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, February 23, 2011

Phoenicians in Patagonia - Part 2

An unusual sculpture which resembles the Lady of Elche, found in Patagonia. A link to Phoenicians?
See Index on all my posts on Phoenicians in America.
Bernardo Graiver includes the following image in his book, [1][2] under the caption: " American version of the Lady of Elche (Comodoro Rivadavia Archaeological Museum)", a photograph of a sculpture that was supposedly found at that Museum and, according to some online sources, is now lost. The sculpture is shown below:

Dama de Comodoro, phoenician carving, Patagonia
Woman's face, Tehuelche or Phoenician sculpture. Patagonia. "Dama de Comodoro Rivadavia". From: [2]

The Phoenician connection

The original "Lady of Elche" which inspired Graiver in naming the Patagonian sculpture, (see image below) is a beautiful stone bust, dated to the fifth century BC. It was found in Spain (where it is known as "La Dama de Elche") in 1897, close to Valencia. It blends the art of several Iberian cultures with other Mediterranean ones such as the Greeks, the Phoenicians and the Tartesian.

Note that it is not Phoenician, but Iberian, and has the influence of several Mediterranean Cultures.

John Moffitt [5] suggested that it is a modern forgery, whoever a study of its pigments clearly prove that it is genuine . [3]

Lady of Elche
Lady of Elche, Ancient Iberian art 500 B.C.Source: Internet

Based on this statue and its similarities to the Iberian one, Graiver, [2] puts forward the theory that the Patagonian coast "was visited by the Phoenicians, who were searching for tin to make bronze with copper", and he says that the statue was discovered by Dr. Antonio Garcés, who founded the Comodoro Rivadavia Museum, though, he does not say where or when or under what circumstances.

He probably assumes that it was left behind in Patagonia by some Phoenician expedition. Which, I guess he identifies as the ancient mariners because of the Phoenician engravings found on other stones in Patagonia.

Though the navigators could also have come from Carthage or even from Gades or Tarsis in southern Spain. (More on this in future posts). I prefer to say Mediterranean instead of Phoenician.

A link with Phoenician via Carthage

It is interesting to notice the similarity between the Lady of Elche, and the woman depicted in the following photograph, [4] she is a young Berber woman, of Tunisia, circa 1900. The interesting part is the symbol on her forehead.

 berber woman tunisia
Jeune femme Berbère de Tunisie, avec des tatouages et des bijoux traditionnelles (début des années 1900)
Young Berber woman of Tunisia, with tattoo and traditional jewellery (in 1900s)
. From: [4]

It is a symbol which we already mentioned in our first post on this subject, because it appears on several of these Tehuelche carved stones. It is a symbol that originated in North Africa.

This anthropomorphic symbol is actually a letter, known as "YAZ", which sounds like our letter "Z". It is shown below:

berber yaz letter

It belongs to the Tifinagh alphabet, which is "Lybico-berber". It has been used by Berber speaking people that live in North Africa, and also by the now extinct inhabitants of the Canary Islands, between 300 B.C. and 300 AD.
There is only one dated inscription, and it has been dated to 139 BC. The use of these symbols disappeared when the Arabs, spreading the Islam, invaded Northern Africa after 632 AD.

However, the Tuareg women still use them until now, as tattoos!, just like you can see in the photograph.

The Phoenician link to this symbol

The name, Tifinagh, is plural of tafineq which means “letter”, and is a berberization of the latin word for punica [6], which actually in Latin means “Phoenician”:

Punic "pertaining to Carthage," 1530s, from L. Punicus, earlier Poenicus "Carthaginian," originally "Phoenician" (adj.), Carthage having been founded as a Phoenician colony, from Poenus (n.), from Gk. Phoinix "Phoenician" […]. [8]

The Romans waged three wars against Carthage between 264 and 146 B.C., and they successively got them out of Sicily, Sardinia and Spain. Then they destroyed Carthage's homeland in Tuinisia.

This Phoenician origin is supported by other scholarly sources: “the script was presumably borrowed from the Phoenicians, though of the actual characters employed only some five out of twenty-three are obviously derived from the Phoenician alphabet”. [7]

The question now, is how did these evidently Mediterranean symbols reach Patagonia.


[1] Graiver, Bernardo (1980), Argentina Bíblica y biblónica: histora de la humanidad en la Argentina. Editorial Albatros. fig.86, pp. 123
[2] Op. Cit. pp. 115 and 216.
[3] M. P. Luxán, J. L. Prada and F. Dorrego, (2006).Dama de Elche: Pigments, surface coating and stone of the sculpture. Materials and Structures. Volume 38, Number 3, 419-424, 18.01.2006.
[4] Online: Wikipedia.
[5] John Francis Moffitt, (1995). Art forgery: the case of the Lady of Elche. University Press of Florida.
[6] George L. Campbell, Handbook of scripts and alphabets. pp. 14
[7] Clark Desmond, Fage, J.; Oliver, Roland; Gray, Richard; Flint, John; Sanderson, A.; Crowder, Michael. The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol 2. pp. 185
[8] Online Etymology Dictionary

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
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  1. Interesting. I will read more of your posts on this subject, but what exactly did you mean when you wrote "The use of these symbols disappeared when the Arabs, spreading the Islam, invaded Northern Africa after 632 AD."? I find that to be quite misleading.
    As it says in a wikipedia article:

    "In Libya, the regime of Gaddafi used to consistently ban the Berber Tifinagh script from being used in public contexts such as store displays and banners.
    After recent uprisings in Libya, the National Transitional Council (rebels) has shown an openness towards the Berber language. The independent rebel "Libya TV", based in Qatar, has included the Berber language and the Tifinagh alphabet in some of its programming."

    Granted, the article is about Neo-Tifinagh but it is Tifinagh script all the same (albeit with some modifications... The inclusion of vowels being one of them - and the Yaz sign is still there!). Tifinagh is still very much in use, despite the Arab invasions of North Africa.

  2. Aeriki, Thank you for your comments. I based my remark on some reading that I had made on the subject, which may be off the mark. Let me try to find my source, and I will post it here.
    All the Best.

  3. Correction -The Young Woman is Arab from Ouled Nail Algeria not Tunisie


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