Argentine naturalist Florentino Ameghino (1854 -1911), was a self-taught scientist. He was a school teacher who learned French. He taught himself paleonthology, inspired by the discoverys of Francisco Muñiz (1795 - 1871) who unearthed glyptodons, mastodons and horses at Lujan, Ameghino's home town. Muñiz was Argentina's first paleonthologist.
At an early date he began developing his most controversial theory, the authoctonous origin of man in America, which he put forth in his book La antiguedad del hombre en América in 1875, (The antiquity of man in America). Followed by The Quaternary man in the Pampa (1876).
In 1886, he worked briefly with Francisco P. Moreno as Secretary and Sub-Director of the La Plata Museum but their disagreement on several issues led to a life-long enmity. Moreno was the leading local scientist (also a self-taugh academic), who played an important role in the peaceful settlment of the border conflict between Argentina and Chile.
He travelled to Europe and deepened his knowledge in anthropology and geology, returning to Argentina where he was Director of the Natural History Museum (1902).
With the help of his brother Carlos he collected a large number of fossils, discovering hundreds of new species. He laid down the foundations of Argentine geology with his stratigraphic classification.
He uncovered remains of masupials, monkeys and paleoindians. He believed that the Mylodon was alive somewhere in Patagonia after the discovery of some apparently recent remains (later dated to 10,832 and 12,984 years BP) in 1895.
Between 1902 and 1911 he was Director of the Buenos Aires National Museum. Together with his brother Carlos he secured a large collection of Patagonian fossils and transformed South American geological studies.
Tertiary Man in America
Ameghino made some discoveries in Monte Hermoso, in 1887, on the southern seabord of Buenos Aires province. He attributed crude flints, burned earth and a human vertebrae to a "Tertiary man". The bone was discovered in the Monte Hermosan formation of Pliocene origin, 3.5 My old. This was quite controversial, but he received support from his European colleagues.
Ales Hrdlicka, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution (U.S.), was actively against the idea of an early presence of man in the Americas and came to Argentina to meet Ameghino in 1910. His purpose: to discredit the findings.
He visited the site and though he judged the Monte Hermoso remains to be those of a modern man, he focused his criticism on other discoveries made by Ameghino in a later formation, the Puelchean, about 1.5 My old.
He focused on the fact that the tools (quite primitive in their appearance), were recent and not ancient. This was because they were found in the uppermost layers of the Puelchean formation. So even though the sediments were Pliocene, he argued that those containing the tools were separated from the older ones by an unconformity, and therefore recent, made by Native American Indians.
Ameghino also reported stone tools found in other older formations (Santacrucian and Entrerrean formations) some 15 to 25 My old. These findings are indeed questionable.
After Florentino's death, his brogher Carlos kept on digging, and made a discovery in Miramar, Buenos Aires, in the Chapadmalal formation of Pliocene age. It was also disputed by Hrdlicka. A commission was sent to investigate the site (1914), and corroborated the digging practices in these sediments backing Carlos.
A Toxodon bone with an arrow head was found in these layers, (see my post on this discovery: H. erectus in Argentina), but critics attributed it to a more recent date: young remains that moved down, into older sediments. However Carlos contended that even though Toxodons lived in the Pampas until some 10 kya, this bone belonged to a primitive variety of Pliocene Toxodons.
He believed that the arrow-head was of Mousterian technology and was at least 3 million years old.
Hrldicka was against this idea and, of course, refuted it: In 1918, Antonio Romero contended that the remains had been removed from recent layers and deposited under older ones due to bed shifting and layer mixing.
Hrldicka's point of view prevailed, the authoctonous origin of humans in America was ridiculed and forgotten. Instead, Man arrived in America from the Old World by crossing the Beringian land bridge not more than 15 kya. This is the theory that stands until today.
But, lets take a look at Florentino Ameghino's discoveries regarding stone tools that resemble Acheulean axes.
To be continued
Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall ©