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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

"Yosi", Some possible scientific explanations - Last Part (3)


In our previous posts we have mentioned Yosi the Fuegian dwarf that terrorized the Selk'nam natives. In today's post, the third and last of our Yosi series, we will try to find some scientific explanation for this strange creature.

a. Humans. We are monsters

The legends regarding sexually aggressive incubus-like dwarves like Yosi can be explained either by the victims experiencing walking dreams, sleep paralysis or by nocturnal arousal and orgasm. These guilt-producing situations could be explained away using the notion of a lecherous creature that assaulted the victim and provoked such situations.

Another valid explanation involves monsters of a different kind; perhaps the nocturnal molester was a real person such as a friend or a relative. The victims may have found it easier to explain the attack as supernatural rather than confront the idea of being raped by someone in a position of trust.

b. The Patagonian monkey

Although we could assume that some archaic dwarf race extended far south all the way into Patagonia, there is no proof beyond the myths and tales of the Tehuelche natives and the Fuegians to support this idea.

An alternate explanation for Yosi is Father Molina’s belief that the creature really existed and was a monkey. The problem is that, nowadays there are no monkeys in Patagonia; the closest are confined to the jungles in northern Argentina, over 3.300 km (2,000 mi.) away.

The only Patagonian creature that bears the name “monkey”, is the “monito del monte” (small forest monkey) a tiny -less than 10 cm (4 in.) long- arboreal marsupial (Dromiciops gliroides). They are a relict species that lives in the Patagonian woods and are the world’s southernmost marsupials, ancestor to all other marsupial groups including Australian kangaroos.

Nevertheless, 20 million years ago (Ma.), a now extinct New World monkey species lived in Patagonia, the Homunculus patagonicus. It is the ancestral species for all modern American monkeys.[1]

More recently, 16 Ma., lived the Killikaike blakei, a species of anthropoid related to modern capuchin monkeys. It had a large brain, was capable of a complex social behavior and like the capuchins was able to handle tools and had superior cognitive abilities.[2][3][4]

killikaike blakei

Ckull of Killikaike blakei. From [5].

These early primates later migrated to the subtropical forests further north when the Andes surged higher some 5 to 12 Ma. altering their habitat by blocking the humid western winds. These new arid conditions forced the Southern beech forests, which had reached the Atlantic shores, to retreat towards the Andes shaping a drier Patagonia, similar to how it is today.

Did the Patagonian monkeys die out with this change or did they somehow manage to survive in the dwindling forests and later gave birth to the mannikin myths?

Molina believed that Yosi was a contemporary relative of the H. patagonicus, and had only been recently exterminated by the Haush and Selk’nam natives. Unfortunately no remains of the Yosi ape have been yet found in Tierra del Fuego to prove Molina’s theory. This lack of Yosi fossils could be due to many factors such as their intelligence (not easily trapped in peat bogs), the harsh damp Fuegian climate which could impede fossilisation, and last but not least, lack of funding and research in the field, something not uncommon in South American paleontology.

Another stumbling block is that all American monkeys are small, arboreal and have prehensile tails; in this they differ from Old World apes that walk on two feet. Therefore Yosi as a bipedal tail-less homunculus cannot be associated to any extant American monkey.

Setting aside scientific rigor we can speculate that some branch of the New World Primates could have evolved leading to a tiny bipedal hominid that was later wiped out when modern men arrived in America. This idea may not be as far fetched as it seems; a similar process actually happened at Madagascar Island, where the tiny “lesser Primates” or Lemurids evolved just before the arrival of man 2,000 years ago into large semi-terrestrial ape-like creatures resembling gorillas which disappeared when humans arrived.

Could the New World Primates have evolved in a similar way, acquiring Hominid adaptations (i.e. lack of tail, bipedalism)? Perhaps, but this idea is just wild speculation, and we have no proof to support it.

c. Culture clash

A more plausible explanation regarding Yosi stems from the fact that both Tonelli and Molina mention Punta María as a place where many Yosi used to live. Punta María is a Point on the Atlantic sea coast of Tierra del Fuego Island. The area is marks the boundary between the arid Magellanic steppe and the Andean forest. It is a transition zone where trees clump together in small groves that gradually increase in density and height from north to south and inland, away from the coast. We know that the area was inhabited by the Selk’nam when the Europeans arrived; yet Molina places the ancient Haush there, confirming that it was originally peopled by Haush people who were later displaced by the Selk’nam towards the inhospitable southeastern tip of the island.

This opens the possibility that Yosi were actually humans who acquired dwarf status when beaten by the Selk’nam.

The Yosi wore guanaco skins, had wives, children, looked like men, bore weapons and tried to kill Selk’nam. This description (except for the small size) is applicable to a Haush hunter ambushing the encroaching Selk’nam.

We can picture a Haush man, quietly stalking a lonely Selk’nam in the forest, ready to kill him to defend his family and his dwindling territory. This would indubitably instill fear in the Selk’nam, who would then avoid the forests and leave the Haush alone.

Perhaps Yosi (i.e. Haush) did not light fires to avoid detection by its mortal enemies.

The flaw in this theory is that Molina clearly stated that the ancient Haush also hunted Yosi to eat them at Punta María. If this was so, Haush and Yosi are indeed different creatures.

Closing Comments

Unfortunately we will never know for sure which is the truth because both groups, Haush and Selk’nam disappeared during the first years of the XXth century and their ancient knowledge and beliefs are now merely words written in books and not real memories in the minds of living people.
Never again will their stories be told and retold from father to son, grandmother to granddaughter. They are lost forever with the ghosts of the dead Fuegians. Yosi too disappeared with them, but who knows, perhaps the tiny ape-like being still gathers branches and casts its spells in the gloomy forests wondering where its mortal enemies have gone.

See previous posts:
Part 2 Here.
Part 1 Here.


[1] Hartwig, W., (2002). The Primate Fossil Record. Cambridge University Press. pp. 162+
[2] Tejedor, M., et al., (2006-03-27). New primate genus from the Miocene of Argentina. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103: 5437. doi:10.1073/pnas.0506126103.
[3] BBC Mundo Ciencia 30.03.2006. Un mono avanzado, pero cabezón.
[4] Tejedor, M., Tauber, A., Rosenberger, A., Swisher, C., Palacios, M. New primate genus from the Miocene of Argentina. Published online before print March 27, 2006, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0506126103 PNAS April 4, 2006 vol. 103 no. 14 5437-5441.
[5] Brooklyn College Anthropologist Identifies New Prehistoric Monkey.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday, I “discovered” this very interesting post, and I would like to leave a comment on it…though 10 years have passed since you wrote it…!!
    Considering the possibility that the Yosi were humans, obviously they were not the Haush people described in Captain Cook´s binnacle (included in your recent post of November 15, 2019) as “…something above the middle size…” men,…but perhaps is possible that they have ever been closely related to them, which could explain some similarities observed in terms of their behavior.
    ¿What if, in more ancient times, they belonged to the same lineage, shared the same space… and therefore have the same enemy: Selknams …,and then, for some reason (??), Yosi ancestors split from Haush people, and within an hypothetical frame in which the existence of this group was severely conditioned, not only by the Selknam encroaching, but also by Haush , which could have considered them as renegades or something so …,the stress they could have been subjected to, (inherent to that´s of every species that feels on its way to total extinction) caused by ever decreasing resources and an absolute isolation, either chosen or imposed … may have exceeded some critical threshold beyond which, relevant genetic changes can start to be triggered (randomly selected?... or not so??) on it…If so happened, I think that it would make sense that, among the possible “prototypes” that the complex evolutionary mechanisms could have given rise as an adequate response to overcome said stress…, a “dwarfed version” of themselves (even converting them into “inferior beings” which, if necessary, could also be part of their neighbors diet, as Molina writes)… could have been a suitable one in order to ensure, at least, some degree of sustainability to their population…
    Could their particular environment, from a geographical point of view, have supported all the necessary conditions for “island dwarfing” to occur (as happened in Flores Island)??...I really don´t know...But, what we can speculate with more solid scientific basis… based in your post of November 9, 2019, about the paper “ Relatively quick origin for H. Floresiensis pigmies: 150 to 675 generations to shrink in time”, …is that the dwarfing process, if it really started there, perhaps could have been completed within a period of time consistent with the antiquity of these Amerindian lineages. Indeed, the mean value estimated in this paper of only 360 generations , if could be reasonably extrapolated to this case (??)…could perfectly harmonize even with the most conservative estimation of 10/11 Ka for first peopling at Tierra del Fuego.
    If ever is proved that the Yosi were monkeys, then I would have no problem to apologize for such a weird and fictional comment…but in the meanwhile, I will continue to suspect that they were not…

    “Yosi´s saga”, with its three chapters, is an impressive portrait of a “lost world” in the amazing lands of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina….and, in my opinion, is one of your best Patagonian- related posts.
    Best regards


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