropologists, take this example (from [11]):

The relaxed molecular clock was calibrated with two independent molecular calibration points; 12,000 – 30,000 ya as confidence intervals for the origin of HTLV-2 as it migrated out of Africa and Asia and into the Americas via the Bering land bridge and 40,000 – 60,000 ya as confidence intervals for the origin of HTLV-1 in Melanesia as it became populated with people from Asia... The PTLV evolutionary rate assuming the global molecular clock model was estimated by using the divergence time of 40,000 – 60,000 years ago (ya) for the Melanesian HTLV-1 lineage (HTLV-1mel) and 12,000–30,000 ya for the most recent common ancestor of HTLV-2a/HTLV-2b native American strains..."[11]

But what if the clocks are based on incorrect temporal events? Say it was a pre-sapiens hominid who brought the HTLV-II into America long before the 12-30 Kya date? Or if HTLV-1 reached Melanesia in the blood of a H. erectus 1.8 million years ago?

Below are two different examples of the outcome of these divergence estimates and the dates of course differ

1. Divergence of the different HTLV and STLV virus [6]

This paper includes a Figure, shown below, in which the PTLV-1 and PTLV-3 human and simian viruses are intermingled, but the HTLV-2 and STLV-2 have lineages that are clearly separated from each other. [6] Does this reflect that there is no recurrent or repeated cross-infections between species in HTLV-2?

Note the split dates. The split between PTLV-3 and the other two happened between 947 and 632 Kya. HTLV-2 broke off from the simian STLV-2 some 192- 287 Kya, and it was about 579 to 867 Kya that PTLV-1 and PTLV-2 split apart.[6]

HLTV-2 divergence times
PTLV evolution times Fig. 8.2 from [6].

HTLV2 divergence
HTLV-II Divergence Tree. Fig 5 from [11].

2. Divergence of the different HTLV and STLV virus [13].

This paper includes several figures all similar (though the exact dates differed slightly) and we have taken one, shown above which depicts the different HTLV and STLV variants and their evolution. The branch lengths are proportional to “median divergence times” in years and the scale at the bottom shows 100,000 years.

It estimates the following dates in years BP: PTLV-4 split from PTLV-2 happened between 49,800 and 378,000 years ago. The PTLV-1 : 54,250 - 75,100 years, PTLV-2: 75,200 -128,600 years, and PTLV-3: 40,850 - 71,700 years.

The dates of examples 1 and 2 differ considerably, so it makes me wonder how reliable are these “clocks” and divergence times. Furthermore, since they are taking the entry date of modern humans into America (12- 30 Kya) as a benchmark to calibrate their clocks, I am even more doubtful about their reliability. As we will see below there is some discrepancy among specilists regarding the divergence dates.

Conclusions, Discussion and possible explanations

Having read all the facts and seen all the data we have to explain the following:

  • A virus strain, HTLV-II with three subtypes “a”, “b” and “c” found basically in America (North and South)
  • The same virus HTLV-II subtype “b” found among Gabonese and Bakola Pygmies.
  • Another unique African strain “d” , apparently the most divergent and therefore ancient, among another group of Pygmies, the Efe or Bambuti.
  • No virus (we exclude the recent dispersal by IUDs) anywhere else in the whole world.
  • Similar virus in D.R. of Congo Bonobo simians in Africa suggesting an African origin.

First lets take a look at the African “b” Subtype “outliers” the Gabonese and the Bakola Pygmies.

Why are the IIb subtypes from America and the Pygmies so similar?

Long residence in isolated populations such as the Amerindians and the Pygmies should provoke a high level of genetic drift. But, the divergence within IDUs is higher than the one found among the reservoir populations! And “tree branch length of nearly all viral strains within the major groups are short, indicating only a few genetic differences are unique to each strain irrespective of origin.” [13].

This could be explained by “a recent origin of modern day HTLV-II with repeated episodes of intercontinental dissemination” [13] But this option can be discarded based on the unique diversity of subtype IId and STLV-II

But the extreme similarity between strains fouond in Colombia and Cameroon; and Chile and Gabon, show such a small divergence that [13] ”based on the rates of change from IVDU (Salemi et al. 1998a), yields a recent divergence time of 100–400 years ago for the transcontinental strains.”[13] (Below is a link to Salemi’s paper).

In an attempt to circumvent this contradiction some have proposed that coevolution between host and virus in isolated communities is different to the mutation rate of the virus when it enters a new host population such as IDUs (where it evolves faster). Thus mutation rate may be “mutation rate may be orders of magnitude different”[13] (slower) among Amerindians.

I think that the answer is much more simple and straightforward:

The Gabonese and Bakola HTLV-IIb source: Brazil

If we accept Salemi’s time frame of 100 – 500 years BP as the age of HTLV-IIb subtype, and ask ourselves if there is any link between Equatorial Africa and America through which the virus could have moved during that window, we can immediately answer: yes, there was a link: the Atlantic slave trade.

Of the 11 million Africans that were captured, enslaved and ferried across the Atlantic, about 3 to 5 million went to Brazil. This country held the largest slave population in the whole world. These Africans came from the Portuguese setlements in Africa: Mozambique, Angola, Cabinda, Guina Bissau, Cape Vert and other sites along the Gulf of Guinea. Gabon and Cameroon were providers of slaves too.

It is highly probable that the HTLV-IIb strain detected in Gabon, and virtually identical to the Amerindian strains may came from America: Gabon was a source of slaves for the Americas and a coastal settlement set up for this purpose in ths sixteenth century, taking slaves from deep inland and loading them on slave ships. Paradoxically it ended up as Libreville (Freetown), the current capital of Gabon, which housed freed slaves captured by the French navy in the 1840s and grew to become a settlement with freed slaves.[15]

The crew of slave ships could have easily become infected with Amerindian HTLV-II from prostitutes at the South American Ports (Brazil or elsewhere in Spanish America) where they unloaded their human cargo, and taken the virus back with them to Africa on their voyages to pick up more slaves or to trade with goods sent from Brazil to Africa. Similar horizontal transmission from sailors to African prostitutes at the Eastern African slave loading posts would have ensured transmission from one side to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Could the infection have spread to the isolated Bakola Pygmies?

The Bakola Pygmies were not so isolated

The eastern Bakola Pygmies have interacted with the Bantu people along the coastal areas of Congo, Cameroon and Gabon for hundreds of years: ”In fact, unilateral marriage practicesin which Kwassio [ Bantu] men marry Bakola [Pygmy] women, and the children born from suchmarriage, have provided an opportunity for a spatial and temporal developmentof a long standing Bakola /Ngoumba relationship”. [16]

Marriage and the carnal relations it entails are a sure way for horizontal transmission of HTLV-II from coastal groups in touch with slave ship crews and inland Pygmy populations.

Wrap up: Therefore it is plausible therefore that American HTLV-II b subtype virus entred Gabon via slave ship crews and that prostitues in both America and Africa acted as infection routes: in America from Amerindians to sailors and in Africa from sailors to local population. These in turn through marriage infected the Bakola. The recent temporal window suggested for this virus subtype and the homogeinity among the viral strains in disparate locations are thus explained.

The Bambuti Pygmy “d” strain and bonobos

The “d” subtype is very interesting and there are two possible scenarios that can explain its great divergence from the Amerindian strains:

1. Recent origin: “it cannot be excluded that this yet unique HTLV-2 D strain could have been quite recently acquired from a a simian host, implying that its divergence does not reflect a long standing presence in the human host.”[12]. The text cited, speaks for itself. In other words, the apes infected the Bambuti pygmies recently

2. Ancient origin: it could be equally likely that the strain is very old among humans, as can be seen by its great divergence and is closer to the STLV-2 strains. This indicates an ancient origin in Africa.

What cannot be defined however is “whether the virus originated in the bonobo chimps and then infected humans, or if a common ancestor infected both humans and P. paniscus early within type II evolution”.[13]

This is interesting and we will look into it again below.

Why is it not found in Asia?

Quick answer: it was not taken there by modern humans but by other now extinct hominids. Lets elaborate on this:

The classic scenario for the dispersal of HTLV-II is the following: [13]

...type II viruses diverged from a common ancestor with other HTLV/STLV in Africa, and HTLV-II subsequently formed a minimum of three major lineages (IIa, IIb, IId) within Africa. With ancestral human migration events, subtypes IIa and IIb were carried into the New World and segregated among ethnic Amerindian tribes... [13]

This scenario requires two separate waves of ancestral humans taking the two different “a” and “b” varieties of HTLV-2 to America. Which, in my opinion is very complicated, especially since not one member of these waves remained in Asia with the HTLV-II virus in them.

The simple explanation is the following: PTLV-II originated in Africa and infected the bonobos and a group of hominids, perhaps Homo habilis, that preyed on them and got infected. The STLV-II adapted to these hominids and produced an ancestral HTLV strain.

Some of the infected H. habilis moved out of Africa and into Asia, taking the “proto IIC” (yes, “c”) with them. Others remained in Africa, and their HTLV-II would later evolve into the “IId” which died out elsewhere, but survived to infect the Bambuti humans. It is probable that H. habilis was preyed on by groups of H. erectus or other hominds, and that the last relict non “sapiens” hominids infected the Bambutis.

H. habilis bypassed Southern Asia and its simian inhabitants, which is why the Asian apes are not infected. They chose to live in the Caucasus. Their “Georgian” descendants must have pushed on, through an empty Siberia, across Beringia, into America, following their big megafaunal game. The few that remained behind disappeared without a trace and did not infect the hominids that would follow their steps. Or perhaps did, infecting Neanderthals, but since they passed away too, their HTLV-II is lost.

H. erectus who followed them later, chose a southern route (India, Indonesia, China and perhaps Australia), but they were not infected and did not take the virus with them. Perhaps they had HTLV-I, but we will look into that in another post.

Modern humans when they left Africa and entered Asia, were also free of HTLV-II, it remained in a backwater of Congo, tied up in the Bambuti Pygmies.

Modern humans lived in an HTLV-II free Asia!. That is why it has not been detected there.

The Georgians into America across Beringia 1.5 million years ago is a very ancient event, and it surely puts the “genetic clock” used to calculate divergence and evolution of viral strains in another setting. The dates divergence are very likely unreliable.

Highlight. There were no humans in Asia when H. habilis took a proto HTLV-IIa across Siberia and into America.

Cross-species transmission and the PTLV-II anomaly

STLV-1 strains have repeatedly infected human beings and this is the origin of the different subtypes of HTLV-1 found in Africa. The same can be said for the origin of HTLV-3. [11] The source of infection: hunting and eating monkeys, a horizontal prey-primate hunter transmission of a zoonotic infection, and intimate contact with the prey’s body fluids. [11]

Evidence of this is the more than 15 species of Asian and African apes are infected with HTLV-I, and 15 African ones with HTLV-III, your would expect a similar situation with HTLV-II, but no, it has not been detected in any wild apes in Africa, and has only been isolated in pygmy chimpanzees or bonobos (Pan pansicus) housed at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the USA but originally captured in the Democratic Republic of Congo [6] (where evidence of STLV-2 among wild bonobos has recently been sugested).[17]

So, beyond the bonobos, no STLV-II virus is found in Africa, this is very different to PTLV-I and III. Why?

The surprising thing is that STILV-II has been found in New World spider monkeys (Atles fusciceps) from Panama. [5] The authors of the paper that discoverd this, cautiously write: “There are several lines of evidence to suggest that the STLV-II isolate described here is a new simian retrovirus closely related to but distinct from HTLV-II...”. They continue and speculate: “New fossil evidence suggests that the time of origin of simian primates may be pushed back into the Paleocene period, which means that direct migration of simians between Africa and South America is more likely...”.

And finally: “HTLV-II infection may be endemic in certain New World aboriginal populations [...] since these Indian tribes are relatively isolated [the infection] may have arisen from close contact with primates....[5]

In other words: Ancient African apes had STLV-II, and that long ago,when South America and Africa were part of a Supercontinent, the virus was present in both groups. Later it evolved and infected Amerindian humans with HTLV-II. This is very unlikely (the similarity between African and American PTLV-II suggests one unique origin and dispersal out of Africa into America in more recent times than the Paleocene.

The more likely situation is that H. habilis entered America (which was free of PTLV-II), and that they infected the spider monkeys.

The Amazonian “IIc” anomaly: it is an ancient strain

We have mentioned at the beginning of this post that HTLV-IIc is included as a subcluster of IIa. What is interesting about “IIc” is that it has a very unusual feature, a protein encoded by its Tax gene (the virus contains this and other genes that modulate viral expression and play an important role in its pathogenesis) is similar to the one encoded by HTLV-IIb but is longer than that of type IIa. On the other hand its env (another gene) and LTR (gene expression control center) strongly resembles type IIa.

A possibility is that the long Tax gene is ancestral and was lost by the IIa subtype but was kept by IIc. Interestingly, the other “ancient” lineages of PTLV-II, the STLV-II and the “IId” variety also have long Tax genes. [13]

Point to remember The Amazonian “IIc” must therefore be older than “IIa” (which surely arose from it), and also older than “IIb”. It is probably as ancient as the “IId” found among the Bambuti Pygmies.

This is logical if you assume that H. habilis brought the proto HTLV-IIC with him into America. It evolved there isolated from the other “d” strain. And originated the “a” and “b” strains, the latter would then infect the newcomer H. sapiens when they reached America, and through them would later return to Africa in the blood of the slave ship crews to infect Gabonese and Bakola Pygmies.

Closing Comments

This has been a very long post, though I sincerely hope it was not a boring one!

What I tried to point out were two things: one, that a hominid other than us, modern humans could have brought HTLV-II into America long before the accepted date of entry (beyond 30 Kya) of humans into the New World. And two, that scientists take this date (30 Kya) as written in stone and calibrate their genetic clocks as well as build complicated theories to avoid going against it other, unconventional yet much more simple explanations such as the one mentioned above (early peopling of America by non-sapiens hominids.

Comments, suggestions, criticism is welcome


[1] Anne-Mieke Vandamme, et al. (1988). African Origin of Human T-Lymphotropic Virus Type 2 (HTLV-2) Supported by a Potential New HTLV-2d Subtype in Congolese Bambuti Efe Pygmies. J. Virol. May 1998 vol. 72 no. 54327-4340

[2] Gressain, Antoine, et al. (1996). Serological Evidence of HTLV-I But Not HTLV-II Infection in Ethnic Groups of Northern and Eastern Siberia. Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology: 1 April 1996 - Volume 11 - Issue 4 - pp 413,414. Letters to the Editor.

[3]Hall, W. W., S. W. Zhu, P. Horal, Y. Furuta, G. Zagaany, and A. Vahlne., (1994). HTLV-II infection in Mongolia. Abstracts of the Annual Meeting of the Laboratory of Tumor Cell Biology, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda,Md.

[4] Clarie O’ Connell, (2007). UCD virus hunter travels the world seeking answers. Science Spin - January 2007

[5] Chen, Y. M. A., Y. J. Jang, P. J. Kanki, Q. C. Yu, J. J. Wang, R. J. Montali, K. P. Samuel, and T. S. Papas, (1994).Isolation and characterization of simian T-cell leukemia virus type II from New World monkeys. J. Virol. 68:1149–1157

[6] Alexander Voedvodin, Preston Marx, (2009). Simian Virology, Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 197.

[7] Antoine Gessain et al. (1995). Isolation and molecular characterization of a human T-cell lymphotropic virus type II (HTLV-II), subtype B, from a healthy Pygmy living in a remote area of Cameroon: An ancient origin for HTLV-II in Africa. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. Vol. 92, pp. 4041-4045, April 1995.

[8] Angus G. Dalgleish. HIV and the New World Viruses pp 308+

[9] Philippe Mauclère (2011). HTLV-2B Strains, Similar to Those Found in Several Amerindian Tribes, Are Endemic in Central African Bakola Pygmies. Journal of Infectious Diseases. Published on behalf of Infectious Diseases Society of America. Volume 203, issue 9, pages 1316-1323

[10] Ethienne Lobato dos Santos et al., (2009). Molecular characterization of HTLV-1/2 among blood donors in Belém, State of Pará: first description of HTLV-2b subtype in the Amazon region Rev. Soc. Bras. Med. Trop. vol.42 no.3 Uberaba May/June 2009

[11] William M Switzer, et al., (2009). Ancient, independent evolution and distinct molecular features of the novel human T-lymphotropic virus type 4. Retrovirology 2009, 6:9 doi:10.1186/1742-4690-6-9.

[12] Thomas Leitner, Ed. The Molecular Epidemiology of Human Viruses. Chapter 7. Gessain A, Meertens L and Mahieux R. Molecular Epidemiology of Human T cell leukemia / lymohoma viruses Type 1 and Type 2...”. pp. 149.

[13]Jill Pecon Slattery, Genoveffa Franchini, and Antoine Gessain, (1999). Genomic Evolution, Patterns of Global Dissemination, and Interspecies Transmission of Human and Simian T-cell Leukemia/Lymphotropic Viruses. Genome Res. 1999. 9: 525-540

[14] Salemi M., Vandamme A.-M., Gradozzi C., Van Laethem K., Cattaneo E., Taylor G., Casoli C., Goubau P., Desmyter J., Bertazzoni U.(1998a) Evolutionary rate and genetic heterogeneity of human t-cell lymphotropic virus type II using isolates from European injecting drug users. J. Mol. Evol. 46:602–611.

[15] P. Hinks, John R. McKivigan,R. Owen Williams. Encyclopedia of Antislavery and Abolition, Volumen 2. pp. 432,

[16] Ngima Mawounga. (2001), The relationship between the Bakola and the Bantu poples of the coastal regions of Cameroon ...". Study Monographs, Suppl.26: 209-235, March 2001 209. pp. 214

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The South African "out of Africa" route

My last posts have dealt with a Brazilian geologist and Archaeologist, Maria Beltrão. She has proposed that our distant relative, the H. erectus reached America over 1 million years ago. Below I post about her and the route she proposes for this migration of H. erectus into America.

Beltrão writes about herself

Beltrão points out in an article [1] that hominids have been living in Asia at least since 1.8 million years ago (in Indonesia, central China and Pakistan), and also in Georgia, (the remains are probably anHomo habilis), with this in mind, she adds:

If over 5 million years ago, animals crossed from Asia to America and vice versa, man, being a hunter why did he say “no” to America and did not follow his prey during the last 2 or 4 million years?”[1]

As a geologist, she has sought out sites whose surface is sealed off, either with marl as at Toca da Esperança, or with lava as at Itaboraí, to ensure undisturbed layers.

The South African gateway

She proposed (together with Paepe, 1978 - I have not been able to find the paper / article) a migration from South Africa to South America during the glacial period, crossing the ice pack.

This is an interesting “Out of Africa” route, it must go south, cross the sea between South Africa and the ice pack surrounding the Antarctic, then go along the pack’s coastline till it reaches America and from there, back up, into Patagonia. A long and risky journey that combines sailing and trekking along the ice pack.

I have posted about a possible route via the Antarctic into South America, but from the West, from Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. An equally difficult and longer route than the South African one.

To get an idea of what would have to be trekked – sailed – navigated, I combined two different maps that depict the coastline of Southern Africa and the Southern part of South America during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), when most of the water was stashed away in the form of gigantic ice sheets covering the Northern Hemisphere, Antarctica and parts of South America and New Zealand. The sea level dropped and exposed parts of the continental shelves of both continents (shaded in light green). The sources of the maps are [2] and [3]. I also added another map taken from[4], and adapted from its FIG. 5. Which shows the ice thickness in meters (filled color contours) winter during the LGM. South Africa not included in the original map, was added by me. The red arrow shows the possible land and sea route that could be used to reach America from Africa.

I am well aware that our friend, the H. erectus would have reached America long before the last Ice Age and its LGM, yet even so, I chose the LGM coastline for two reasons: one, that all previous glaciations would have provoked a similar drop in sea level and, two, that I could not find any data on previous glaciation coastlines.

Below are the maps:

LGM coastline South Africa South America

Out of Africa erectus route
Maps showing Antarctic route from South Africa to America. LGM coastline given as a reference. Adapted by A. Whittall from [2][3] and [4]

I believe that the circumpolar current flows from West to East and therefore would hinder a direct navigation across the South Atlantic. But I must check to see if this is valid for glacial periods.


[1] Maria Beltrão, (2008). Depoimentos de Arqueólogos pioneiros: Maria Beltrão, ISSN 1807-1783, atualizado em 02 de abril de 2008. História e-História

[2] C.Leigh Broadhursta et al, (2002). Brain-specific lipids from marine, lacustrine, or terrestrial food resources: potential impact on early African Homo sapiens . Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part B: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Volume 131, Issue 4, April 2002, Pages 653–673

[3] L. Miotti and M.C. Salemme, (2003), When Patagonia was colonized: people mobility at high latitudes during Pleistocene/Holocene transition. Quaternary International. Volumes 109–110, 2003, Pages 95–111

[4] Otto-Bliesner, et al, (2006). Last Glacial Maximum and Holocene Climate in CCSM3 J. Climate, 19, 2526–2544. doi:

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