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

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 ©


  1. 450 B.P. is around 1550 C.E., not 1450.

  2. Thanks for pointing out my error, actually the correct date is, 1500 CE.
    That date is based on the following concept: " Dates are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" (BP), with "present" defined as AD 1950".

  3. Hi Mr Wittall,
    I just found your blog, and I find it fascinating.
    The quillango is beautiful and very reminiscent of plains Indian buffalo capes. But that is very early for horses. 1500 ad. There is some what of a horse mystery in my area, central California.
    Although the Spanish got to cal. early and established the missions, they didn't make meaningful inroads into the interior till the early 19th century. Early mission documents from the central coast missions talk of capturing wild horses in the san Joaquin valley, and one of the early American frontiersman, Joseph Walker, was leading expeditions into cal. to capture wild horses in the san Joaquin valley and taking them south to Mexico to sell. Even the famed bandit Joaquin Murietta, rounded up wild horses to take to southern California and Mexico to sell. This trade in wild san Joaquin valley horses went on for 70 years before the last of them were relegated to the inhospitable and remote coastal mountains, where their elusive descendants can still be found if your patient and quiet.
    It make me wonder if there were some isolated pockets of wild horses that predate European colonization.

  4. maybe a DNA analysis of those horses may lead to interesting findings!
    Thanks for your comments.


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