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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pericue, Lovelock natives and mummies

This post continues the series that we began with the Kentucky Red-haired Mummy and continued with the Cueva del Gualicho Mummy in Patagonia painted red. Today we will look into more red painted remains (they were painted with ochre, buried in caves neatly wrapped up). All of them are linked and they span the continent from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, to Patagonia next to the Strait of Magellan, passing by Nevada and Baja California in Mexico. And they all involve the first Americans (Paleoamericans of "caucasoid" morphology).

Pericue Indians

Baja California, Mexico, the Pericue natives.

A self-educated ornithologist named Lyman Belding (1829 - 1918), visite the southern part of Baja California during the winter of 1882-83. He wrote about his experiences and, one of his articles, on the Pericue natives is quoted below. (1)

This group of Native Americans (also known as Cora and Edúe) lived on the southernmost tip of the Baja California Peninsula. It was a dead-end 1,300 km (800 mi.) from where the peninsula joins the mainland, a piece of land surrounded by sea on thre sides and the desert on the other.

Their region, "Los Cabos", was hostile, arid, lacking many resources. They wer hunter gatherers as recorded by the Spanish missionaries who ventured into the area. By the mid eighteenth century they had declined in numbers and were absorbed by other ethnic groups.

Their isolation until recent times and their "primitive" ways makes them ideal candidates for being members of the first "wave" that peopled America (Paleoamericans), which did not have the Mongolid type; they were parto of a group which:

"... departed from somewhere in southern Asia and arrived in the Australian continent and the Americas around 40,000 and 12,000 years before present, respectively. Most modern Amerindians are believed to be part of a second, morphologically differentiated migration..." (6)

So this makes Belding's article interesting since he describes their burials: (In bold, are the parts that I have highlighted): (1)

Probably these Indians were never numerous though the Victoria mountains would have supported a large population.
Father Baegut says there were 4,000 Indians in the southern part of the peninsula of Lower California when the missions of Santiago and San Jose del Cabo were destroyed by them in the year 1734, but that they numbered only 400 in 1772 (Chas. Rau, Sm. Rp. 1864 p 384).
It was a prime object with my companion Dr. H. Ten Kate, of the society of anthropology of Paris, and myself as well, to find a living representative of the original Lower Californian, which we probably found on the Rancho San Jacinto, owned by the Vallerino family. But we could get no positive or definitive information concerning this Indian woman, who must have been about seventy-five years old, although from La Paz to Cape San Lucas she was universally reputed to be a pure blooded Indian. She differed widely from the Yaquis and other Indians from the east side of the Gulf, being of good stature, robust form and dark complexion, with a cranium which resembled those found in the caves.
Dr. H. Ten Kate offered to photograph the hacienda and its occupants, hoping by this means to get her photograph, but his diplomacy failed, although backed by our distinguished guide, Don Juan Dios Angoula, who had long been a friend of the family.
We saw three of her children who were good examples of the better class of Mexicans, their father having been a Mexican or Spaniard. This woman is probably the only living pure blooded native south of 24 degrees 30 minutes.
The Indians of Lower California south of 24 degrees 30 minutes buried their dead in caves below shelving rocks, without regard to the points of the compass, usually painting the bones, but how they made the bones clean and ready to be painted is still unknown. At Zorillo we were shown a small cave in a granite rock by our local guide, who said that an Italian collector, several years before, had found bones of a "gentile," the Mexican name for an Indian or heathen.
The sand in the cave was dry, coarse disintegrated granite, about a foot deep. By digging in it I found the well preserved skeleton of an adult male Indian, who was perhaps the last of the Pericues. This skeleton was wrapped in cloth made from the bark of the palm and bound with three ply cord which had been plaited as sailors make sennit, the material being fiber of the agave. Dr. W. H. Dall mentions in the Smithsonian contributions to knowledge, number 318, that the mummies of the Aleutian Islands, were bound with cord quite similarly braided in square sennit.
The package, which was about twenty inches long, did not appear to have been disturbed since burial, although a femur and some small bones were missing, and nearly all of the bones had been unjointed. The bones of the hand were inside of the skull, which was full of small bones and sand. Meanwhile Dr. Ten Kate found the skeleton of a girl about twelve years old. This was also in excellent condition, although differing from those found elsewhere, in not having been painted, a rare exception. For the skeletons found by Dr. Ten Kate on Espiritu Santo Island, at Ensenada and Los Martires, which he kindly allowed me to inspect, had all been painted the usual brick red, with the exception of one the Doctor found at Los Martires which had a skull of very inferior, almost idiotic form.
The few bones we afterwards found in a cave near Candelario and several skeletons found at San Pedro by Dr. H. Ten Kate had also been painted. All of the skulls were of one general form, namely, the pyramidal -- high, long narrow, with wide, prominent cheek bones.
The only ornaments, or other objects of aboriginal handiwork found with the skeletons, were two small, neatly worked, pearl oyster shells, which were in the package of the bones of the young girl found at Zorillo. These shells had been polished on the convex side, the edges finely serrated and pierced at the apex as if to be suspended about the person for ornament.

Remarks on Belding's article

1. Burial

They painted the bones brick red color, and placed them iin caves, wraped in a packages about 20 in. long (50 cm) cloth made from palm bark, bound with three ply plaited cord of agave fiber. Similar to the way the Aleutian islanders disposed of their dead.

Below an image showing an Aleutian mummy:

Aleutian mummy

Aleutian Mummy 1897. ( 7)

We have seen that the Kentucky mummy was wrapped up and so was the Gualicho Cave mummy. Will see that other related people buried their dead in a similar fashion. However, these Pericue remains were not mummies, they were bones, no flesh, no mummification here, just painted bones and skulls. A key difference.

A member of his team found a skull "of a very inferior, almost idiotic form". What does that mean?. The other skulls were pyramidal, high, long narrow and wide with prominent cheek bones. This one must have been "archaic". More below.

2. The "idiotic" skull

This requires a bit of context, at that time, when French surgeon Paul Broca was in vogue, brain size and skull shape were taken to reflect the phsychological and intellectual features of its owner.

Small or light brains (such as women's) were assumed to be less intelligent than the larger and heavier male brains (talk about bigotry and sexism!).

Furthermore, anthropometric measurements soon "proved" that European white people were the superior race. We all know where this led to and the pain caused to mankind by such racist beliefs.

When Belding describes a skull as belonging to an idiot, he means it was a "primitive-shaped" skull, with a receeding - sloping forehead or strong brows, what we would probably call Neanderthal-like.

3. Ochre, Cross Cultural Similarities

Ochre is a natural pigment composed of hydrated iron oxide. Its color spans the full range from brown to yellow (with all the red or orange hues in between).

The use of ochre as a red dye at burials is something common to all humans (and other hominids) across the globe and across the milennia. Some examples:

  • At Lake Mungo, in Australia, ochre dated at 32 Kya has been found. (2)
  • At Qafzeh Cave, (3) dated at 92 Kya (home of hominids with a mosaic of archaic and modern features).
  • Even among non modern humans: It is associated with H. erectus, Neanderthal and various ancient hominid sites (though not necessarily related to burials). (3)
  • At Homo sapiens sites from Sweden to Denmark, to Siberia (the Mal'ta people had ochre), and, as mentioned in my post on the Gualicho Cave mummy, also used in Patagonia.

4. Lovelock skull and Spirit Cave

I posted a few days ago about a skull found at a salt flat close to Lovelock Cave in Nevada, which was described as follows: (4)

"... archaic type which is most often referred to by Georg Neumann's term "Otamid variety".... widely found in early or putatively early contexts and, in later times, in marginal areas... Neumann's type series for the Otamid variety is a small group from the Gulf Coast of Texas representing Karankawa Indians of the historic period. Frequently, also, the Peircue of Baja california are mentioned in this connection, although they are divergent in some features..."

This is interesting, the skull from Lovelock, Nevada is Otamid and the Pericue are also Otamids, but, even more interesting are the remains found at Spirit Cave, also at Lovelock, Nevada. Notice the similarity with the Pericue burial methods:

Spirit Cave Mummy, Lovelock, Nevada

A mummified body of a man was discovered there in 1940. It was dated in 1994 to 10,630 Kya, it had “Caucasoid” features and red hair, but it was buried: wrapped in a finely woven reed mat.(5)

Below is an image of the mummy:

spirit cave mummy

Spirit Cave mummy

Was its hair really red or did it absorb pigmentation from a coating of ochre?

A study to determine which culture it belonged to (8), was not clear: one expert said the "the pigment granules in your sample are brown", and said it was a body of a Caucasian. Another said "...dark reddish-brown hairs" and said they were of an Asian. The third expert said "dark brown" and of a Northern Asian or Native American.

Not one said the hair was red!, but brown, and they said it belonged to Asians or Native Americans (2 out of 3), but we know that these groups have black hair. I have not seen a brown haired North Asian or Amerindian. So I am a bit surprised.

Anyway, if expected to determine if a mummy is Native American and it was found in Nevada and is 10 kya. Wouldn't you find its brown hair Asian or Native American?.


Summary: Pericue, from Baja California, Mexico are Otamids like the Lovelock, Nevada natives. Both wrap their dead in vegetable fibre mats (palm in the case of Pericues, reeds in the case of Lovelock), tied with plaited cords. The bones were painted with ochre. Pericue are presumed to belong to the first wave into America.

They were also seamen, with rafts and this links them to the Aleutians (who buried their dead in a similar way), to Fuegians and to other South American groups who also share an odd genetic trait. But that is another post.


(1) Lyman Belding, (1885). The Pericue Indians, The West American Scientist, San Diego, Ca. Vol 1. No. 4 pp. 21. March 1885.
(2) Lake Mungo (
(3) More information on Ochre and archaeological sites
(4) Reed E., (1967). An Unusual Human Skull from near Lovelock, Nevada, University of Utah Press. Miscellaneous Collected Papers, No.18.
(5) Ellis B., Damadio, S., (2000).Determination of cultural affiliation of ancient human remains from Spirit Cave. Nevada. Bureau of Land Management Nevada State Office.
(6) González-José, Rolando, et al,. (2003). Craniometric evidence for Palaeoamerican survival in Baja California. Nature 425:62-65.
(7 ) Aleutian Mummy 1897. Drawing of a Mummy
(8) Barker, C Ellis, S. Damadio, (2000). Determination of cultural affiliation of ancient human remains from Spirit Cave. Nevada P Bureau of Land Management Nevada State Office.

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

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