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, 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:

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

Homo Erectus tools found next to Rio de Janeiro

Map of boa viagem island Brazil
Map: Boa Viagem Island, Brazil. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

Brazilian geologist and archaeologist Maria Beltrão did not only find evidence of Homo erectus presence in Brazil at the Toca da Esperanca site (mentioned in one of my recent posts), she has also uncovered remains at other sites in Brazil. In this post we will deal with the findings at a site next to the mega city of Rio de Janeiro, on a minute island.

Boa Viagem Island

This Island is located across the Bay of Guanabara, right in front of the famous Sugar Loaf mountain, in Rio de Janeiro. It is a minute island very close to the shore (it is linked to it by a pedestrian bridge) and it is next to the beach that bears its same name (which in Portuguese means: “Good Voyage” or “Good Trip” : safe journey). The map above gives the general location of the island, and this is the link to google maps

The portuguese built a fort on it, to protect the harbour in the seventeenth century. It is a hill that juts out of Guanabara bay, covered with a thick jungle. The fort was destroyed during a naval revolt in 1893, it is now being recovered as a natural reserve.

Ancient stone tools were uncovered during a dig in the ruins of the old fort. [2], and based on these tools,” Maria Beltrão belives that she can support her theory that tribes of Homo erectus arrived to the [American] continent over one million years ago, from Africa” [1] .

The stone tools are made from quartz and are very primitive choppers. Beltão has no doubts: “They is no doubt that they are stones flaked by man”[2]

These tools are dated at about 130,000 years BP based on the “geologic and topologic correlations” [2]. The team will dig deeper to see if there are fossils in the soil.

According to Beltrão the hominids “probably chose Boa Viagem to protect themselves from the attack of the large Mid Pleistocene animals”[2] such as bears; since there are no caves on Niteroi, they chose islands.

See my two previous posts on Maria Beltrão and her discoveries in Brazil: Toca da Esperanca cave and the Itaboraí Site.


[1] Ilha de Boa Viagem. Nas ruinas de um forte colonial, ferramentas usadas pelo Homo erectus.Visão magazine. pp. 22, 1992.

[2] Sonia Regina Lomardo, (2008). Homem viveu em Niterói há 130 mil anos 24.10.08.

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

Homo erectus in Brazil: Itaboraí Basin.

Itaborai Basin Brazil Map
Map showing location of Itaboraí Basin, Brazil. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

MMy previous post on the presence of Homo erectus in Brazil dealt with the site at the Toca da Esperanca caves in the state of Bahia, northeastern Brazil. Today I will mention another site, the Itaboraí Basin in Rio de Janeiro.

Both sites have been studied by Brazilian geologist and archaeoloigst Maria Beltrão.

Morro da Dinamite

The site, known as “Itaboraí Basin”, is located in the district of São José, about 60 km (37.5 mi) to the east of the city of Río de Janeiro, close to the town of Itaboraí (22°50'20"S; 42°52'30"W).

It is a site that has provided many fossils of late Paleocene age. Its central area comprises “Morro da Dinamite” (or “dynamite hill” in English), and this is the key place regarding hominid stone tools.

I will quote the following part of the article [1] in full as it is quite revealing, and has some rather strong statements for which I have not found any alterantive peer reviewed evidence to support it:

it was possible to identify, through the artifacts found there, a continuous technological sequence. This sequence started, at least, 1 my (middle Pleistocene). Even without absolute dating, it was possible to identify its age on the basis of:
a) the evolution of the chipped lithic material that includes choppers, bifaces, hand axes, Levallois type artifacts, lateral raspers, burins, etc (typological method);
b) the study of the climatic stains which were deposited on the artifacts during middle Pleistocene, revealing the possibility of an older age, that is, lower Pleistocene;
c) the use of two techniques of maturation of the sediments firstly developed in Africa and later applied in Brazil: the ratio of free iron / crystallized iron and the ratio silt-clay;
d) and, finally, the application of the stratigraphical method, due to its great depth (Beltrão et al., 2001).
Surprisingly, the Itaboraí site presents a technological sequence of chipped stone corresponding to several species of Homo in a same site, this is, having choppers and bifaces in its basis, as in Africa. Up to the present, another similar site is not known in the world, even in Africa, that would present such an assemblage of artifacts in a same site. Beltrão & Sarciá(1987) proposed that the Homo erectus, who lived 1 Ma, could have arrived in America (not excluding the possibility that the Homo ergaster have also arrived in America)...

The stone tools

The following image, taken from [1] (Figure 11) , shows the tools found at the site:

Stone Tools at Itaboraí From Fig. 11, [1]. Source [1]

Take a peek at the tool assembly and make up your own minds. I personally would like to read some other papers on the dating methods and a closer view of the stone tools. They do seem rather primitive so if the age is correct, they could mean that they were made by an archaic human. Yet I am still undecided.


[1] Beltrão,M.C.M.C., (2008). Itaboraí Basin, State of Rio de Janeiro - The cradle of mammals in Brazil. In: Winge,M.; Schobbenhaus,C.; Souza,C.R.G.; Fernandes,A.C.S.; Berbert-Born,M.; Queiroz,E.T.; (Edit.) Sítios Geológicos e Paleontológicos do Brasil. Available on line 25/04/2008 at the address:

The above paper cites the following works:

Beltrão,M.C.M.C.; Sarciá, M.N.C.L., (1987). L’Industrie lithique et la stratigraphie du site d’Itaoraí (Rio de Janeiro, Brésil). In: Congrès International de Paleontologie, 2, Turin, 1987. Résumès des Communications... Paris: UNESCO, p. 174.

Beltrão,M.C.M.C.; Rodrigues-Francisco,B.H.; Perez,R.A.R.; Bezerra,F.O.S.; Carvalho,B.; Caniné,J.M.M; Koatz, G.D. , (2001). O Parque Paleontológico de São José de Itaboraí (Rio de Janeiro) e seu entorno. Revista Brasileira de Paleontologia, 2: 53-55.

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

H. erectus in Brazil: Toca da Esperanca Site

map of Toca da Esperanca site

Toca da Esperanca locaton. From Fig. 1., [1]

Brazilian geologist and archaologist Maria da Conceicao Beltrão has repeatedly claimed that Homo erectus was in Brazil as early as one million years ago. She has written extensively about the subject, which of course, as can be expected is not taken seriously by mainstream scientists who stand by the theory of a recent peopling of the Americas. In today’s post we will take a look at the Toca da Esperança site. Mind you, Maria Beltrão is no quack, she is a respected scientist.

Toca da Esperança site

The site (in English its name means “Cave of Hope” ) of “Toca da Esperança” is located in northeastern Brazil, in the central part of the Brazilian state of Bahia (11°2’S, 42°7’W). It comprises two caves setin the Serra Brava hills, 672 m above sea level. See map above. [1]

The site was studied by Beltrão and Locks and reported in 1987 and 1989, and they found fossils of Pleistocene mammalia (gliptodons, smilodon and giant armadillos). The site was dated using Carbon 14 and Thorium /Uranium (Th/U) methods. The first for dates not older than 10,000 BP, the second for older aged material.[1][6]

Th/U dates gave an age of 295 Kya to 250 Kya for sublevel IVb and of 210 to 250 Kya for sublevel IVb. It was from these levels that most of the fossil remains were obtained.

It was at level IV that, according to Beltrão [5][1]: “a chopper was found as well as quartz and quatzite‘chips’, with deep –or invasive- touch ups. The ‘clactonian’ type flakes and the chopper were sent to Paris to be subjected to a trace study”. In other words stone tools were found embedded in soil which was dated by Th/U methods in Paris to an age between 210,000 and 295,000 years BP.

These stone tools were very similar to those found at Olduvai Gorge in Africa, and were crafted from quartz pebbles. The nearest source of these pebbles is 10 km (6.2 mi.) from the site. In other words they did not get into the cave by natural means. Humans placed them there.

Based on these dates, Beltrão and her team, concluded that since no modern humans were alive at the time, the only source of anthropic activity must have been Homo erectus, who was alive and kicking in Brazil some 300,000 years ago, during the Mid Pleistocene.[2]

It was Henry de Lumley, a famous French archeologist who drew attention to this finding.[3]

This claim, of course, is denied by the mainline scientists who after analysing the evidence date it not older than 13,500 years BP.[4]. What do they say?

The case against it

The bones show carnivore teeth marks sure evidence that they were killed by animals not men. Furthermore there are no cut marks nor concoidal / lengthwise fractures on the bones –a clear indication of human activity. Since no young palo-lama were found and paleo-Indians found them delectable, it is unlikely that they were hunted by humans. Finally, “the scarce cultural evidence is insuficcient to defend the hypothesis of ancient human presence during this period” [1]

Furthermore, there is no reason why the tools found in the cave could not have been made by modern humans (H. sapiens). Actually, this type of stone tool is still being made today by humans in different places around the globe.

Prejudice pops up when Altamirano adds [1] that there is (bold mine) “no other site with such an enormous antiquity of 300 thousand years”, which makes me wonder, what if this is the first site that was discovered of many to come? Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Lynch (1990) [7], critically points out that it is remarkable that a thin layer of soil (1 to 1.5 m deep - 3 to 5 ft.) spans a period of time from 2020 +/- 130 BP for the upper level to 295,000 BP for the bottom one. He does however say that the dating is correct and based on gamma ray and alfa ray spectrometry in France and the US. The fossils recovered from the digging are concordant with this time frame.

Though Beltrao and Danon in their 1987 paper [6] mentioned bone instruments, tooth teeth molds, hearths and charcoal on all levels, they dropped them in their subsequent papers [7]. Nevertheless the fact that the quartz came from 10 km away is also a strong point in favor of the quarts tools being clactonian . Lynch finds nothing that disproves the possible Mid Pleistocene age for the site, but would like some harder facts.[7]

In spite of the criticism, Beltrao and her team stand by their findings, and have excavated at more sites in Brazil as we will see in the next few posts, which, they say, support their theory of the arrival of Homo erectus to America one million years ago, and that they did not follow the Andean coastal route on their southern trek, but instead, came from South East Asia, via Australia and the Antarctic continent [6].

I will keep on posting about Ms. Beltrão and her findings in Brazil that uphold an early peopling of America by H. erectus.


[1] Atamirano Alfredo José, (2006). Los camélidos fósiles del sitio Toca da Esperança, Bahia, Brasil Bol. Mus. Para. Emilio Goeldi Cienc. Nat. [revista en la Internet]. 2006 Ago [cited 2012 Abr 27] ; 1(2): 147-162.

[2] Beltrão, M. M. C. and Locks, M., (1989). Pleistocene fauna from the "Toca da Esperanca" site (Archaeological-region of central, Bahia, Brazil): Mammals. In: Congrsso Brasileiro de Paleontologia, 9., Curitiba. Anais... [S.l.:s.n.]. p. 687-97.

[3] Lumley, H. et al. (1988). Decouverte d'Outils taillés associes a dês faunes du pleistocene moyen dans la Toca da Esperança, État de Bahia, Brésil. Cr. Acad. Sciences de Paris, Paris, v. 306, n. 2, p. 241-247.

[4] Lynch, T. F. (1991). Lack of evidence for glacial-age settlement of South America: reply to Dillehay and Collins and to Gruhn and Bryan. American Antiquity, v. 56, n. 2, p. 348-355.
- Lynch, T. F. (1991). The peopling of the Americas - a discussion. In: Dillehay, T. D.; Meltzer, D. J. The first Americans. [S.l.]: Academic Press. p. 267-74. chapter 10.
- Prous, A. (1992). Arqueologia Brasileira. Brasília, DF: Editora Universidade de Brasília. 605 p.
- Sanders, W. T. and Marino, J. 1971. Pré-história do novo mundo: arqueologia do índio americano. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar Editores. Curso de antropologia moderna.

[5] Beltrão, M. M. C. (1993). SOS Bahia: COPA-ICOMOS-UNESCO, 16-20 de novembro. Rio de Janeiro: [s.n.]. 15 p. mimeographed.

[6] Beltrão, Maria da Conceição de M. C.; Jacques Abulafia Danon e Francisco Antônio de Moraes A. Doria, (1987). Datação absoluta a mais antiga para a presença humana na América Rio de Janeiro: Editora UFRJ.

[7] Thomas F. Lynch, (1990). El hombre de la edad glacial en Suramerica: una perspectiva europea . Originally published in: Revista de Arqueología Americana, no 1, pp. 141-185, 1990. (154)

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