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, August 8, 2012

More Evidence on Prehispanic Patagonian horses

painted horse hide Tehuelche
Cerro Johny, Chile, a piece of Tehuelche painted hide.

During my recent book signing event at the recent "Feria del Libro", I enjoyed browsing some books at the stand of "Patagonia Sur Libros", whose editor, Mario Pazos kindly exhibited my books and gave me the chance to sign books at his stand. As the name suggests (Patagonia Sur = South Patagonia), the books he exhibited and had on sale, of many publishers, some from Patagonia, dealt with the big "P", Patagonia. So I went on a mini buying spree and purchased some hard to get books.

A new book and an interesting piece of information

Among these books was one by Mario Echeverría Baleta about a native mummy found inside a cave by Lake Argentino close to the modern day town of El Calafate (Santa Cruz, Argentina).
Here, during February 1877, Argentine scientist Francisco Pascasio Moreno (aka "Perito" Moreno) while navigating the lake, took shelter on its southern shore and decided to explore the surroundings. He came across the mummy which he took back to the La Plata Museum in Buenos Aires province.

Echeverría Baleta describes the mummy, the caves and gives other interesting information. He also talks about the "Quillango" (key-djan-go) which was the typical Tehuelche native fur cloak. They made it from furs of different animals (skunks, foxes) but they prefered the soft wool of baby guanacos -known as "chulengo". Guanacos are a wild variety of South American camelid, from which the better known llama and alpaca were domesticated.

Quillango, the Tehuelche fur cape

Quillangos were large rectangular pieces, made from many "chulengo" furs sewn together. They were worn with the woolly fur towards the inside, and the leathery part towards the outside. This external leather surface was usually painted with native mottiffs using mineral pigments (yellow, blue, red, ochre, black). Some of these survive and an example is shown below together with some of the colorfull motifs:

Tehuelche quillango cape
Samples of Quillango paintings and a complete Quillango. From [2].

The purpose of these furry chulengo capes was to keep the user nice and warm in the hostile windswept Patagonian steppes. They were wrapped around the body and were far superior to any European garment. Patagonian Pioneers in the late 1800s and early 1900s bought them by the hundreds from the Tehuelche to keep warm.

The Tehuelche also made mortuary Quillangos, shrouds, to wrap the dead, these were made from horse hides. Horses had a special spiritual meaning, as conveyors of the spirit into the afterworld. As with the Mapuche natives of Northern Chilean Patagonia, the Tehuelche used to sacrifice several horses (including the dead person's horse) during the burial ceremonies. These were to assist the deceased in their journey into the afterworld.

The Pali Aike Shroud: Patagonian horses?

The book, while mentioning the mummy and quillangos adds an interesting comment, which I transcribe below (Echeverría Baleta writing in first person):

"I have seen at the Instituto de la Patagonia at Punta Arenas, Chile, a piece of horse hide belonging to a Tehuelche burial found in the region of Pali Aike. It is decorated with beautiful drawings, the main figure being the "karrukeuek" (shapes of a carancho). The dating done in London gives it an age of 450 years BP. There are some errors here. In the first place, the identification. In the report given by the laboratory it says that it is a hide of Lama guanicoe (guanaco). However the guanaco do not have hair but wool and this specific hide has hair and not precisely the color of guanaco's [wool]. Furthermore it is thicker, just like that of horses. And in second place, the chronology. The dating mentioned corresponds approximately to the year 1450, but during that period no horses were known in South America."[1]

It is clear that the radiocarbon dating is correct 450 BP = 1450 C.E., and that the British scientists knowing that there were no horses in Patagonia prior to the discovery of America by Spaniards in 1492 (actually horses arrived in Southern Patagonia in the mid 1700s), assigned the piece of fur to a guanaco.

Echeverría Baleta on the other hand, knowing it is a piece of horse hide, thinks that the age is wrong and should be mor recent.

Both are wrong, and refuse to see what is clear: given Echeverría Baleta's comment on the fact that it is not woolly but hairy and that these hairs a thick and not soft, that the colour is also wrong, I wonder... what if it was a horse, a horse from 1450?

As I have posted before there were probably hoses in Southern Patagonia prior to the arrival of the Saniards. This is some more evidence that buttresses that theory.

I have tried to identify this "Pali Aiken" hide but found nothing, it is not from there, but from another site, close by where in the mid 1970s, a body was found:[2]

  • Wearing "a non-tanned Mortuary Cape" (so it would very likely be made from a horse hide).
  • It is the oldest known Quillango.
  • It was found at Cerro Johny (Johny Hill, yes, with one "n") at the Ranch Estancia Brazo Norte, in Magallanes, Chile, close to the Pali Aike site.
  • It shrouded an adult, who was mummified.
  • "the design shows certain similarities with those painted on hose hides".
  • The body was dated to 1400 - 1500 CE.

Patagonian Horses again

This evidence corroborates Echeverría Baleta's dating and the fact that it may be a horse hide (if the scientists were able to think outside of their mental boxes, they would see things with a clear view: if its design is like those painted on horse hides, it is used for the same purpose tha t a horse hide was used, it looks like one, then, even though it is dated to well before horses were introduced into Patagonia (and America) by the Spanish, then, it is a HORSE!

Some papers which I have not been able to get my hands on yet, were written about this finding, maybe they can shed some light on this issue:

Martinic B., Mateo. 1976 Hallazgo y excavación de una tumba Aónikenk en Cerro Johnny (Brazo Norte) Magallanes. Punta Arenas. An Inst. Pat :95-98,
Jackman, J. 1976 Apéndice I Examen y tratamiento de cueros provenientes de una tumba tehuelche. An Inst. Pat :99-101


[1] EcheverríaBaleta, Mario , (1995). La Momia del Cerro Gualicho, Cumacú, B. Aires.pp. 31
[2]Caviglia, Sergio, El arte de las mujeres Aónikénk y Gününa Küna - Kay Guaj'enk o Kay Gütrruj (Las Capas Pintadas). Relaciones de la Sociedad Argentina de Antropología XXVII (2002) 2003. B. Aires, pp. 50

Monstruos de la Patagonia - Criptozoologia, Mitos & leyendas de la Patagonia
Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall ©

Horse Tracks in Ancient Patagonian Rock Art (which horses?)

rock engravings of horse tracks. Patagonia
The image above comes from Natalia Carden [1]. Fig. 10. It depicts: (A) a drawing of an ichnite of an extinct Hippidion sp. measuring 13 x 10 cm, found at Pehuen Có site in Buenos Aires. (B) Modern horse track –without shoe: 12 x 10 cm. (C) the tracks engraved at Alero El Galpón (each track about 10 x 10 cm).

This is another post in my series on the subject of the survival of native American horses until recent historic times. We all know that according to the “official” story, horses originated in America, and moved on towards Asia where they thrived while they became extinct in the Americas during the Late Pleistocene. The New World spent about 10.000 years without horses until the Europeans reintroduced horses after Columbus’ discovery of America in 1492. The horse spread through the Americas at the pace of its Conquistadors and reached the southernmost tip of the continent in the 1700s.

I have read an interesting paper by Natalia Carden (2009)[1], on Patagonian petroglyphs (rock carvings) that depict animal tracks, and, not so surprisingly, also horse tracks.

The image above is from her paper, which I will summarize below:

At Piedra de Museo, Santa Cruz, at the site known as Alero el Galpón (AEG), has several types of prints engraved in rock. Some of hem are cloven (i.e. guanaco prints), but others are definitively representations of one-digit ungulates such as horses.

Their hoofs are nearly circular and have a ‘V’ shaped notch on the rear part. The rocks have imprints that are very naturalistic as can be seen in the image above and image below (A). Other sites in Patagonia display similar designs but slightly more complex (B) and (C) below. Motif (C) has also been interpreted as a Labyrinth.

paleoindian rock art
Comparison of Rock Art motifs by N. Carden [1]

Carden addresses the age of these petroglyphs and the problem they present: rock engravings are Holocene and date from about 4,000 to 2,000 B.P. At the AEG site, the rock has been dated to middle/late Holocene some 7,400 years B.P.

Both lines of evidence, according to Carden would mean that the rocks are far too old to represent modern Old World horses brought by the Europeans and too young to represent Hippidion saldiasi New World horses, as these became extinct several thousands of years earlier (11 to 10,000 years B.P).

To explain how / why the Patagonian Paleo-Indians depicted extinct horse hoofs, engraving them in stone, Carden discusses the issue in diachronic terms: the prints were painted from memory, and re-signified by these natives who had never seen them.

Drawings like (B) and (C) are deformed due to this “re-signification”. The “memory” mentioned above is apparently a “mythical history”, and the horses are symbols of a mysterious past and reinterpreted. She puts forward as evidence the fact that “... the presence of Pleistocene bone remains in Holocene layers from the Patagonian and Pampean regions implies that fossils were collected by humans[...] and probably reinterpreted and imbued with symbolic meanings” [2].

She adds that the site may have been a good hunting ground and that the track petroglyphs are part of the mythical symbology of the “place”.

A very neat theory, well documented which fits nicely into the official view of Patagonian prehistory.

However, I am not constrained by Academia and can allow myself to be less cautious and fling some wild theories into the open: what if... the Pleistocene bone remains found in Holocene layers actually belonged to “Pleistocene” animals who survived well into the Holocene, and when they died, laid their remains in those Holocene layers without any human hands placing them there (perhaps we humans helped them pass away with our spears and arrows).
The theory that our distant ancestors dug up megafaunal fossils and gathered them in assemblies is a bit far-fetched. The simple answer is that the native American horses were alive and kicking at that time.

And, they were depicted from nature in the rocks.


[1] Carden, Natalia. (2009), Prints on the Rocks: a study of the track representations from Piedra Museo Locality (Southern Patagonia), Rock Art Research 2009- Volume 26, Number 1, pp.

Monstruos de la Patagonia - Criptozoologia, Mitos & leyendas de la Patagonia
Copyright 2009-2012 by Austin Whittall ©
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