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, January 11, 2012

Circling Antarctica and getting into America

New Zealand to Tierra del Fuego
Route from New Zealand to Tierra del Fuego. Copyright © 2012 by Austin Whittall

Yesterday's post mentioned the possibility that archaic humans may have crossed the Southern South Pacific Ocean from New Zealand or Australia to Southern South America or Tierra del Fuego. Lets take a critical look at this idea.

Why would a group of humans get into a boat and row 1,400 km (870 mi) south towards the South Pole (which they ignored was there in the first place) and then circle the continent eastwards until after another 7,100 km (4,412 mi) they reached the southernmost tip of South America?

The most obvious explanation is: Chance. They were cast adrift and the oceanic currents pushed them away all the way to America. But, is this possible?

Yes: a paper by Gastineau [2] "A northward displacement of the ACC and a relatively higher flux of lithogenic particles from Australian or New Zealand were found for the LGM." (the ACC is the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, an oceanic current that encircles the southern continent in a west to east direction. This AAC however is a deep ocean current, the surface ones also flowed from Australia an New Zealand towards South America. Below is Fig. 12 of Gastineau's paper:

towards America
LGM currents South Pacific. From [2]

The image shows the surface and deep oceanic current, Iceberg trajectories in the Pacific sector of the southern ocean as well as the ACC during LGM. Notice the green arrows (surface currents) going towards America (the red arrow which was added by me, shows the general direction of these currents).

Could H. erectus, Denisovans or Neanderthals get to America following this route? Perhaps they took other currents further north, but note that the circulation in the South Pacific is counter clockwise that is, in the Equatorial part it flows west, then turns south next to Melanesia and returns east above Antarctica.

Referring to modern humans, Wyatt (2004) [1] suggests, regarding the peopling of America:
... a transpacific route from the Old World to the New World via the islands of Oceania has been essentially ignored. Of the many factors involved in completing such a voyage, besides an adequate watercraft, landfall frequency and prevailing winds and currents were most important. A chain of islands in the landless eastern South Pacific, with its consequent and possibly favorable modifications of regional sea surface currents, would have been particularly beneficial to eastbound mariners. Comparing present-day bathymetry with estimated late Pleistocene glacially induced sea level fluctuations suggests that latent islands may actually exist, especially when the effects of other geological phenomena are also considered. If exposed during the last glacial maximum (LGM), such a chain of islands could have provided facilitating layover points for ancient eastbound seafaring explorers, thus making a transpacific journey more plausible.

And may I add, during any previus Glacial Maximum and not only H. Sapiens, but any of our ancestors who managed to master the art of building water crafts.

Just as a point to ponder upon regarding primitive water craft, taken from a very interesting book that I recently translated for Carlos Pedro Vairo:

According to the historian Samuel Bennett, the Australian bark canoes were the most primitive appliances ever used by mankind for the purpose of navigation. [3]

They were named Bark canoes because they were made from bark stripped off gum trees in one piece and sewn together. Furthermore:

A canoe found in Arnhem Land by the anthropologist Sir Baldwin Spencer, during his 1901-1902 expedition to northern Australia, is kept at Victoria’s National Museum of. It is 5 m long [16.4 ft.]. It was brought there by eight Aboriginals the Pellew Islands, who went up the Macarthur River about 8 km [5 mi.]. This trip is interesting because it shows that they had to navigate about 16 kilometers [10 mi.] across the sea.
There are differences in the life spans of these canoes. Those for a single passenger which in case of an emergency were put together quickly, lasted a few days; however, large canoes built by several men and used to carry cargo apart from being used for fishing, could last a couple of years.

These canoes are found in different parts of the world, and yes, you guessed correctly: the Fuegian natives made bark canoes too!:

After discovering islands such as Navarino and Lennox, the expedition under Admiral Jacques L’Hermite (1624) came into contact with the Yamanas on the southern shores of Navarino. Aboard the Amsterdam, flagship of the Nassau fleet, was the Dutch Vice Admiral Geen Huygen Schapenham, to whom we owe the first description of the Yamana bark canoe. In his journal, translated by historian Pablo Gallez, he wrote: “...their canoes are worth admiring. In order to make them, they take the whole bark of a thick tree; they shape it and cut off certain parts and later sew them so that it acquires the shape of a Venetian gondola.” [3]

The Yamana canoes were made from the bark stripped off southern Beech or Nothofagus trees.

[1] Steve Wyatt, (2004) Ancient transpacific voyaging to the new world via Pleistocene South Pacific Islands. DOI: 10.1002/gea.20008. Geoarchaeology. Volume 19, Issue 6, pages 511–529, August 2004.
[2] G. Gastineau Provenance of the terrigenous sediments of the pacific sector of the southern ocean and variation during the LGM
[3] Carlos Pedro Vairo, (2001). The Yamana Canoe. Zagier & Urruty Publications. My translation for Vairo's next edition of this book (2011).

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
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