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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Peruvian ape-man, Monkey or hominin?

After the discovery of America, its vast and inexplored area was the source of many myths: the fountain of youth, the golden cities of Eldorado, Ciudad de los Césares and Cibola. The tribe of warrior women, the Amazons, and the land where Jesus' brother, Saint Thomas had come to preach....

Mysterious creatures were described all over the continent, some were distorted accounts of actual real creatures, others were totally imaginary, others remain unknown until today, maybe they described creatures now extinct (like the Patagonian "succarath").

Today we will review one of them.

The Peruvian Apeman

Enea Vico (1523 - 1567), an Italian engraver whose speciality was depicting weird creatures wrote a book (Recueil de la diversité des habits qui sont de present en visages tantes pays d’europe, Asie, Afrique et illes sauvages. Le tout fait apres de natural), in French, which was published in París in 1562. It dealt with the odd things found around the world, and, among them, a strange American creature. His drawing is shown below:

peruvian ape-man

The peruvian ape-man. Enea Vico.

As can be seen in the image above, this "ape" was quite singular: it wore clothes. We know that clothing is an exclusive attribute of mankind. Of all animals, only human beings weare clothes. The fact that it is dressed makes this ape quite unusual.

Vico wrote: "... pres le Peru par effect le voit on, Dieu a donné au Singe tel forme. Vestu dejonc, s'appuyant d'un baston, estat debout, chose aux homes coforme." [2].

As it is written in ancient French, my translation is rather rudimentary, but nevertheless, here it is:" Close to Peru they have seen an ape that God has given this shaped. It is dressed and supports itself on a walking stick, it stands upright, in a man-like manner."

The image that illustrated the text shows a bipedal ape-like man wearing a cloack and some clothes woven from rushes, carrying a walking stick. The word "singe" which Vico uses is also significant. It does not mean monkey, it means "Ape" or "large Primate".

Last year I ran a series of posts on South American Wild Men, but had not included Vico's ape-man.

You may have already guessed that I am inclined to believe that it may actually represent a (then) extant group of Neanderthals (they would have been considered wild men by the locals, and would also have worn clothes).

Here is the link to the engraving.

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

Hookworms and the peopling of America

As usual I am always reading papers and articles on the antiquity of man in America trying to see beyond the orthodox assumptions of an early peopling of America seeking clues that may prove the opposite.

In this context I have read a paper (Montenegro et al., 2006) which deals with a parasite which plagues humans around the world, and which is also found in America, and could only have reached here by travelling piggy-back inside a human host.

The paper finds that "The introduction of the hookworm into the Americas by a land migration at around 13,000 years BP could have happened only under extraordinary circumstances..." [1]. This is very interesting since that is the orthodox point of view regarding the migrants that peopled the continent.

On Hookworms

Hookworm is a disease caused by any of two parasites that live in the human intestine (Ancylostoma duodenale or Necator americanus). See the photo below of the latter species:


Hookworms are a serious health concern and they infect approximately 700 million people across the world, in poor countries in tropical and subtropical regions (see map below for the N. Americanus).

hookworm distribution map

The map above shows that its current habitat spans the equatorial regions between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

It is interesting to point out that according to Montenegro et al. the "N. americanus has been associated with humans longer than A. duodenale" [1], a clear indication of an archaic parasite. Could it have infested our ancestors H. erectus or Neanderthal?

Even more interesting is that the oldest recorded date for any kind of hookworm infection was recorded in South America, in human coprolites found in Brazil, 7,230 years old.

N. americanus, named so because it was first discovered in Brazil, and later in Texas, and was considered for a time as a New World species.

But since it is also found in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and the southwest Pacific Islands, to be able to justify that vast range, it is now said to have originated in Africa and moved out of there with its human hosts, reaching America last. At first the African slave trade was assumed to be the culprit of infecting America with this worm, but the ancient, pre-slavery Brazilian coprolites prove that it was not the case.

Its genome was decoded recently [2], and some comparative studies have been undertaken (they are quite old - see [3][4] below), but these do not address the issue of its origin: Is this hookworm African? or, the opposite, is it American and from there spread across the globe? The studies do however show considerable differences between worms sampled in different parts of the world:

One study from 1998 compares rDNA sequences of worms from Togo (Africa) and Sarawak (Malaysia). As expected they differ and the authors conclude that :

"These findings suggest that there is either population variation in the sequence of N. americanus, or that N. americanus from the two countries may represent genetically distinct but morphologically similar (i.e. cryptic) species, however, comparison of the sequence differences among other hookworm species supports the latter conclusion". [3] In other words, they are genetically different species which look alike.

The other study, from 2003, compares the mtDNA of a worm from Togo with another from china. They also differ ("at both the nucleotide (3-7%) and amino acid (1-7%) levels" and also in regions of the mitochondrial RNA). The authors find this consistent with previous studies proving "evidence for substantial genetic variation within N. americanus".[4]

So until a study (like that done with the human mtDNA) settles the issue, as far as I am concerned, the New World worm may have originated there or in Africa or in South East Asia and dispersed from any of those points to the others.

I can imagine slaver ships picking the worm up in Brazil and conveying it to Africa and Southern Asia. That is a lot easier than trying to figure out how it managed to cross the frozen Siberian steppes, Beringia and Alaska to reach America during the peak of the Ice Ages.

But since Out Of Africa prevails and man is supposed to have reached America via Beringia, scholars must explain its entry through that route.

Hookworms and cold, they don't get along

Despite spending their adult lives inside our guts, they must live for a while in the soil to fulfill their biological cycle: An infected human host spreads the eggs of mature hookworms by means of his feces. Once in the soil, the eggs turn into larvae capable of infecting other hosts. These eggs can hatch in less than 1 day (under special conditions of humidity and temperature) and molt twice into larvae after a period of 5 to 14 days.

These larvae then move upwards through the soil and wait for their new host, which they enter by piercing its skin (A. duodenale can also infect if ingested). They can survive between 2 and 10 months if the temperature is higher than 14°C (if lower, they die).

The special soil conditions for eggs to hatch are quite warm: between 17 and 35°C. And this raises an important question:

Now, how can a band of humans trekking across the Arctic wastelands during the height of an Ice Age come across soil which has a temperature above 17° for the eggs to hatch and above 14° for the larvae to survive?

The paper considered different alternatives:

  1. These hookworms belonged to a "cold resistant" strain that could develop at lower temperatures
  2. The migrants stopped at "warm" places to rest and during this period the hookworm went through its cycle there and reinfested them
  3. They moved across the cold area quickly, so that the adult hookworm survived inside its human hosts until they reached warmer lands (it's maximum life span is 8 years).

Option 1 was rejected because cold-tolerant hookworms have not been discovered yet in America or Asia. Option 2 was also discarded because it is improbable that the migrating humans would have found caves with temperatures above 14 - 17°C. Currently caves are cooler than that. Even if they warmed the caves (i.e. using fire), it is improbable that they would have defecated close to the warm sectors of the cave -that would have been quite unpolite.

That leaves only leaves us with Option 3: a quick march from warm spot in Asia to warm spot in America, crossing the frigid zones of Western Siberia, Beringia and Northern North America during the lifespan of an adult hookworm, comfortably lodged in the warm guts of a migrating human. All this in the context of an Ice Age -otherwise there would be no land bridge to cross and reach America: sea levels dropped during the Ice Ages since most of the water was packed into the continental ice sheets.

Nevertheless, even assuming hypobiosis (a suspended animation state for the larvae inside the hosts during the cold spell), the study found that "contagion [...] was impossible because temperatures were too low even during the warmest periods of the year." [1]

For Option 3 to be possible, the band of migrants would have had to encounter "extraordinary circumstances and even then would have required very rapid displacement rates, rates that appear to have no parallel in the archaeology of the continent." [1], something that the authors consider very improbable.

Therefore they propose other routes (i.e. a trans Pacific or Trans Atlantic route across the sea) for the parasite to enter the continent, pointing out that a viaable route of entry would require "regional temperatures significantly higher than at 13,000 years" [1].

So how did hoowkorm reach America?

The trans Pacific route either at low latitudes (close to the Equator) is feasible and even probable: there is evidence of Chinese / Japanese contact with Peruvian - Ecuadorian Amerindians, but it is more recent than the 7,230 years required to explain the Brazilian coprolites.

The coastal Pacific route (canoes paddling along the coast of Asia, Beringia, Alaska and Western Canada - U.S.), would still be crossing the cold Northern regions. But may have moved faster than a group of walking humans. This could shorten the time needed to get from warm place to warm place and allow the hookworm to survive the journey.

Another option is that the hookworm originated in America and spread elsewhere from there by boat during modern times - post 1492 discovery by Europeans. To validate this, mutation rates would have to be checked (to find the age of the most recent ancestors of the different regional worm lineages).

However N. americanus' great affinity with humans and its notable virulence make me wonder if it has been plaguing us for tens of millennia. Could it be a parasite of Neanderthals or (considering its range in Eurasia), even H. erectus?

But this still leaves us with the problem of getting it into America by a means accessible to our older ancestors. Setting aside the transoceanic routes (too complicated for a band of Neanderthals or H. erectus), the only option is a land route across Beringia. Which, as explained above is not feasible.

Were older glaciations different from recent ones? That is, did they allow a low sea level that made crossing the land bridge possible but at the same time ensured local temperatures above the 14°C minimum threshold?. If this is the case, then our ancient ancestors could have brought the hookworm with them to America. I will research this for a future post.

New April 2, 2014: I did some more research and posted it as a "Second part" to this post.


[1] Alvaro Montenegro, Adauto Araujo, Michael Eby, Luiz Fernando Ferreira, Rene´e Hetherington, and Andrew J. Weaver, (2006). Parasites, Paleoclimate, and the Peopling of the Americas Using the Hookworm to Time the Clovis Migration. Current Anthropology Vol 47, No. 1, Feb. 2006 pp +193
[2] Yat T Tang et al., (2014). Genome of the human hookworm Necator americanus. Nature Genetics 46,261–269(2014)doi:10.1038/ng.2875
[3] Romstad A, Gasser RB, Nansen P, Polderman AM, Chilton NB., (1998). Necator americanus (Nematoda: Ancylostomatidae) from Africa and Malaysia have different ITS-2 rDNA sequences. Int J Parasitol. 1998 Apr;28(4):611-5
[4] Hu M, Chilton NB, Abs El-Osta YG, Gasser RB., (2003). Comparative analysis of mitochondrial genome data for Necator americanus from two endemic regions reveals substantial genetic variation. Int J Parasitol. 2003 Aug;33(9):955-63

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

The Caaigua Wild Man

I just came across another type of "wild man" that lived in the South American jungles, the Caigua (or Caaiguá). These creatures were people, since they were baptized and settled in Jesuit Missions. Unlike other putative wild men, these were not monkeys (they actually hunted monkeys).

These wild men were regarded by the more civilized Native Americans as people who lived in the jungle, savages.

Wild Men according to the Jesuits

In the late 1700s, the Spanish Jesuit missionary, Father José Guevara (1719 - 1806) wrote about these mysterious "Caaiguás" people: "their name in Guaraní [a Native American language] means wild people... men with noses like monkeys; hunchbacked that look towards the ground... short neck and so sunken that it barely protrudes above the shoulder... They live in the jungle and chase monkeys, jumping from branch to branch and from tree to tree with admirable dextrity and litheness."[1]

That these natives also known as Caiguas or Coaiguás were human is attested by the fact that they were considered, "nomad Guaraní natives" [2] some of them were even placed in a Jesuit Mission:

The Spaniards controlled the natives by gathering them and settling them next to a mission (most missions were run by Jesuits). They worked for the mission in its fields or craft shops, and were indoctrinated and converted to Christianism.

These settlements were known as "Reducciones" (from the Spanish verb "reducir": subdue, subjugate, pacify). There were other means of dominating the natives which the Spaniards copied from the Inca rulers that they had overthrown: forced labor, a serf system and communal work (Mita, Yanacona and the Encomienda systems).

Father Francisco Vázques Trujillo in a letter to his superior in the Jesuit Company, wrote about them: "they are known as Caiguaras. They are a nation that lives in the jungles, that seem like little lambs. They are always looking towards the ground. Father Juan de Porras, who is in charge of this Reducción, with his good manners has taken them out of the jungle..." [3]

The "lamb-like" allusion is not about their appearance, but about their character (peaceful and tame). Their other physical features are quite odd: hunchbacked, sunken head (like embeded deeply in their shoulders - short necked), a gaze fixed on the ground... What can that mean?

Since they are not described as hairy and being interned in a Mission we can safely guess that they were people, odd people, but humans. Their Tarzan-like dextrity (jumping from branch to branch) is amazing indeed.

Could they be a relict tribe of hominids? (i.e. Neanderthals or H. erectus), their "primitive" appearance would have been remarkable and noticed by the Jesuits, they would have noticed that they were humans, but not exactly like us.

Just as I was posting this I came across some more information on Caaiguas, I will post this once I have read it in detail. Thanks.


[1] Guevara, J. "Historia del Paraguay, Rio de la Plata y Tucumán", Ed. Pedro de Angelis (1836)Book 1, part 1.
[2] Azara, F. (1793). "Descripción e Historia del Paraguay y del Rio de la Plata". Vol. 1
[3] de Gandia, E. (1929). Historia Crítica de los mitos de la Conquista Americana. B. Aires, J. Roldan y Cia. pp. 34

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ancient steel sword in Patagonia...

Ned Chace was an American sailor who disembaked in Patagonia and there between 1898 and 1929, working on the sheep ranches (Estancias) in Santa Cruz province, Argentina.

His adventures were recorded in a book, which was published in 1931, based on lengthy interviews with him, by the authors of the book, after his return to the U.S.

Below I transcribe one of his amusing tales (which is very likely true):

"He [Chace] found a big encampment site where the trail passed [lake] San Martin between Kachaik and Frank's [...] different from any modern Tehuelche encampment. It was fifty yards from water. He never found a modern toldo more than a few feet from water, even when the ground near it was wet. 'This had been an Indian campamento that had been there for years, I should say, and it had been a big one. Here in the center it'd all been covered about three feet deep with the loose sand and grass, and when the sheep come they cropped the grass, and the wind come and blew away the sand, leavin' a place where there'd been fires, for where the ground had been burned it was red, and there'd been stones in the fire heatin'. And off a ways, two or three hundred yards, you'd find where different Indians had had their tents around, and right in the center they evidently had that place where they'd all come to eat, settin' in a big circle. They had a fire in the middle, and then all these ostrich and guanaco bones where they broke 'em to dig the marrow out right there and threw 'em behind 'em. Them bones was old, old, old. I suppose they was preserved in the sand. And then you'd find arrow-heads, broken ones, it bein' I suppose where they took a broken one off to put on a new one. It was a great big circle, seventy-five foot across. [22.4 m]
Well, just off from this, there was a skeleton, right alongside a little fire where he'd died or been killed. The skeleton of a Christian with the legbones of a man that must have been about five foot six and of a very slender build, but he had an enormous forehead on him and a proper well-formed under jaw and a narrow face. And beside him there was a thin piece of steel about eighteen inches long, that looked like it might have been part of a rapier. That man'd never been buried. He was either killed by the Indians and left alongside where his tent had been, or he was killed in the tent and they took him outside. His bones was lyin' out just on a level with the fire, and they was Christian bones too you could tell they was different from Indian.'
He found a number of small encampment sites but never another big one." [1]

The map below shows the general area where Chace found this ancient native camp. The red arrows show the hill of Kachaik and Santiago (James) Frank's ranch, "La Federica", the area shaded in green along the shores of Lake San Martín marks the likely location of the native camp. In red, the "Antiguo Valle" and "Médano Norte" sites.

map of lake San Martin

Lake San Martín

First of all, let's get our bearings:

San Martín (named O'Higgins in Chile - both countries have this odd custom of giving different names to the lakes they share ) is a very large lake, shared by both countries: it has a surface area of 1,013 km2 (426 sq.mi.) of which 554 km2 are Chilean, and 459 km2, Argentine.

It is a low lying lake, barely 253 m above sea level (829 ft.), nestled among the high Andean peaks (+2,000 m - 6,550 ft.).

it is very deep: one of its arms, fjord-like O'Higgins arm is 836 m deep (2,741 ft.), making it the fifth deepest lake in the world. The others deeper lakes are: Lakes Baikal (1,741 m), Tanganika (1,471 m), Vostok (1,200 m) and the Caspian Sea (1,025 m).

The native Aonikenk Tehuleches called it Charre, which ment "Full". It was "discovered" by the Western world in 1877 by Argentine explorer Francisco "Perito" Moreno, who named it after Argentina's national hero General José de San Martín, whose armies marched from the Pampas, across the Andes into Chile, Peru and Bolivia during the independence wars against Spain (1812 - 1824). By the way, O'Higgins was his ally and colleague in arms in Chile.

It is a very irregular lake, with many long and narrow fjords, with steep sloped mountains towering over them; islands and Peninsulas mark its shores.

It receives the Mayer River on its northern arm and flows out, into the Pacific Ocean through the Pascua River. On the Chilean side of the border, the "Southern Ice Field" defines its southern coast, with great glaciers such as the O'Higgins Glacier which calve icebergs into it.

The southeastern coast, in Argentina, is barren, lacking trees. A muddy stream from Lake Tar flows into the lake's Chacabuco Arm.

It can be reached from Argentina's National Highway No. 40 from the village of Tres Lagos by Provincial Highway No. 31, a gravel surfaced road-track.

Kach Aike

Chace mentions "Kachaik": it is a very conspicuous hill, on the right hand side of Highway 31, which juts out several hundred meters above the surrounding flat steppe.

It towers 1,008 m high (3,304 ft.), and is the remains of an ancient volcano: it was formed when the soft rock of the volcano's conical slopes was eroded, leaving the tough basaltic rock that had solidified inside its chimney. The natives called the place:"Kach" = "ember" and "Aike" = "place".

The image below shows Kach Aike seen from the East, with the flat steppe and the lake behind it (the area where Chace found the native camp).

Kach aike

The "Ancient" natives

In Chace's story there are some interesting clues:

  • The camp was buried by 3 ft. (1 m) of sand, which he said was due to recent sheep activity after the arrival of settlers (late 1800s) which destroyed the grass and allowed the Patagonian winds to remove the loose sand under it, thus revealing the site.
  • "old, old, old" guanaco and ostrich bones.
  • Arrow-heads strewn over a circle 75 ft. diameter
  • It was a big and permanent camp quite far from the water 50 m (compared to contemporary Indian camps, which were very close to the water)
  • A slender built skeleton with a thin piece of steel 18 in long (45.7 cm), probably part of a rapier. Bones which were "different from Indian ... Christian bones"

People have inhabited this area since 11,100 BP right after the glaciers retreated. This was followed by a period during which it was uninhabited (7,600 - 5,600 BP). About 6,000 y BP the forest began at Chacabuco Peninsula, and the southeastern part of the lake was a grassland; then between 5,000 and 4,000 BP the area had more bushes and less grass. From about 4,000 and 3,000 BP a wetter period began, which lasted until about 100 years ago. During this period a grassy steppe covered the area [2]. This was the grass cropped by the sheep.

Some archaeological studies have been done in that area [2]: One spanned the flatland next to Katch Aike, a plain formed by the glaciers, between Highway 31 and the lake, at the Médano Margen norte (Northern Coast Dune) site. There they found lithic remains and guanaco bones in "four deflationary hollows" [deflation: where sand has been removed by the wind] "that covered an area of 345 m2" [quite in agreement with Chace's definition of a "cleared area" where the sand had been removed, and also its surface area: a circle with a diameter of 75 ft. covers 410 m2].

Another site was found at "antiguo Valle" (Old Valley), to the nortwest, where the remains covered a surface of 600 m2.

In the map above I have shaded in green, the area where this campsite may have been located. It was 50 yards from the lake, Chace makes a point in saying that contemporary Indians never camped so far from water. The greater distance may either indicate that the natives were not of the same group as the then extant Tehuelche natives or, that the lake level dropped moving the shore further away from the site during the period of time that has elapsed since the natives camped there. I have not found any evidence that the lake's water level has dropped, but I will keep on looking for it.

The datings of occupations at some caves close by date back to 4,760 BP, and at Lake San Martin (Kach Aike) and Lake Tar, there are late Holocene dates (2,500 BP).

Interestingly, "protected places like the dunes, had been occupied all year round... added to this is that access to lithic raw materials would have been relatively easy..." [2]. Which agrees with Chace's comment of a large encampment that had been there for years (it was in fact a year round camp and would be large and have plenty of tents) and the manufacture of arrow heads.

The date 2,500 BP for the site makes it unlikely that the remains described by Chace be those of a "Christian". So, to whom did they belong?

Ancient Mariners...

Since Native Americans did not know how to produce steel or iron tools, the owner of the 18 inch rapier 500 years BC, must have come from some steel making culture from Europe or Asia.

I am reluctant to pronunce myself in favor of a Phoenician, Greek or Carthaginian because I am not sure if they made steel swords (they made them of iron). Of course, Chace may have mistaken iron for steel, in which case the owner could have belonged to any of those cultures.

Steel, is iron with a certain -very low- content of carbon. The resulting alloy is more flexible than iron and does not shatter upon impact. It was not easy to make, and very valuable.

How did this person get there?

Lake San Martín is quite inaccesible from the West: a shipwrecked sailor on the South Pacific coast of Chile would have to walk along the northern edge of the Sothern Ice Field, up the dense forests of the Pascua River and then after reaching the lake, sail its choppy waters to its Eastern coast (or walk through a terribly dense forest with sheer sloped mountains). The terrain is so bad that even today there is no road linking the Chilean town of Villa O'Higgins on the north tip of the lake with the Argentine side of the border.

From the Atlantic, the lake can be reached either from the mouth of the Santa Cruz River or from San Julián inlet by following the Chico or Sheuen River to its sources and then, across the divide to lake Tar and along Tar river till reaching Lake San Martín.

The fact that it is a rapier (thin and narrow sword) and made of steel may even make it possible that its owner was a Spaniard, from the XVIth century. In which case the date is wrong, instead of 2,500 BP, it should read 500 BP.

This was an area beyond civilization, Spain never colonized or conquered Patagonia, so the Spaniard may have been a survivor of one of the many shipwrecks along the Strait of Magellan or even from the ill-fated towns founded on the Strait by Sarmiento de Gamboa in the late 1570s.

Maybe the unfortunate man walked north, seeking the Spanish settlement on Chiloé Island, marching close to what is now the border between Chile and Argentina, on the edge of the forests, going around Lakes Argentino and Viedma, and then following the native path towards Lake San Martín, where exposure, hunger, illness or maybe a band of natives, ended his pain.

This last theory (the "trekking Spaniards") is not as crazy as it seems: in 1563 two Spaniards (Pedro de Obiedo and Antonio de Cobos) arrived at Concepción, Chile in northern Patagonia. They swore that they were sailors of a ship that sunk in the Strait of Magellan in 1540, part of the Bishop of Placencia's fleet [3]. They reported that the stranded crew had marched north, confronted the Indians that attacked them, found a secluded spot and set up a fort. They later lived in peace with the Natives. This was the mythical Lost "City of Ceasars". However Obiedo and Cobos committed a crime and fled north to escape punishment, walking all the way to the Spanish town of Concepción.

There are other instances of shipwrecked sailors: Juan Ladrillero's expedition (1558) capsized in the Strait of Magellan and all were lost except for Lardrillero and a sailor who "with notable courage and perseverance walked along the slopes of the mountain range, beating infinite difficulties and continuous risks to their lives, reaching Valdivia [in Northern Patagonia] after one year and four months" [6]. (Quite a long walk indeed!).

Sailors from English, Dutch and even American ships (after 1776) ships were also shipwrecked along Patagonian shores: Darwin reported castaways rescued during the voyage of the Beagle, close to Chiloé Island [4], and Wager was stranded on an island for weeks until the natives helped the survivors of his group to reach Chiloe. [5]


[1] Robert and Katharine Barrett, (1931), A Yankee in Patagonia, Edward Chace Houghton Mifflin Co. 1931. pp. 91-92
[2] Espinosa S, Belardi J, Barrientos G and Carballo Marina F. (2013), Poblamiento e intensidad de uso del espacio en la Cuenca del lago San Martin (Patagonia Argentina): nuevos datos desde la margen norte. Comechingonia vol.17 no.1 Córdoba jun. 2013.
[3] Patricio Estellé and Ricardo Couyoudmdjian, (1968). La Ciudad de los Cesares: Origen y Evolución de una leyenda (1526-1880). Historia, No. 7, Instituto de Historia. Univ. Cat. de Chile. 283-309.
[4] Darwin, C., (1987). The Voyage of the Beagle. Ware: Woodsworth Editions.
[5] Gurney, A., [Ed.], (2004). The Loss of the Wager: The Narratives of John Bulkeley and the Hon. John Byron. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
[6] de Rosales, D., (1666) Historia General del Reyno de Chile Ed. 1877, Imp. El Mercurio., Vol. 1. pp. 84

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Iemisch sighting in Puerto Natales

One of our readers, recently wrote a comment to my post Iemisch the Patagonian Water Tiger, in which he describes a very unusual and interesting sighting of a Iemisch!. I want to share it with you and go over the possible creatures that could have been the "culprits" of this very odd sitghting.

You will notice that I am reluctant to jump to conclusions. That is: hey!!! you saw a IEMISCH! Wow!!.

I am a cautious yet optimist cryptozoologist.

An Unusual sighting in Puerto Natales, Chile

February 21, 2014 at 9:19 PM
hello there Austin , this is an interesting article , my wife and I live in Puerto Natales and were travelling back into Natales in the early hours of the morning on route 9 , when an animal crossed in front of us and I braked to avoid hitting it (it was a close call as I had to reverse to check I had been quick enough ) when I had done so we both saw that it was something we had not seen in the area before, (my wife was born and raised in Natales ) after searching the internet for Patagonian wild life and having no luck with a match , I stumbled upon your site today and the illustration is incredibly close to what we saw ,the other strange thing about this encounter is that the animal showed absolutely no signs of fear given the fact that we had almost hit it with our 4wd, it just continued on its way as if oblivious to our presence , the animal we saw seemed to be heavier than the illustration ,It almost appeared pregnant? as it had a waddle to its gait, just thought we would let you know about this encounter and would be interested to hear your comments on this

The ilustration that they mention is shown below, and further down a map showing the location of the sighting:


Iemisch. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

southern Chile

Map showing Puerto Natales in Chile. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

I racked my brains to find a candidate that was both a regular Patagonian animal but at the same time unkonwn in Puerto Natales, Chile. My reply is below:

February 24, 2014 at 6:34 PM
Thank you for taking the time to share this interesting close encounter with us all.
How big was it? The only other option I can think about based on your comment about it being heavy is that it may be a beaver.
Beavers were introduced into Tierra del Fuego by the Argentine navy to make pelts and then set free!! they are now a scourge in the Isla Grande and moving north along the coast. They have reached the mainland and even spotted close to Puerto Natales.
See the article (it has a photo too) on one caught close to P. Natales.
Do any of our readers have any suggestions?


I have more space here to expand my suggestion that the animal was a Beaver.

Beavers (Castor canadensis) are not native to South America, they live in Northern North America and, as exoctic animals were introduced into Tierra del Fuego in 1946 by the Argentine Navy.

They were trying to establish a fur industry in the region. The venture failed and the animals were set free in Lake Fagnano, which is shared by Argentina and Chile.

The lack of predators and a favorable habitat led to their proliferation. They have caused considerable damage to the island's forests and have further expanded their range to neighboring islands.

They have reached the mainland and have been spotted south of Puerto Natales, close to Punta Arenas, and, as can be seen in the article I quote above, now they have reached Puerto Natales.

Our exchange continues

March 13, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Hello there Austin , thanks for your feed back on this , with reference to your suggestion of this been a beaver , the animal we saw had a long thin tail ,not wide and short as you would expect to see on a beaver , and as for the size ,it was about the size of a small dog and was quite close to the ground , as mentioned before the impression you have of the lemisch in your gallery is almost identical to what we encountered on route 9 , and the fact that this was not a fleeting encounter leaves us a bit puzzled as to what it may have been , perhaps the lemisch is still around in Chilean Patagonia?

Evidently the long thin tail eliminates the beaver (which has a fat paddle shaped tail). Could it be one of the other infrequently sighted Patagonian mammals: the otters?.

March 13, 2014 at 7:13 PM
Maybe it is a Huillin, the Patagonian otter. Quite rare and not often seen.
A picture can be found here...


There are several "otter-like" aquatic mammals in Patagonia which are likely candidates to explain the sighting:

The coipo (Myocastor coypus) is also known as 'nutria' (Spanish for otter). Some English texts call it the South American beaver yet it is neither an otter nor a beaver.


Coipo (Myocastor coypus)

It is a small and stout vegetarian about 63 cm (25 in.) long and weighing about 7 kg (15.4 lb.). It has strong sharp claws and natatory membranes on its feet but not on its front paws.

It is riverine in north western Patagonia and sea-going in southern Chile.

There are two genuine otter species in Patagonia the chungungo or chinchimen (Lontra felina), which lives on the rocky and exposed shores of the Pacific coast all the way to Cape Horn and the huillín or Patagonian otter (Lontra provocax) whose currently reduced territory is located in some rivers and lakes in the Andean forest regions of Neuquén, Río Negro and (maybe) northwestern Chubut. Formerly their habitat included all the great rivers that cross the Patagonian steppe (Negro, Chubut, Corcovado, Senguer and also at Nahuel Huapi and, yes, Colhue Huapi lakes).

The chinchimen, is not very impressive size-wise, it is about 50 cm (20 in.) long, but it is quite vicious; the Spaniards called it "Sea Cat" and noted that "these little animals are as fierce as the wild cats and in a similar manner attack those who approach them and their shout is hoarse and very similar to the roar of the tiger".

The huillín on the other hand twice as long: 110 cm (3 ft. 7 in.); and more fearsome and bold.

Quite big and with short egs they woud be "Close to the ground" and "the size of a small dog" and have a "long thin tail". I took a photo of an embalmed Huillin at the Perito Moreno Museum in Bariloche, I have never seen a living one (even though I have spent many months strolling the shores of Patagonian lakes and plying their waters in boats while fishing).


An embalmed Huillín. Photo by A. Whittall

The American Mink

The American mink (Neovison vison) is a species os mustelid which is native to North America but, thanks to our help, as been introduced into different parts of the World, among them, Southern South America.

It was brought to southern Chile (Punta Arenas and Coyhaique) between 1934 and 1936, to breed them for their fine fur, but the scheme failed and the animals were set free. Nowadays they are found from the Bío Bío River in northern Patagonia, to Tierra del Fuego in the south. They prey on the huillín and may be responsible for its dwindling numbers. They also kill coipo.

They are not very big: 0.5 to 1.6 kg (1 - 4 lb.) and measure 31 - 45 cm (1 to 1.5 ft.) with a tail of 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in.).


An Anmerican Mink

The beaver, mink, coipo and otters are the "known" mammals, those described and studied scientifically. There are others, some only mentioned in native lore, cryptids, and others known from their fossil remains. Below we will look into them.

There is however another alternative, a creature seldom mentioned, the Saapaim, a cryptid:

Saapaim. The mysterious Fuegian creature

Apart from the modern invasion of beavers, Tierra del Fuego was home to another strange creature, the saapaim. See the map above (Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego Island and, Ushuaia the site of the Anglican Mission).

We know that it was not an otter, which the Yagan natives called aiapuk. In July 1869, The Anglican Missionary, Thomas Bridges wrote about this animal noting that the Indians called it "saapaim". He described it as: "very shaggy, about as large as a sheep, has very large and powerful claws and front teeth; it lives in the densest forests on the leaves, fungus and sap of trees. It climbs with ease. I think this animal must be a sloth.".

Previously, in 1866, he had written that there were "beavers" in western Tierra del Fuego (these were not Canadian Beavers, who were introduced 80 years later, but some local native creature).

Intiguingly he later (1886) dropped the sloth-beaver likeness and considered it a fresh-water otter "called saapai by the natives. His son Lucas also said that it was not an otter, but a coipo that the Yagans called "sayapie", and which he described as a large water rat.

However reverend Bridges' original description is not that of an otter or a coipo (they do not climb trees). It is also surprising that he believed that it was some sort of sloth thirty years before the mylodon remains were discovered in the region.

The Saapaim's powerful claws are interesting because it agrees with the native Patagonian myths of clawed monsters. However, having front teeth it can’t be an edentate. Size-wise it seems too small to have been a water tiger but much larger than any known otter. Maybe it is a surviving 'large rodent' related to some megafaunal remains were found at the Mylodon Cave close to Puerto Natales.

A Water Rat?

Rodents, also known as Rodentia is an order of mammals that are characterized by having continuously growing incisors in their upper and lower jaws; these must be kept short by gnawing.

Though most rodents are small (i.e. mice or rabbits) the largest extant rodent, the South American capybara or carpincho (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), can weigh up to 80 kg (180 lb.). Carpincho is an aquatic hog-like animal, bulky and with thick bushy reddish hair.

The group of scientist led by Francisco Moreno which in the late 1800s tried to explain the iemisch, suggeste that "it is very probable that the amphibian that they [the natives] say walks on land as easily as it swims in the water, is a big rodent".

Could the water tiger be a big water rat? The remains that they found at Eberhardt Cave in Puerto Natales belonged to a rodent that was "much bigger than the carpincho […] but a bit smaller than the Megamys patagonensis".


A Capybara or Carpincho

However carpincho's don't have a long slender tail so they (or some related species) be the animal sighted in Puerto Natales. Nevertheless, a Megamys would have been a very big 'rat' indeed, because the M. patagoniensis were giants; they were four times larger than any living species of Rodentia, roughly the size of an ox.

The Megamy was related to the extant Chinchilla of the Andean mountains and, to the Desmarest's hutia or Cuban Hutia, which is endemic to Cuba (Capromys pilorides). It weighs up to 8.5 kg (18 lb.).

Looking at the photo below, it seems a close fit to the Puerto Natales sighting: short, stout, long thin tail... otter like.

cuban hutia

A Cuban Hutia (Caproimys pilorides)

A big aquatic rodent, though herbivore could be quite a threat if frightened or protecting its young. It could be possible that the Iemisch water tiger was precisely this large ‘rat-like’ aquatic creature.


Thomas Bridges (1842–1898). English Anglican minister who from 1869 until he retired in 1887 headed the mission among the Yagans, founding what is now the town of Ushuaia. He later obtained a land grant from the Argentine government close to the town, and set up his estancia (sheep ranch) at Harberton. He also wrote a very complete Yagan language dictionary.
Stephen Lucas Bridges (1874-1949). He was the third son of Thomas Bridges. Lucas was the first European to be born in Tierra del Fuego. He grew up among the Yagans and learnt their language and customs. He moved from Ushuaia to Harberton in 1887, where his father established a ranch after retiring from mission work. In 1902 he set up his own ranch at Viamonte, where he would meet and befriend the Selk’nam. His autobiographic book Uttermost Part of the Earth (1948) is a valuable source on Fuegian anthropology.


My book, Monsters of Patagonia.

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

The enchanted city of Patagonia

I have already posted about the Professor J. G. Wolfe of La Plata University and his Tertiary Human skull,which turned out to be a geofact and not an ancient skull. Today I will post about his "enchanted city".

This Professor J. G. Wolf (or Wolff) was in Patagonia in 1922 - 23, during the period of the uproar over the alleged sighting of a Plesiosaur in that region. I have not been able to find out which were his academic qualifications or from what country he came from, but I have transcribed the most interesting part of his story from an article published in the New York Times on Sept. 4, 1922:

The Lost city

"I was awakened out of the drowsy wakefulness in which I was trotteng along by the curious aspect of a hill in front of me which showed a regular line of stones on top.
... I galloped near. Verily, it was a work of man and not a mere play of nature's fancy.
... Looking down from a height of about fifteen yards into the depth where a little creek was trickling along, my eyes took in the full view of a structure, a wall extending over about 150 yards, consisting of square boulders well chiselled and cemented with a dark substance. Two buttresses to what I instantly classed as remnants of an ancient fortification, and a number of smaller walls, one of them unmistakably the ruin of a former dwelling place.
Closer inspection revealed several strange designs carved on othe walls, one ornamental and reminding me of the designs found on Mexican ruins, the other still more curious, the tail of an animal, resembling the tail of the mysterious glyptodonte, a gigantic prehistoric turtle, extinct for hundreds of centuries. Besides that, I could discern two big arches well worked into the rear of the main wall, a proof of advanced workmanship and a state of high sculpture.

This finding took place in the southeast of the province of Santa Cruz, in Argentina, and Wolf describes the location as follows:

"I was riding with a Chilean friend from the latter's estancia in the north of the Lago Cardiel in a southerly direction intent upon visiting some Indian settlements southeast of that big lake..."

A few months later, an expedition under Riggs arrived at the Argentine port of Río Gallegos and: [2]

"... Shortly After Riggs' Arrival in Rio Gallegos, a certain J. G. Wolfe introduced himself and offered his services to the expedition. Wolfe claimed to have been a museum curator in Rio Gallegos and to have held a commission in the Argentine army. But what aroused Riggs' interest, more than his credentials, was Wolfe's description of a "Tertiary human skull" and an "enchanted city." [2].

They enlisted him into the expedition and went into the Patagonian wilderness keen on both findings. The skull turned out to be a stone, and the "city":

"Once there, Riggs experienced another disappointment as the "city" proved to be nothing more than an intrusive bed of lava or dike, as it is known in geological parlance. The "city" filled a fissure in the surrounding cays and had subsequently been laid bare by erosion. Local residents saw nothing unusual in it, for a number of similar structures were to be found in the area" [2]

The wall was a dike! Below is an image showing how lava dikes form:

lava dike formation

How a Lava dike is formed, cross cut of the terrain. Copyright © 2014 Austin Whittall

The map below shows the area around Lake Cardiel. A large heart-shaped lake about 20 km diameter (12.5 mi) and 370 km2 (143 sq. mil.) surface area. It is quite shallow (76 m - 249 ft. max. depth).

lake cardiel Patagonia

Unlike most Patagonian lakes, it was not excavated by the glaicers during the Ice Ages, and it is not the impact crater of a meteorite or a volcanic crater even though it is located in an area with vast basaltic fields. It was formed by faulting which caused a depression. Its waters are sligthly alkaline and is a good fishig spot for trout.

It is a closed basin that gathers the scant rainfall of the surruounding mesas. [3]


[1] Patagonia's Lost Race. New discovery of fortification and inscriptions indicates state of Culture, N. Y. Times, 04 Sept. 1922.
[2] Larry G. Marshal Adventures in Patagonia. Field Museum of Natural History Bulletin. March 1978 Vol 49 No. 3. pp 4+
[3] Route 40, Argentina From Tres Lagos to Perito Moreno.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Southern South American Manatees

Manatees belong to one genus, Trichechus. It is made up by three species: one living along the southeastern coast of the US, the Central and South American coast along the Caribean. Another lives in the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers and a third one, on the shores of Senegal, in Western Africa.

They are big aquatic mammals measuring over 4 m (12 feet) long and weighing more than 1,000 kg (2,200 lb.). They graze the grasses and plants that grow in the river beds.

Their have adapted well to their aquatic environment: their front limbs have flattened into webbed flippers and they have a flat - single lobed dorsal tail. Their body is streamlined and they are excellent swimmers, capable of staying under water for over 15 minutes. Nevertheless, they are not capable of moving on land. [3]


A manatee, from [3]

The Amazon manatee is exclusively a fresh water creature, the others live in sat water and freshwater. All live in warm waters, from the Equator to roughly 20° from it.

Could these placid animals explain the "lake creature" sightings in Patagonia such as the "lake bulls"? Today's post will look into this question.

South American home to ancient Manatees

Manatee remains have been found in Argentina, along the banks of the Paraná River. They have been dated to the Upper Miocene (see my post on Miocene Americas)

These remains belong to the Rigodon limbatus a genus of the extant Trichechus manatees; it lived in the Upper Tertiary, and very likely belongs to the filogenetic line that leads to the modern Trichechus manatees.

The genus was first described by Florentino Ameghino in 1883 based on an upper molar found embedded in the clary cliffs along the shores of the Paraná River. He originally thought it may belong to a genus of the Tapiridae family, but after checking other molars he correctly identified them as belonging to a Sirenid -Sirenids span not only manatees but their relatives, the dugongs- in 1892 (he believed it to belong to the familiy of the Halitheridae, but we now know that they were Trichechidae.) [1]

Florentino Ameghino (1854-1911) was an anthropologist, zoologist and paleontologist. In 1886, he worked as Secretary and Sub-Director of the La Plata Museum. Between 1902 and 1911 he was Director of the Buenos Aires National Museum. Together with his brother Carlos he secured a large collection of Patagonian fossils and transformed South American geological studies.

He firmly believed humans had evolved in America and dispersed to the rest of the world from here. He also belived that extant mylodons could be found in Patagonia. He was a controversial scientist, yet many of his discoveries have proved sound.

Nowadays there are no manatees in the River Plate Basin, which comprises a large portion of southern South America spanning Brazil, Paraguay,Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina, including the Paraná, Paraguay and Uruguay Rivers.

Could they have lived there until recently? An article written in 1899 seems to confirm this idea. It was written by Florencio de Basaldúa, an Argentine government official:

"While I was on a tour of duty for the National Government in the Territory of Misiones, I heard that Left Tennant Basualdo, subdelegate at the Port of Santo Tomé, on the shores of the upper Uruguay River, on the border with Brazil, reported to the General Ports Commander the existence of a great amphibian monster, whose lair was in a deep pool, close to his post. He believed it to be a hippopotamus, which the Brazilians living along the shore called mio-cao," [Bold mine] "because they had seen it swim in the river and graze on its shores, assuring that it was not Danta, Anta or Gran Bestia, common in that area" [Great Beast, all these names refer to the Tapir]. "And was not similar to any other animal that lives in those regions... [2]

Of course, we are well aware that hippopotami only live in Africa, and we imagine Basaldúa knew that too. So when he later met Florentino Ameghino and jokingly told him about this creature. Ameghino told him not to laugh about that story,and mendioned that in the past Augusto Bravard had reported a creature, the Manatus of the Paraná and Uruguay rivers, similar to the Manatee or sea cow of the Amazon.

This does not mean that Bravard actually saw one, it is more likely that he found bones or teeth. More research is needed on this point.

Basualdúa's "Mio-Cao"

Interestingly, the creature mentioned by Basaldua as a Mio-Cao is a well known South American cryptid. It is the Minhocao or "Giant Earthworm". A snake-like being measuring 50 m (150 ft.) long and 5 m (15 ft.) wide.

However, being so big and, based on the description below, it is not something that one would identify with a Manatee. Perhaps Basaldúa used the wrong name to describe it.

The Minhocao's body is covered with scales, its skin is armored. It has a pig-like snout. Being a worm it lives underground but, is also amphibious. It burrows deep, attacks animals while they are crossing rivers and turns boats over. It knocks down trees, undermines roads and is found across the southern Amazon, southern Brazil and Uruguay.

All of these features are very unlike those of the placid grass munching manatee. Surely Minhocao and manatee are not the same creature. But the grazing bulky aquatic animal mentioned by Basaldúa is quite similar to a manatee.

Manatees, some extinct species

Manatees are endangered species, hunted for their blubber and meat, and accidentally hit by water craft and hurt by propellers, they are under pressure.

In a previous post, I mentioned another sirenid, a variety of manatee (Stller's sea cow) which lived in the North Pacific Ocean, close to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands and was hunted to extinction. I also conjectured about a possible "Sea Cow" in the South Pacific Coast of Chile.

There was also another manatee that lived on Saint Helena Island in the mid South Atlantic Ocean. These manatees were killed by the locals for their oil. The last sighting took place in 1810.

St. Helena is a tropical island located in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1,950 km (1,210 mi.) from Africa and 2,900 km (1,800 mi.) from South America.

However, at the island's Manatee Bay -suggestive name indeed- manatee sightings have been reported recently [4][8].

An article printed in 1873 stated that in the early 1800s they were very abundant on the island: "at the beginning of this century the Manati or Manatee Sea cow or Sea lion existed in such numbers as to furnish employment for a fishery on it" [St. Helena Island] [5].

Yet, in the next paragraph it surmises that it was most likely a seal and not a manatee. Other authors belive it was a seal too (see:Theodor Mortensen, 1933).

Seals eat fish, manatees graze on sea grass and sea weeds... St. Helena island has over 60 marine algae and one species of red algae (Predaea feldmannii) is reported to be endemic. Close to the shore, at the base of the cliffs, there " is rock with a coating of seaweed and molluscs" [9], that means that there was food for them.

So here we have a possible sea-going manatee in the mid Atlantic. Could it have also dwelled along the South Atlantic coast? There is plenty of kelp in that area, enough to support a large manatee population. The cold water would not have been a problem (Steller's sea cow dealt with it in the freezing Alaskan waters).

Manatees and hippopotamus in Chile

We have information that there were manatees in Southern Chile: they are mentioned by Father Juan Ignacio Molina, the first European naturalist to describe Chilean animals in his book “Essay On The Natural History Of Chile” (1810) [6]:

"In the Araucanian seas certain animals known as Sea Cows can sometimes be seen by its inhabitants; I could not assure if they are Lamantines or Rosmars, [walrus] or if they belong to another genus. According to the fuzzy description that they have given me, I am more inclined to believe that they belong to the species of the Trichecus Manatee. The first Spanirds who settled the large island of Juan Fernández captured a large quantity of such animals, on whose meat they joyfully fed; but the continuous killing that went on, has forced them to abandon the island's shores. [6]

Molina also mentions a variety hippopotamus in Chile, though he is cautious about it being a real creature (see my post on this): [6]

"The hippopotamus of rivers and lakes of the Araucan country, different to the African and similar in height and shape to the land horse but with palmed feet like those of seals. The existence of this animal is universally believed in, all over the country, and there are people […] who say they have seen its skin, which, they say, is covered with soft hair, of a color similar to that of tiny sea wolves."

Molina's is a very strange hippo; its soft fur makes it very different from the hair-less African variety. Also, its palmed feet differ from the hippo’s sturdy toes.

Historian José Toribio Medina mentions hippos en Chile in 1878: "I did not have the chance to see the sea horse. Based on the description of those who have seen it under water, I did not think that it was different to the African hippopotamus. Later, others who have seen it out of the sea, have told me that has the height of an ordinary horse, which it resembles in its head, tail and back, that its feet are like those of the seals, webbed." [7]

Toribio Medina's and Molina's descriptions are quite similar, but the animal they refer to is not a manatee, it is another type of beast, though what it is, will remain a mystery.

Getting back to our "sea cows", if there were sea cows on the Pacific Ocean seabord, and in St. Helena island, were there any along the Patagonian Atlantic coast?

Assuming that there were, could these creatures have swam upstream (along the Negro, Neuquén, Limay, Chubut, Senguer, Santa Cruz Rivers) towards the Patagonian Andean lakes, and originate the "Lake Bull" myths?

I am reading old sources to find refrences about sea cows in the South Atlantic Ocean. Who knows, we might find some surprises hidden in ancient texts.


[1] Rosendo Pascual, (1953). Sobre nuevos restos de Sirénidos del Mesopotamiense. Asociacion Geologica Argetina pp. 167. VIII No. 3, July 1953.
[2] Florencio de Basaldua, (1899), Monstruos Argentinos, Caras y Caretas II No. 32. May 13, 1899
[3] Trichechidae
[4] Lynas Murdoch, (2010). Four Years on St Helena. AuthorHouse, pp 82.
[5] Andrew Murray, Dec. 17, 1868. On the Geographical Relations of the Chief Colepterous Faunae. The Journal of the Linnean Society of London. vol 11, 1873 pp 16.
[6] Molina, J., (1986). Ensayo sobre la historia Natural de Chile. Santiago: Ediciones Maule. pp. 266
[7] Toribio Medina, J., (1878). Colección de historiadores de Chile y documentos.... vol 11
[8] G. C. Retching. Letters to Editor. Nature 138, 33-34 (04 July 1936), doi:10.1038/138033b0. The Manatee of St. Helena
[9] St Helena cle - JNCC.

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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ulcer causing bacteria and Neanderthals in America

About half the human population carries a Gram-negative bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (hp for short) in their stomachs. It is a microaerophilic bacterium belonging to the Epsilonproteobacteria which was discovered in 1984, and has lived inside of our ancestors for many tens of thousands of years.

It can cause several illnesses: peptic and duodenal ulcers, chronic gastritis and even cancer. Fortunately these diseases only occur in a minority of those infected with the bacteria. Most of us don't even notice we carry it, and will not notice any problems.

The interesting part is that it is transmitted mainly within families and, is a clear indicator of lineage and origin of those families. There are however instances of horizontal transmission (attributed to sharing drinking water in rural South America), but inter ethnic exchange is rare and may take centuries (as indicated by the hp Europe strain found among black South Africans). [1]

The bacteria is commonly transmitted person-to-person by saliva, and in developing countries, by fecal contamination of food or water.

Genetics and Helicobacter pylori

The original stock of hp evolved with their human hosts and diverged into several major hp populations, spreading across the globe with our migrating ancestors (hpAfrica1, hpEurope, hspEAsia, and hspAmerind,named after their geographical locations).

As can be expected, and following the logic that America was the last corner of the world to be inhabited, the literature stresses the "similarities between the hspAmerind and hspEAsia populations suggest[ing] that the first colonizers of the New World brought H. pylori with them..." from Eastern Asia, horizontal transmission is highlighted by an "apparent dominance by the hpEurope population at least in Latin America" [2].

The former may not be so true, but the latter definitvely is: the European hp strains were evidently transmitted due to admixture between natives and the large migration of Europeans to Latin America.

Regarding the "similarity" between East Asian and Amerindian hp, check this:

Some strains differ in their proteins which affect their hosts in differwnt ways. The most studiwd ones are CagA and VacA:/p

"However, the single-gene trees for cagA and vacA show strong divergence [between Amerindian hp] from both hspEAsia and hpEurope counterparts. The exaggerated evolution of these genes that has occurred over the ~15,000 years since the arrival of Amerindian ancestors to the Americas makes them less suitable for deducing evolutionary relationships but highlights the need to assess the physiological activities of the Amerindian alleles...
... phylogenetic analysis of the host-interactive genes vacA and cagA shows substantial divergence of Amerindian from Old World forms and indicates new genotypes (e.g., VacA m3) involving these loci."[2]

There seems to be some contradiction here. On one hand we are told that Amerindian and East Asian hp are "close" to each other, but then we are told that they is a "Strong divergence" between some of their proteins.

A large difference between strains (i.e. accumulation of mutations) is always taken as an indication of a long period of time separating them. Giving them time to evolve separately (However the paper says that it is an "exaggerated evolution", below we see why.)

In this case, since the authors have adopted the orthodox time frame used in this paper (which is repeated in most papers, of 15 ky for the peopling of America as mentioned above), they cannot assume an ancient split as an explanation. With no other alternative, the authors imagine some host-parasite interaction that favored the "exaggerated evolution" of these unique hp strains!:

"This difference suggests that there has been a greater impact of host interaction on the hspAmerind lineage than on other H. pylori lineages.[...] suggest[ing] that parallel, yet to be identified host polymorphism skewing relevant to both CagA and VacA interactions exists in Amerindians." [2]

A more reasonable explanation

Why not just assume that the H. pylori among Amerindians is really old, ancient, that its differences that set it apart from the H. pylori of Europeans, Africans and East Asians, is due to the long span of time since they hp lineages split.

I could even suggest that the Amerindian strains are unique because they derived from an ancestral strain received from Neanderthals (horizontal transmission - well humans had sex with them, it is likely that some hp got exchanged via mother-child or even through saliva in mate-mate interactions).

The following image shows the CagA phylogenetic tree (Adapted from Fig. 7 in [2]). Notice how Amerindians stand midway between Eurasians on the top and Euro - Africans on the bottom. They are clearly not a branch on the Eurasian side. They are a separate lineage, maybe the ancestral one:

Of course, since orthodoxy upholds the Out Of Africa theory and a 30-15 kya peopling of America, papers are written to conform to (and to confirm) orthodoxy.

See another post (July 4, 2014) on the H. pylori and Homo erectus


[1] Wirth, T., Meyer, A and Achtman, M., (2005). Deciphering host migrations and origins by means of their microbe. Molecular Ecology 14, 3289–3306 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02687.x
[2] Mane, S. P., (2010). Host-Interactive Genes in Amerindian Helicobacter pylori Diverge from Their Old World Homologs and Mediate Inflammatory Responses?. doi: 10.1128/JB.00063-10 J. Bacteriol. June 2010 vol. 192 no. 12 3078-3092

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

Friday, March 7, 2014

New input on Extant Prehispanic horses in Patagonia

In 1699, a French explorer who sailed along the coast of South America, Gouin de Beauchesne, reported a strange discovery at Puerto Deseado in what is now Santa Cruz province, Argentina.

Mariners used to stop at that point since it has a fresh water spring - hence its name "Spring Bay". Finding water is quite infrequent along the Patagonian coast, so it was a well known place.

His men disembarqued and explored the surroundings. They found a skeleton of a horse and the animal's hoofs were so strange that they removed a leg and took it back on board with them as a curio.

Beauchesne kept it and later showed it to some "Spaniards who regularly trade horses in Chile, who told [him] that that horse had fed in a sandy region due to the bulge it had on its hoof, which caused it to not go far from where [they] found it." [1]

What strange deformity did the animal have on its hoofs? Or... were its hoofs normal and those of a pre-hispanic native American horse (supposedly extinct at the time)? By the way, do these horses' hoofs differ from those of modern Eurasian ones?

I have written about Hippidions in a post back in 2009 (Extant Prehispanic Horses?), but Goin de Beauchesne's report could be additional proof of their survival until recently.

Sandy terrain hoofs

Wild horses tend to have short heels (which are more comfortable=, the third phalanx and the sole are parallel to the ground. The "white line" has a stronger positition when resting than the third phalanx due to the small angles of the hoof. This configuration bends the leg and cushions impact when the horse trots. See the image below: [2]

horse hoof shape
What hoofs look like . Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

But what were the hoofs of a Hippidion (the horse, native to America, that is believed to have become extinct just a few millennia before the arrival of European horses (after 1492 AD) like?

Below is the image of a Hippidion hoof (from [3]), it looks quite similar to a wild horse's hoof:

hippidion hoof

Of course since hippidion was a "wild" horse it is likely that its hoofs, like those of modern wild horses, adopted a characteristic shape due to lack of horse shoes and the rugged Patagonian terrain.

On the other hand the horse remains may have surprised the sailors because of its vestigial phalanxes, which are not so noticeable in modern horses.

It is a pity that there is no drawing or sketch of this horse's leg


[1] Relation du voyague du Sr. de Beuchesne au Chili dans la du sud de l'Amerique... Manuscript Paris Vicennes library.
[2], El Casco.
[3] Maria T. Alberdi, Laura Miotti and Jose L. Prado. Hippidion saldiasi Roth, 1899 (Equidae, Perissodactyla), at thePiedra Museo Site (Santa Cruz, Argentina): Its Implication forthe Regional Economy and Environmental Reconstruction. Journal of Archaeological Science (2001)28, 411–419doi:10.1006/jasc.2000.0647

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