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, July 16, 2014

Mapuche and the quick peopling of America

Today's post brings us back to Patagonia after a long time. The fact is that I came across an interesting paper in my quest for data on the peopling of America. I am a firm believer that Homo sapiens were not the first people to reach the New World and that our more ancient relatives may have done so long ago, surviving until recently and originating the myths that are found across the New World about "ogres", "wild men" and "monsters").

The paper has some strange facts and information which I do not agree with, so please indulge me while I review it.

The paper by Bodner, Perego et al. (2012)

The paper by Martin Bodner, Ugo A. Perego et al., (2012) [1] reports the discovery of two new mtDNA haplotypes D1g and D1j among Native Americans. They are quite rare and are found mainly in the southern tip of South America. They are dated to an average age of 16.9 +⁄- 1.6 ky, which places them right at the (officially recognized) dates for the migratory wave that peopled the New World (in the paper this date is estimated as ~ 15 to 18 kya).

The paper makes a very surprising claim: "the Paleo-Indian spread along the entire longitude of the American double continent might have taken even <2000 yr." [1]. Since we are talking about some 16,000 km (10,000 miles) this is a very quick pace of migration: look how long it took modern humans to reach Australia from Africa or Europe! Why were the Paleoindians in such a hurry?

The answer is simple: to fit the time frame imposed by orthodox science.

Since the Monte Verde site in Northern Patagonia in Chile is dated to approximately 14 kya, we have a definite date of arrival in the Southern tip of America and since the migration began in Beringia some 15 to 18 kya... we do not have too much margin here: 1,000 to 4,000 years. The authors opt for a Salomonic mid-point of 2 ky for the journey from Beringia to Patagonia and their calculation is the following:

The novel mtDNA clades arose in America some 16.9 +⁄- 1.6 ky, and as both of them belong to the mtDNA D1 haplogroup, which coalesces at 13.9 to 18.3 kya, this date imposes an upper limit to the peopling event.

They support their quick march across America stating that "such a rapid movement is consistent with the results of three simulation studies..." [1]. Of course models are only as strong as the assumptions they are based on. A stones and bones approach would be more reliable, but since mainstream scholars ignore the American sites older than 15 ky, then they have to rely on simulations to support their dates.

They favor a specific coastal route along the Pacific Ocean as the most probable path to Patagonia: "only a coastal route ... can explain the speed of the migration from Beringia to Monte Verde [in Chilean Patagoina]" [1]. They discard a two pronged entry into South America (on the East and West of the Andes).

Looking at the ethnic groups and geographical locations in which these haplotypes were found, the dismissal of other population route is odd. But the authors do so based on the dates they have defined: since D1g and D1j both split from a common source in America (in other words less than 18 kya) and had to reach Monte Verde some 14 kya, there is not much time for peopling the continent and evolving separately:

"Another potential interpretation of our results would appear much less plausible: the origin of all D1g and D1j lineages in a common source population that separated in the north with little or no later migration over the mountain barrier. This would involve a split of these founder groups after all subclades present on both Andean sides had developed (≤5 kya), and thus a very recent start of the southward movement. Furthermore, this model would not conform to the presence of humans at the Monte Verde site at ~14 kya. Hence, a common source population that split into an eastern and a western group would be likely only with extended migrations, as described above, starting or continuing after the youngest lineages had differentiated. In addition, this demographic model would find more difficulties to explain the total absence of D1g and D1j in northern South America." [1]

Of course, an earlier start from Beringia would avoid all these complications, and allow for a two pronged entry into South America, but this is not allowed in the mainstream theory.

And the problem of its "total absence... in northern South America" if true, may be due to the lack of adequate sampling and sequencing. Because the paper itself states that D1j was found in the Dominican Republic, in an extant Taino native! To reach Hispaniola Island in the Caribbean, the Tainos surely island-hopped all the way from Venezuela in Northern South America which they surely reached after splitting from the other "coastal" group in Colombia, which means that the two pronged option into America, one coastal the other on the East of the Andes is viable.

But Bodner, Perego et al., believe that "the presence of D1j mtDNAs in the Dominican Republic could represent the genetic echo of a truly South American source population's input into the Caribbean, supporting the hypothesis of a peopling of the Caribbean Islands from the southeast to the northwest." [1], that is, the proto-Tainos first peopled the Amazon, which they reached from the Pacific coast in Peru, Ecuador and Norhtern Chile, from where they then took a nortwestern route to reach the Caribbean by Trinidad-Tobago.

The paper says that the younger D1j was collected from several native groups: Mapuche, Kolla or Coya, Diaguita, Pilagá, Wichi, Mataco (actually Mataco and Wichi are the same people!) (all in Argentina), Bolivian Quechua, and the Taino in the Dominican Republic. The older D1g was found in the Mapuche and other Patagonian natives.

These natives live in completely different ecosystems, speak different languages and exploit their resources differently: the forests of the Chaco lowland natives such as Pilagá the foothills of eastern Salta Mountains below the Yunga jungle (Wichi), the arid and high altitude Andean Plateau (Coya and Quechua), the mountain valleys in the Central Argentine Andes (Diaguita), the Central Chilean Valley, the forests of the Patagonian Andes (Mapuche) to the fjords and icefields in the Fuegian region (Yaghans), adaptation took a long time.

So I do agree that either a coastal route with trans-Andean spread or a split right in the north (Colombia) with two southward routes (Pacific and trans-Amazonian) of dispersal are both feasible.

Mapuches and inconsistencies

But the paper supports another explanation:

"The Mapuche settlement area could have enabled the two scenarios that are visible from our results (albeit to be confirmed with more data): The ancestor population of the Mapuche, possibly living in an area north of Chile, could represent the common source population compatible with the split scenario, where the incubation time before was long enough to develop all of the variation that is observed on both sides. The continuous extensive bidirectional gene flow across the mountain barrier after the initial coastal migration and differentiation postulated in the other scenario could have been mediated by the Mapuche ancestors that inhabited the areas on both sides and thereby served as a long-term genetic trans-Andean link." [1]

I find their support of a "Mapuche" core for dispersal as hard to digest. I am not an expert in genetics, far from it, I am a very amateurish amateur, but when it comes down to Patagonia and its native people, I am a well learned, well read layman. I did plenty of research into the aboriginal Patagonians during the years that I spent writing my book (Monsters of Patagonia) and I took a particular interest in the Mapuche.

The Mapuche people are the most overtly assertive natives in South America. They claim that their territory spanned most of the southern tip of the continent. They use maps like the one below (just google Mapuche Map and see how often it turns up), a map which is reproduced by Bodner, Perego et al. [1] too!! See below:

map of the Mapuche territory
On the left, the orange shaded territory is the land that Mapuche nationalists claim was once theirs until they were expelled in 1879 by Chilean and Argentine troops. It is a mixture of half-truths and should be taken with a pinch of salt. On the right, shaded green is the map in Fig. 3.c. [1] in Bodner, Perego et al., showing the Mapuche dispersal. Both coincide!

Let's get some background on the Patagonian Natives from a reliable source (A. Whittall and Monsters of Patagonia, 2012) [2] from which the following map is taken, and which shows what scholars agree upon as the homeland of the different native groups of Patagonia:

map of natives of Patagonia
Map showing the native groups in Patagonia. [2]. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

As you can see by comparing the maps, the Mapuche groups were firmly entrenched in Southern Chile and in the Argentine province of Neuquen. To the west, in Northern Patagonia and into the Buenos Aires Pampas we have the Puelche people, who were not Mapuche.

Bodner, Perego et al., are right when they say that the Mapuche resisted the Spanish conquest and that they were pushed south of the Bío Bío River where they held their sway until 1880. They forget that the Mapuche were subdued in Central Chile by the Inca empire between 1470 and 1536 and that there were other ethnic groups very different to the Mapuche living in Patagonia. The authors attribute their post-defeat dispersal and deportation as a cause of the spread of their genetic heritage, but this is not quite true. Because in fact, the Argentine Census Bureau (INDEC) shows that out of the current population of 113,680 Mapuch, 78,534 live in Patagonia, mainly in Neuquén, another 20,527 live in Patagonia's northernmost province of la Pampa and neighboring Buenos Aires, only 9.745 live in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires city and only 4,874 live in the rest of the country. [3]

Southern South American Natives [2]

The northwestern area of Patagonia spanning the north and central parts of Argentina's province of Neuquén and Chile's viiith, ixth and xth Regions were peopled by the Mapuche (who in the past were also known as Araucanian, a name that has now fallen out of use.
They are apparently not related to the older populations that inhabited the rest of Patagonia. In fact, their origin is quite a mystery. Originally established in central Chile, they were first dislodged southwards by the Inca who invaded the region in the mid 1400s incorporating it to their Empire. Spanish conquistadors after destroying the Inca Empire entered Chile in 1541. Conquistador is the Spanish word for conqueror; they were the adventurers, soldiers and explorers who took the New World by force, seeking gold, silver and precious stones; and forcing the natives to work in the mines that produced them. Violent and merciless, they found their match in Chile. Mapuche and Spaniards engaged in a war that continued for over three hundred years; the longest standoff between natives and Europeans in America. Spanish conquest gradually forced the Mapuche to move south towards the Island of Chiloé, well beyond their original homeland. They also moved eastwards across the Andes, settling on its eastern foot-hills in what is now Neuquén, where they 'Araucanized' the local natives, who adopted their very convenient language (Mapudungun).
The Mapuche progressively extended their influence eastwards towards the Pampas, and through war, trade and cattle rustling, absorbed and Araucanized the original Puelche inhabitants of Tehuelche blood during the eighteenth-and nineteenth-centuries.
They were sedentary farmers who made pottery and wove wool. This distinguishes them from all the other Patagonian natives who were nomadic hunter-gatherers, lacking pottery and agriculture, living in leather tents, the 'toldos', hunting guanaco and ñandú (Rhea or South American ostrich). A large Mapuche community still inhabits its ancestral homeland in Argentina and Chile.
They were the descendants of the ancient Patagonian Paleo-Indians. The name was given to them by the Mapuche, and meant 'fierce people'. They can be split into two distinct groups, each with their own cultural and linguistic identities: the Northern Tehuelche (Günnuna Kenna or Gennakenk—which, in their language meant 'people') and the Southern Tehuelche. The region between the Senguer, Chubut and Chico rivers was a flexible border between both groups.
Northern Tehuelche. Gradually, during the seventeenth century these northernmost Tehuelche expanded further north out of Patagonia, across the Negro and Colorado rivers and into the Pampas where they replaced the original natives of Buenos Aires province and became known as the Pampas or Puelche (the latter, in Mapudungun means 'Eastern people').
In the Pampas they encountered vast quantities of free roaming wild cattle and also the horse which the Spaniards had bought to America. The horse was quickly adopted, and through the Puelche it rapidly spread south into the heart of Patagonia.
The original Gennakenk continued living in Patagonia between the Negro and Chubut rivers until their demise in the late 1800s. There was yet another smaller group, on the flanks of the Andes in the Argentine provinces of Chubut and Río Negro. They were usually at war with the Mapuche who frequently invaded their territory. They were known as the 'Chüwach a Künna' (people at the edge of the mountains) yet little is known of them.
Southern Tehuelche. They called themselves 'Chonik', which in their language meant 'us, the people'. Originally they were 'foot Indians' and it was not until the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that they adopted the horse. The Southern Tehuelche were divided into two separate sub-groups, very similar except for their language:
• Teushen (Boreal Southern Tehuelche); that lived in the north, between the Santa Cruz and Chubut rivers.
• Aonikenk or Aonek’enk (Austral Southern Tehuelche), which meant 'people of the South'. They lived in the southern area, between the Santa Cruz River and the Strait of Magellan." [2]

There were other native groups (Chono, Selknam, etc.), I will only focus on the Mapuche since these are the ones mentioned in the paper.


The "Araucanization" of the natives living to the East of the Andes was a very peculiar phenomenon. It also happened to the Huarpids living in the South of what is now Mendoza Province, just north of Patagonia. This is what happened:

The Inca first and then the Spaniards pushed the Mapuche south into the forests of the Chilean Lake District (1470 - 1620). The Mapuche fought back until they razed the Spanish settlements south of the Bío Bío River (1620s) and held the border until the 1870s.

During the late 1600s They spilt over the Andes into what is now Argentina and their language was adopted by the non-Mapuche Huarpids, Pehuenche, Picunche and Poya groups that lived in what is now Neuquén province. The Mapuche traded with them, and language goes with trade. Salt from the Patagonia and cattle together with horses were rustled across the desert from the Ranches (Estancias) in Buenos Aires into Chile.

The Mapuche absorbed several Tehuelche myths and incorporated them into their beliefs, the Gualicho is one of them, and is widely dispersed across Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, yet it is not a Mapuche myth, it is Tehuelche. [2]

The northern Tehuelche groups of the province of Buenos Aires became the "Puelche" and gradually replaced the original "Querandí" groups that lived in the Pampa grasslands. In the province of La Pampa, other groups morphed into the Mapuche speaking Ranquel natives. The Puelche adopted the Mapuche language too but were a distinct group. The raids on Spanish settlements increased in virulence during the 1700s.

A border guarded by poorly equipped troops marked the edge of Spanish civilization. The pink line in the map above throug San Carlos, Rio Cuarto, Melincue and Mar del Plata marks one of those borders: it moved back and forth, pushed by both parties during their invasions.

The period of the Independence wars left the border unprotected and the natives advanced and raided the towns beyond it. Rosas in 1833 led an expedition into the heart of the native territories and pacified the region for 20 years. In Argentina civil war and war with Paraguay delayed the solution of its military border in the south until 1879. In the meantime, Chile had advanced its frontier and many Mapuche chiefs crossed the Andes and settled in Argentina, and even in La Pampa. The araucanized natives and the Chileans (they were known as "Chileans" among the local natives) organized combined raids on the Argentine towns until a military campaign put an end to it in 1879-1880.

Many Mapuche chiefs were arrested and deported with their families to Buenos Aires, others died in battle, but it was not a genocide, only a war. It ended swiftly and later the natives were allowed to return to Patagonia (1890s and early 1900s). As the demographic figures attest, they are many Mapuche living in the region nowadays.

For those interested in reading more about the Araucanization, I mention some books below:

Rodolf Casamiquela, (1985). Características de la Araucanización al oriente de los Andes. Vol 2, No 1. Revista Universidad Católica de Temuco. doi: 10.7770/cuhso-V2N1-art141
Rodolfo Casamiquela, (2007). "Racista anti-mapuche": o la verdadera antigüedad de los mapuches en la Argentina. Ed. Casamiquela.
J. Roberto Bárcenas, (1990). Culturas indígenas de la Patagonia. Turner, 1990
Fernando Oper&ecute;, (2008). Indian Captivity in Spanish America: Frontier Narratives. (See: The Araucanization of the Pampas). University of Virginia Press, pp +65
Chris Moss, (2008). Patagonia: A Cultural History (See: Chapter 8). Oxford University Press

By the way, the Mapuche dislike the idea of "araucanization" and insist on a false point of view: that they actually occupied all these territories. But this is not the case, it is akin to saying that an English speaking native Tamil in India is an Englishman. The fact that both use the same language does not make them both Brits.

Rodolfo Casamiquela, who was born in Patagonia and studied the Tehuelche community in depth was the source of the Araucanization theory and he was attacked ruthlessly by the Mapuche activists until his death.

There are many similarities between Mapuche and Amazonian myths, involving jaguars and giant otters (which do not live in Chile, but are found in the Amazon and Chaco regions), Latcham [4] suggested that the Mapuche originated in the Amazon and later moved to Chile, perhaps furhter studies may corroborate this theory which would support a trans-Amazonic peopling route.


Just for the fun of it, a Frenchman, Orelie-Antoine de Tounens wanted to be a king, so, in 1860 he chose a part of the world that (he thought) belonged to nobody (actually it was claimed by both Chile and Argentina as theirs, as it was the former Spanish territory in Patagonia), and he went there to claim it as his.

He landed in Chile, presented himself to the natives and offered them protection from Argentina and Chile if they accepted him as king. The natives agreed and he was appointed King of Araucania and Patagonia (in Chile but not Argentina). The Chilean army captured him and deported him back to France. He tried to return several times but died in his home in France in 1878.

Believe it or not, there still is a heir of de Tounens still claiming his throne.

Closing comments

The Monte Verde site (14,000 y) shows us that people were living in Chile at that time, it does not impede the existence of sites 15, 16, 18 or even 35 ky old. It is just one site that has been found and dated in a way acceptable to orthodoxy.

To build back from that date with the constraints of a Beringian standstill (oh yes, the paper also supports the "incubation period" in Beringia) and define a 2,000 year duration for the epic adventure of peopling America is, in my opinion, a bit far fetched.

The diversity and variations found in America cannot be overly simplified. Fieldwork is required, more sites are needed, remains must be found, dated and sequenced. The pausity of ancient data puts constraints on our knowledge. We must open our minds and let the facts speak for themselves. Models and simulations are fine, but reality tends to impose itself in the long run.


[1] Martin Bodner, Ugo A. Perego et al., (2012). Rapid coastal spread of First Americans: Novel insights from South America's Southern Cone mitochondrial genomes. Genome Res. May 2012; 22(5): 811–820. doi: 10.1101/gr.131722.111
[2] Austin Whittall, (2012). Monsters of Patagonia. Zagier & Urruty, B. Aires.
[3] Indec Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas y Censos, 2004 (Census Bureau). Native population
[4] Latcham, R., (1924). La organización social y las creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Santiago: Cervantes.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2014 by Austin Whittall © 

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