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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On TB seals and an early peopling of America

My post of August 7, 2014 on Tuberculosis and the early peopling of America, was in a certain way, prophetic.

In that post, I suggested that there was a "unique" TB strain carried by Native Americans, an it arose because it was taken to the New World by Homo erectus or Neanderthals. My post wrapped up with the following remarks:

"The sequencing of the genome of the native American strain of TB will surely show that it does not share its root with the European clade. however the Amerindian strain is rare and surely overlooked in the samplings that have been carried out. Perhaps recovery of M. tuberculosis from ancient remains may provide evidence of its singular origin. We will have to wait for additional studies to prove or discard the possibility that Homo erectus or Neanderthals reached America with the ancient TB bacteria which evolved there into the Amerindian strain and back-migrated to Asia to continue evolving there."

My conjecture was confirmed by a paper published less than two weeks later (Kirsten I. Bos, et al., Aug. 20, 2014) [1] which reports that a group of scientists did just that, they sequenced the TB genome from the remains of three ancient Peruvian mummies that were over 1,000 years old, and found that the American Natives carried a very unique strain of tuberculosis, completely different to all of the Old World strains.

Of course, being mainstream scientists, they interpreted the results within the constraints of orthodoxy, and came up with some rather odd conclusions and even stranger dates. Today's post looks into this paper and its implications on the possibility of an early peopling of America by Homo erectus or Neanderthals.

Some background on Tuberculosis

Until recently, tuberculosis was believed to have been introduced to America by the Europeans after Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. The heavy death toll caused among the natives by discovery and conquest was mainly due to the devastating effects of disease (including TB).

However, evidence of Pre-Columbian tuberculosis among the natives of the New World has been suggested in several papers. A hypothesis which has been finally confirmed by this recent study [1] which sequenced DNA from Tuberculosis bacterium taken from the remains of Peruvian mummies that predate the arrival of the Europeans to America by some 500 years.

Of course, the current TB strains found in the New World are of a recent origin and were brought to America by the European influx post-1492. This European strain proved more virulent to the local natives and contibuted to their death toll, it also replaced virtually 100% of the Pre-Columbian lineages.

The Recent paper on Amerindian TB

The team which authored this paper [1] found that the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria detected in the ancient Amerindian remains was not of the typical European strain, furthermore it was different to the current African and Asians strains. It is in fact very different to all other human TB clades.

The following image whcin I adapted from [1], displays the phylogenetic tree of various TB bacterial strains (both human and animal):

tb genetic tree

I added the geographical distribution of the strains [3] which in the original paper [1] are not mentioned. I did so because it provides an interesting perspective to the tree:

  • There are two distinct West African lineages L5 and L6, known as M. africanum (Shown in brown and green, respectively).
  • L1 (violet) is the strain that is predominant in South East Asia, central and southern India, and the Indian Ocean rim areas.
  • L7 (yellow) is found exclusively in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia).
  • L4 (red) is the Europan strain also found in America, where it was taken by European migrants after the discovery of the New World.
  • L2 (blue) is the East Asian "Beijing clade".
  • L3 (purple) is the Central Asian and northern India or "Delhi" strain.

The animal strains are shown in black. And the novel Peruvian "archaic Amerindian" strains in orange, on the right side of the tree.

The novelty here is the location of the Peruvian lineage, close to th TB strain found in seals, and apparently rising from the "animal" TB branches.

Animals and humans

This proximity between animal and human strains is not new, all mycobacterium lineages are classed together as the MTBC (Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex). Boritsch et al. (2014) [3] have also pointed it out: the West African strains are very close to the strains found in wild chimpanzees, to M. microti (detected in voles in the 1930s), M. pinnipedii (seals and sea lions) as well as the other strains found in cows (M. bovis), goats (M. caprae) and oryx (M. orygis). [3]

Taking a closer look at the image above, you will notice two main clusters or "clades":

  1. One composed by the animal strains plus the West African human L5 and L6 strains (and also as the new paper shows, the novel Peruvian strain [1]). They are found on the upper part of the image.
  2. The other clade comprises all the remaining human strains in Africa, Eurasia as well as the "recent" American strain of European origin (post-1492). They are found on the bottom part of the image.

This split between these two clades is defined by the "RD9-deletion" which marks the branching point between both lineages of MTBC: (i) The African-Animal (which now includes Ancient Amerindian) and (ii)the other Old World "human" strains which lack this deletion. A peculiar variety of Mycobacterium, the ancestral M. canettii marks the splitting point.

It seems that the ancestor of MTBC evolved into two separate groups, one with the RD9 deletion and the other strains, which we may call M. tuberculosis senso stricto without this deletion. This split took place during the early period of MTBC evolution (below we will see how long ago this split took place).

There is yet another split between the MTBC lines: on one side we have the African-animal-Peruvian plus L1 and L7 (East African and Indian Ocean Rim) clades while on the other we have the rest of the Eurasian strains. The split is caused by the presence or absence of a marker (Tuberculosis Deleted Region 1) or "TbD1".

This split can be seen above and also in another paper (W. Hildebrand, et al., 2008) [4], which studies the expansion of TB "Out of Africa" (O.o.A) and from which I took the following image.

The image below shows a phylogenetic tree split into two sections: on the bottom part is the "ancestral" clade or TbD1-intact (yellow) and on the top is the "modern" or TbD1-deleted strains (red).

TB tree
EAI stands for East Africa and Indian Ocean Rim

These mutatons show that the "West African - animal - Peruvian strains" are the oldest, splitting earliest from the other MTBC clades. Then come the Horn of Africa and Indian Ocean Rim variants which together with the African - animal - Peruvian strains form yet another group, and finally the other younger clades found in Eastern and Central Asia, and Europe.

Both images are anchored in an ancestral group (M. canettii or M. prototuberculosis):

The ancestral TB strain - M. canettii

There are Mycobacterium strains that live in the environment, like other microbes, in the soil or in the oceans (M. marinum or M. ulcerans), and the MTBC which live inside the cells of mammals. How did they manage to jump from one to the other? It seems that another variety of Mycobacterium, known as M. canettii is the link between environmental and human mycobacteria.

The M. canettii strain was reported in 1970 by G. Canetti in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. It is a peculiar strain with unusual smooth features. It is believed that it "might represent a pool of strains from which the last common ancestor of the MTBC has emerged" [3]. M. canettii and the MTBC both arose from an archaic progenitor: "M. prototuberculosis". [3]

The M. canettii genome is 20% larger than that of MTBC (+900 genes), so it shows that MTBC shed genes as it specialized in its mammal hosts.

But when did TB appear?

Dating TB

As can be expected due to the molecular clocks and dating techniques used by scientists, the published dates for the origin of TB diverge greatly: from 15 to 70 kya. [3] Furthermore, since all papers assume that TB left Africa with the "O.o.A" event with modern H. sapiens some 40 - 50 kya, this assumption constrains the dating of the different TB strains to a rather "recent" date.

But, what if it left Africa inside infected Homo erectus or the ancestors of Neanderthals, or even earlier? The ancestral home of our predecessors is in the Horn of Africa, precisely where M. canettii is currently found.

The hypothesis of an East African origin is accepted by Boritsch et al., [3] (but the dispersal vector used in the paper is H. sapiens not Neanderthal or H. erectus). Furthermore, the spread from humans to animals is also believed to have taken place in Africa, where our ancestors managed to pass TB on to chimps, dassies, oryx, cows, voles and seals: "...the animal-associated strain lineages of the MTBC seem to have evolved from RD9-deleted M. africanum-like ancestor strains that may well have been adapted to humans already".[3]

I agree with that statement, I firmly believe that these RD9-deleted M. africanum-like strains adapted early to humans, so early that we were not yet H. sapiens, but probably H. erectus or the predecessors of Neanderthals.

The trees depicted further up show very close links between the roots of the animal and West African human TB branches.

But, there is an interesting peculiarity: the oldest African strains are found in West Africa and not in East Africa the cradle of mankind. And this has to be accounted for. Below I outline a hypothesis:

The origin of TB in Africa

Let's assume that M. canettii evolved into two strains the progenitors of modern MTBC, one with the RD9-deletion which infected a "hominin". This hominin lived in Africa yet, part of that population moved out of Africa and, via Asia, reached America, where it originated the "Peruvian strain" with the RD9-deletion. Those that remained in Africa infected animal species with TB.

This explains why Peruvians, West Africans and animals share the RD9-deletion lineages. Perhaps a know extinct Asian population also had this strain.

The second strain of MTBC was not RD9-deleted, and it infected other "hominins" these lived in East Africa from where they split into a group that moved out along the coast of the Indian Ocean. This migration may represent either the Homo erectus (1.8 Mya) or the H. sapiens (100 kya) moves Out of Africa.

Finally the TbD1 deletion appeared outside of Africa and the people carrying it colonzed Europe, Central Asia and Eastern Asia, some also back-migrated to Africa. Did it appear in Neanderthals or modern H. sapiens?

The ancient African "hominin" RD9-deleted variant survived among a relict archaic population in Western Africa, long after its relatives became extinct, and only recently admixed into Modern humans in West Africa. We have already posted on the possibility of archaic admixture as the source of the extremely ancient A00 Y chromosome haplogroup, which may have originated from the introgression of "an archaic form into the ancestors of AMHs...", remains combining "both archaic and modern features" were found at Iwo Eleru in Nigeria and are quite recent: around 13 kya.

The issue is who do we assign to each migratory event.

RD9-deleted hominin could well be Homo habilis which left Africa (H. Georgicus in the Caucasus). Did they reach America? If so, the Peruvian variant could have been carried by them. The RD9-intact group could be H. erectus who remained in Africa and also peopled the coasts of the Indian Ocean. Modern H. sapiens later mutated (TbD1 deleted) and dispersed the other strains around the globe. They could also be the ancestors of Neanderthals or even modern H. sapiens.

The dating as per orthodox science is based on an average mutation rate of roughly 0.5 substitutiones &frasl genome per year. But, the issue is that TB is caused by a clonal bacteria with a very small amount of SNPs (clonal microbes tend to keep stable since they are specialized to infect specific hosts and have discarded unnecessary genes). So, can we be sure that the model used to calculate its age is really valid?

On the other hand, M. canettii has a larger genome than MTBC and around 25 times more SNPs than the MTBC lineages. So if we assign 15 - 70 ky to MTBC, does this mean that the archaic M. canettii 25 times older? That is, 125 to 1,750 ky old? [3]

It is not such a far fetched notion, in fact Gutierrez et al., 2005 [5] suggested a 3 million year date for TB.

So, we have a very wide range of dates from around 15 kya to 3 Mya. So there is the chance that an ancient hominin carried the Peruvian mutation.

Having said this, let's the conclusions of the authors of the paper on pre-Columbian TB in Peruvian mummies:

Going back to the Peruvian mummies

I mentioned above that the paper has some odd findings:

(1). "Two independent dating approaches suggest a most recent common ancestor for the M. tuberculosis complex less than 6,000 years ago, which supports a Holocene dispersal of the disease" [1]. In other words, TB evolved only 6,000 years ago.

(2). Since by that time Beringia had flooded, they had to find a non-human vector that could take TB from its Source in Africa, to America. They sequenced the TB strains of different animals and found that seal TB shared similar traits with the Amerindian strain. So they concluded that seals were the source of Amerindian TB.

We can see in the images above that seal TB is one of the animal groups closest to human L5 and L6 strains. The gene sequencing conducted by Bos et al., [1] showed that the TB strains present in the Peruvian skeletons was very similar to strains of TB that are found in modern seals and sea lions.

The researchers concluded that seals somehow picked up TB from African humans and then carried it across the ocean to the New World where it spread among the native seal-hunters. [1]

I find the 6 kya date for the origin of TB too recent, and the theory of an "African to seal to Amerindian" infection route too complicated. Allow me to explain:

TB in seals

Tuberculosis in seals was studied in 2003 (D. Cousins et al.) [2], they compared genes from six species of seals taken in the UK, New Zealand, Argentina, Australia and Uruguay. They found that pinnipeds share their own strain of MTBC (Mycobacterium pinnipedii) which can also infect other creatures: "guinea pigs, rabbits, humans, Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris) and, possibly, cattle" [2].

How does it spread in nature? "As with other members of the M. tuberculosis complex, aerosols are the most likely route of transmission" [2]. Seal TB is quite contagious, in fact, 6 out of 25 animal keepers at a zoo in The Netherlands became infected with M. pinnipedii when 13 out of 29 sea lions contracted the disease. [6] so no eating was necessary, just close contact with living seals was enough to pass on TB from seal to man.

But, does it work the other way round? Did Africans infect seals? or did they eat a dead Dassie or vole and became infected?

Note that African L5 and L6 strains are similar but not identical to seal TB. So it would have had to mutate in Seals and then jump again to infect Amerindians and mutate again... By the way, why didn't seals infect other seal hunting populations around the world? Only Amerindians?

Now, the interesting point is that "There seems to be a common ancestral source of M. pinnipedii across geographic locations, which raises questions about the original distribution of the seal bacillus in animals of different continents and the potential role of marine mammals in the spread and transmission of tubercle bacilli across oceans". [3]

Bos et al., assume that Africans infected seals with TB. The microbe then mutated among seals and led to a seal-specific lineage which they spread across the globe among seals and sea lions. It later infected some Peruvian seal hunters, and mutated into the Peruvian TB variety which spread among Amerindians. The image below shows this process:

orthodox TB origin

An equally valid alternative is that, as outlined above, some archaic hominin took TB to America and the seals became infected in the New World, spreading the disease among seals around the globe. The Old World variants evolved separately for a very long period of time, and this explains why Amerindian and Old World TB lineages among humans are so different:

Origin of TB in America

Taking a look at the trees above, it is clear that Seal TB branched from Peruvian TB and not the other way around. Actually the scarcity of mummy samples may have rooted Peruvians after voles instead of rooting it on the main branch, where all animal strains converge with African human ones. Perhaps futuer samples will modify the branching sequence.

Why would Amerindians, of all humans be the only ones to have evolved their strain of TB from animals. Are Peruvians the only seal hunters in the world? or the only ones that got infected?

Then there is the issue of the Dates. The researchers calculated that all modern MTBC strains date back to only 6,000 years ago.

If so, how did it spread globally so fast? By that time we were well established across the whole world!

So this means that it arrived to America between 1 and 6 kya. So, how do they account for a well known case ot TB in a 17,000 year old bison found in North America?

The bison, dated to 17,870 +⁄-230 BP had "ancient DNA characteristic of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex, confirming the oldest proven case of tuberculosis" [7], This bison case indicates that this disease evolved as a zoonosis in America long before the 6 kya limit established by Bos et al. Perhaps bisons (like oryx, goats, voles and seals) caught their TB from pre-Columbian humans which were already living in America 17 kya.


[1] Kirsten I. Bos, et al., (2014). Pre-Columbian mycobacterial genomes reveal seals as a source of New World human tuberculosis, Nature, doi:10.1038/nature13591, Published online 20 August 2014
[2] Debby V. Cousins, et. al., (2003). Tuberculosis in seals caused by a novel member of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex: Mycobacterium pinnipedii sp. nov.. International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology doi: 10.1099/ijs.0.02401-0 IJSEM September 2003 vol. 53 no. 5 1305-1314
[3] Boritsch, E. C., Supply, P., Honoré, N., Seeman, T., Stinear, T. P. and Brosch, R., (2014). A glimpse into the past and predictions for the future: the molecular evolution of the tuberculosis agent. Molecular Microbiology. doi: 10.1111/mmi.12720
[4] Wirth T, Hildebrand F, Allix-Béguec C, Wölbeling F, Kubica T, et al. (2008). Origin, Spread and Demography of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis Complex. PLoS Pathog 4(9): e1000160. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1000160
[5] Gutierrez, M.C., Brisse, S., Brosch, R., Fabre, M., et?al., (2005). Ancient origin and gene mosaicism of the progenitor of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. PLoS Pathog 1: e5.
[6] Kiers A, Klarenbeek A, Mendelts B, Van Soolingen D, Koeter G., (2008). Transmission of Mycobacterium pinnipedii to humans in a zoo with marine mammals. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2008 Dec;12(12):1469-73.
[7] Lee OY-C, Wu HHT, Donoghue HD, Spigelman M, Greenblatt CL, et al., (2012) Mycobacterium tuberculosis Complex Lipid Virulence Factors Preserved in the 17,000-Year-Old Skeleton of an Extinct Bison, Bison antiquus. PLoS ONE 7(7): e41923. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041923

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tarahumara Giants in Chihuahua

Reading an old magazine (Smithsonian of May 1998), I came across the following text in an article about the Mexican Tarahumara natives:

"In the 1890s, Carl Lumholtz was told a legend about a race of giants ("as big as pine-trees") that had occupied the canyon country when the Tarahumara arrived. The giants ate the Tarahumara children and ravished the women. At last, the people exterminated the giants by tricking them into eating a mixture of corn and a poisonous extract from the chilicote tree." [1]

These are interesting giants which despite being as tall as trees are sufficiently nimble to have intercourse with human women. So maybe they were giants in a metaphoric way, but size-wise they were like us.

Giants, from my perspective mean "different humans", such as Neanderthals or Homo erectus; they were the way that ancient cultures declared that a group of people were not Homo sapiens, they were men, but not like us, they were hominins. So I decided to find what Lumholtz had written about them, and below is what I found.

Giants and Tarahumara natives

Carl Lumholtz was a Norwegian explorer who travelled to Australia and Mexico. He spent many years in Mexico between 1890 and 1910, during which he spent a full year with the Tarahumara people. His book, Unknown Mexico is the source of the Giant's myth quoted below:

On the heights once lived giants. They were as big as pine-trees and had heads as big as bowlders
[sic]. They taught the Tarahumares how to plant corn, by cutting down trees and burning them, but they ate children.
A woman bore a giant in a cave, which was situated very high up on the side of a valley. She died, because the child was so large, and he was taken care of by his grandmother. Once when she was asleep, she turned over and crushed him.
From Wasivori (near Cusarare) came giants to Nararachic to ask alms. Tesvino
[Note: a kind of beer made from corn] they liked very much. They worked very fast, and the Tarahumares put them to hoe and weed the corn, and gave them food and tesvino. But the giants were fierce, and ravished the women while the latter were under the influence of the Moon; therefore the Tarahumares got very angry and they mixed a decoction made from the chilicote-tree with the corn that they gave the giants to eat, and the giants died.[2]

The paragraph before the one quoted above mentions a "Deluge", which filled the world with water. It, like most Flood myths around the World (and also in the Americas) must surely reflect the deep impression caused by rising sea levels and glacial dam ruptures with the consequent flooding caused by climate change at the end of the last Glacial Period some 8 - 10 kya.

This suggests that Giants (Neanderthal) were alive at that time, in America.

These giants evidently caused problems to the human mothers bearing them, but I don't think that size was the issue (the baby's grandmother crushed the infant in bed while sleeping next to it... it wasn't a gigantic baby, it was probably a big headed child).

They were farmers but ate human children and raped their women. They lived in the mountains (perhaps in caves?), and their interactions with humans were not amicable. But, from the mythic point of vies, these creatures were not gods either, poison killed them (a tea made from the beans of Erythrina flabelliformis), they were "men".

Another source

More recently Guadalupe Holguín (2011) [3], mentions these giants as part of the "Collective memory" of the Tarahumara. They were known as "Ganokos" and were alive between 1,500 BCE and 300 CE. She mentions a giant which was known as a "uribi", which lived in Teguerichi, "with its wife and son in a cave located at Osérare. As time passed the Rarámuris [another name for Tarahumara] grew tired of him because each fertility period and crop time, this giant misbehaved and stole their food and women. So they decided to invite him to drink tesvino to get him drunk and then posion him with chilicote (a red colored bean that grows wild in the hills of Chihuahua).". [3]

Other creatures lived in the upper parts of the hills (Alta Tarahumara), like Bichiguare at Narárachi, set at an altitude of 2,290 m (7,500 ft). A very tall Tarahumara lived there, who had the same features of the "uribi" who also appeared during the crop period and also misbehaved. So he too was invited to a feast and they gave him chilicote. After that they burned him in his cave. [3]

The fact that they called him a "very tall Tarahumara" means that he was probably a giant-human (or should I say Neanderthal-human) hybrid.

Notice how all stories agree upon the "poisoning" part. These were giants that had to be exterminated. They probably competed with humans for the best crop land or for scarce natural resources during droughts. They were enemies.

Holguín says (adopting a more mainstream science approach) that thse giants are the memories of inter-ethnic strife between Tarahumara and Tubares, who were "characterized by being of a greater height than the other natives... some skeletons measure over 2 m tall" (6 ft. 7"). [3]

Lumhotz described the Tubares as enemies of the Tarahumara: "They are said to have been fierce and constantly fighting the Tarahumares..." [2], I did not find any reference to them being tall, however Holguín says that they were "very tall". [3]

Finally, Holguín adds that the Tarahumara were not alone in their beliefs about giants, the Acaxeess or Chichimecas, Chinipas, Pima and Guarojíos also believed in giants. Which she attributes to the fossil remains of prehistoric animals.

The following image [4] from the The John Lenk Collection, Tarahumara / Raramuri, Wooden Mask with White Fur Beard collected in Copper Canyon area in Chihuahua around 1965. It has a striking "hominin" appearance. The source of the image describes it as: "Copper Canyon, Chihuahua Mexico – Primitive male mask with applied fur for beard, mustache, brows, and sideburns. Roughly carved unfinished blonde wood with open mouth, peg teeth, and fearsome expression reminiscent of a Yeti or Bigfoot. Beard is white fur, possibly goat skin. Brown hair used in other areas is softer, possibly coyote or dog. Fur is still attached to tanned hide, and is delicate from age. Lots of character.". [4]

bigfoot Tarahumara mask

To close today's post, I include the following link Chihuahua mine ghost, which links to a blog post about a creature living in a mine in Chihuahua (the territory of the Tarahumara), which was reported in a newspaper back in 1892. The beast was described as: "resemble[s] a huge ape with hairy body and long, powerful arms. It is misshapen, and with deep sunken eyes...". There is even a drawing of it, representing it as a gorilla-like beast.

By the way, there are several myths (I googled them in Spanish under "fantasma mina Chihuahua" and came across several reports)on ghosts in mines in Chihuahua. Perhaps they reflect the ancient myths of primitive gigantic "cavemen" who succumbed to the encroaching Homo sapiens.


[1] David Roberts, In the land of the Long-distance runners, Mexico's copper canyon is home to the great athletes, the Tarahumara. Smithsonian, May 1998, V.29:2 - 43-52
[2] Carl Lumholtz, (1902). Unknown Mexico; a record of five years' exploration among the tribes of the western Sierra Madre. New York, C. Scribner's sons. pp. 299.
[3] Guadalupe Holguín, (2011). Asolan a rarámuris los “gigantes o ganokos”. El Observador. Chihuahua, Chih. 28 March 2011.
[4] The John Lenk Collection. Tarahumara / Raramuri Wooden Mask with White Fur Beard

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Flores Island Hobbit

A brand new paper published by Maciej Henneberg, Robert B. Eckhardtb, Sakdapong Chavanaves and Kenneth J. Hsü (Evolved developmental homeostasis disturbed in LB1 from Flores, Indonesia, denotes Down syndrome and not diagnostic traits of the invalid species Homo floresiensis, PNAS 2014 ; published ahead of print August 4, 2014, doi:10.1073/pnas.1407382111 ) states that the Flores Island hominin, dating back some 15,000 years, was actually a very deformed person who very likely suffered from Down syndrome.

This is a Link to the paper so that you can read it.

I am sure that this will cause some debate and plenty of counter-arguments. If it turns out to be true, it is quite surprising, and sort of disappointing (at least for me); I was positive that it was actually a dwarf!

But let's not despair, there are still the Palau island pygmies that have to be explained... were they also afflicted with Down syndrome?

Flores skull and human skull

Above is the skull of the Flores hobbit and a modern human one.

We will have to wait and see what the final conclusions are.

NEW NOV. 2015, Another paper now says they were ancient humans evolved from H. erectus. Read my post here

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Kennewick Man, Ainus and Sunda

Two men were walking along the bank of the Columbia River in Washington, U.S. on July 28, 1996 when they came across a human skull, they quickly notified the autorities who inspected the area and, after a thorough search, managed to recover an almost complete skeleton, belonging to a man. This is how the "Kennewick Man" remains were discovered.

An initial inspection by an archaeologist [3] concluded that the man was not a Native American because the skull had a "caucasoid" appearance. A bone sample was sent to a laboratory and dated. We now know that these remains are between 8,000 and 9,500 years old. Which, by American standards is very ancient.

An act of Congress, The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) was passed in 1990 with the goal of redressing the evils of the past, when Native American graves were profanated and their bones stolen and placed in Museums. The good intentions behind this legislation (which sought to return these remains to their original resting places in their tribal communities), has been distorted by the very extreme view held by some Native groups which are against any studies conducted on Paleo-Indian remains.

Actually most "modern" Native communities are relativley recent arrivals to their traditional tribal territories none go back more than one or two thousand years at most. Yet, they will go to court and in most cases succeed to get remains that date back thousands of years returned to "their homeland". In many cases the only link between the Paleoindians and the modern natives is the land where the remains were found.

Kennewick man was no exception, in 1996 some native groups took a hard stand and went to court to stop any further studies on his remains. Native American groups and the Federal Government of the U.S. combined their resources against the scientists who wanted to learn as much as possible from these extremely valuable ancient remains.

The legal battle took 8 years. In 1998 Kennewick man's bones were sent to the Burke Museum (Washington state) to protect them until the lawsuit was settled. They are still safeguarded at the Museum. [1]

The case was heard by a U.S. District Court which found that the remains could not be classified as "Native American". His ruling was appealed and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in 2004. So the remains, which were found on Federal land, are now in custody of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and will remain so indefintely unless the Natives can somehwo prove in the future that Kennewick was a Native American. [1]

What have we learnt from the remains?

The remains comprise an almost complete skeleton (only some bones from hands and feet and the sternum are missing) which belonged to a tall man (about 1.73 m - 5.67 ft.) between 40 and 55 years old.

Although his DNA was intact, the tests were done on two samples but were inconclusive! (more on this below).

He had the broken off remains of a flint leaf-shaped serrated projectile stuck in his right ilium (hip bone). The wound was partly healed and the stone spear tip was quite large: 20 x 54 mm (0.78 x 2.12 in), [2] however, "The extensive amount of bone that has grown around the stone point suggests that the point was in place for a considerable amount of time and was not the cause of death." [3]

The surprising part is the skull, the cranial index marks it as dolichocephalic (long and narrow skull) instead of bracycephalic (short and wide skull) as found among the modern Natives. His face was narrow instead of broad and had a pronounced chin. This and other features gave him a "caucasoid" appearance. Yet, surprisingly his teeth were Sundadont like those found among South Asians. [2]

A clay facial reconstruction gives him a very "Caucasian" look indeed, [6] below is another view of this Kennewick man's face: [7]

facial reconstruction Kennewick man
Facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man. From [7]

Sundadonty is not a Caucasian trait, it is part of the "Mongoloid dental complex" [4], which evolved locally in Sunda Land (insular Indonesia); very similar teeth are found among Aboriginal Australians which "are also generally like those of Jomonese and some Ainus, suggesting that members of the late Pleistocene Sundaland population could have initially colonized Sahulland as well as the continental shelf of East Asia northward to Hokkaido" [4].

sinodont sundadont map
Map showing the Asian Range of Sundadonty (blue) and Sinodonty (yellow).. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

East Asians to the north of Sunda (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Mongolians) all have Sinodonty (dental shoveling). In general people belonging to Mongoloid groups (North Eastern Asians and, also American Indians) have the highest frequency of shoveled incisors while the rest of the world has chiseled ones. Shoveling is caused by the Ectodysplasin receptor gene (EDAR), also associated with hair thickness and the size and quantity of sweat and mammary glands. It is frequent in Asian populations and absent in Europeans, Africans, Denisovans and the Mal'ta remains from Siberia who carry the ancestral allele. The mutation or introgression (admixed through direct contact with H. erectus) is believed to have appeared in central China >30 Kya, a late date in my opinion since it was obtained by simulations restrained by a 15 Kya date for peopling America, which is far to recent. [5]

His teeth

The sundadonty of Kennewick man is an interesting find because it links him to Sunda (Insular Southeast Asia) and the archaic population of Japan, the Ainus.

The map above shows a discontinuity in the Sundadont range (blue). It is the intromission of Sinodonty (yellow) which cuts off Sunda in the south from Taiwan, Hokkaido, the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin and the tip of Kamchatka in the north.

This gap is currently occupied by sinodont populations (Chinese, Koreans and Japanese).

A simpe explanation for this discontinual distribution is that the sundadonts were the original people inhabiting the coastal areas of Oriental Asia and were later overlain or displaced to their current insular ranges by sinodonts in the central region (China, Korea, Japan).

Another option is that the Sundadonts moved from Sunda northwards, along the coastal areas in boats, or walked along the now submerged continental shelf alll the way to Hokkaido -the current Ainu territory (yet they seem to have failed occupying the main southern Japanese islands, or were later displaced from there by sinodonts).

migration to America sundadonty
Map showing a hypothetical route from Sunda to America for sundadont dental morphology. Copyright © 2014 by Austin Whittall

Did a branch of these migratory sundadonts reach America before the sindonts whose dental pattern now prevails among Amerindians? or, since sinodonty is a Homo erectus trait, did the admixture leading to Amerindian sinodonty take place in America, between an early arrived sundadont H. sapiens population and the ancient H. erectus settlers in America?

Turner [8] proposes a theory where "Sundadonty or more likely proto-Sundadonty, [is] the ancestral pattern for all modern humans". He bases this on the "generalized" appearance of Southeast Asian population: "they possess various external physical features of many geographic races, although usually in relatively low frequency". Interestingly "when South Siberian teeth are compared with those of Sundadonts, they show remarkable similarities. Because South Siberian [...] hybrid condition retrodicts the probable dental pattern of the common ancestors of Europeans and Asians before these derived groups drifted to their distinctive patterns by late Pleistocene times..." [8].

So Sunda would be the source of this dental morphology, coinciding with the place from which Y chromosome Haplogroup C radiated into New Guinea, Australia, India, China and Northeast Asia. see my post on haplogroup C. South Siberians also have hg. C at low frequencies.

The Ainu

Regarding the Ainu people of northern Japan, their similarity to Sunda populations such as the Bataks of Sumatra and the Dayaks of Borneo (shee photos below) was reported back in 1872 [9]. More recently, Genetic studies link the Ainu to Amerindians, and one should reread those studies within the hypothesis mentioned above. Perhaps both groups (Amerindians and Ainu) share a common sundadont ancestor which is the main reason for the similarities detected in these genetic studies.

ainu men
ainu man
Ainu people (Notice their curly hair in the top image and the clearly non-Mongolian look of the bearded man in the bottom one)
The impression I get is that they are two different kinds of Ainu.

dayak and Batak
Batak from Sumatra and Dayak from Borneo


The DNA samples taken from the Kennewick man did not give any conclusive results. The tests were botched (since I don't believe in conspiracy theories, I can only guess that they were done in an inadequate manner or that the technology used was rudimentary, perhaps the samples were unwittingly contaminated, etc.). Below is the conclusions by the National Parks Service [3]:

"Thus, two separate amplifications from two different extractions suggested that Kennewick Man does not belong to haplogroup D (because the fragment was at least partially digested at np 5176 by Alu I restriction enzyme) while a single amplification from one of the two extractions suggests he might belong to haplogroup D. Given that at this point it was still unclear whether or not either of the two extractions were clean (i.e., uncontaminated), amplifications from the extracts had given conflicting information and neither extract had been successfully tested for the diagnostic markers for haplogroups B, C or X, it was impossible to determine to which, if any, of the common modern American Indian mtDNA haplogroups the Kennewick remains belong. At very most, our results provided, at this point, no evidence that the Kennewick remains belonged to haplogroups A, B or C [3]

In other words he does not belong to mtDNA haplogroups A, B or C. And the two tests gave differing results for hg. D (one was positive, the other negative). So he may or may not belong to haplogroup D. He may belong to X or M or any of the other haplogroups for which he was not tested.

I have not found any records regarding his Y chromosome analysis.

Closing Comments

Despite the theories put forth by some blogs and forums regarding a European origin for Kennewick man and the links they try to build between him and the Solutreans and Cro-Magnons of Europe, I am inclined towards an Asian origin for the Kennewick man

His sundadont teeth clearly set him apart from any modern Europeans. He is closer to the more ancient modern human migrants that reached Sunda, Sahul and what is now insular Eastern Asia in the Out of Africa initial migration some 70 kya. He probably represents this basic and most archaic line of modern humans who may have reached America not long after their departure from Africa. They do not, in my opinion, represent the more recent "white Europeans" as some propose (many of these forums have some white supremacist viewpoints, which I abhor).

A clear typing of his mtDNA and Y chromosomes will settle the issue of this man and lead us to ask interesting questions regarding why are there no contemporary Caucasoid-looking Native Americans? and maybe clarify what is the exact link between these Sundadont populations, perhaps some other gene similar to the EDAR of the sinodonts?

I will dig deeper into the Ainu, they intrigue me and I want to learn more about them.


[1] Burke Museum, Kennewick Man - The ancient one
[2] James C. Chatters, (2004). Kennewick Man. Smithsonian Institution.
[3] U.S. National Parks Service Article 1, and Article 2
[4] Turner C. G., et al., (1990). Major features of Sundadonty and Sinodonty, including suggestions about East Asian microevolution, population history, and late Pleistocene relationships with Australian aboriginals. Am J Phys Anthropol. 1990 Jul;82(3):295-317
[5] My post on an Early Peopling of America
[6], Clay reconstruction of the Kennewick Man
[7] Chelbea Fair, The Desert Town Right Around the Riverbend
[8] G. Richard Scott, Christy G. Turner, (2000). The Anthropology of Modern Human Teeth: Dental Morphology and Its Variation in Recent Human Populations . Cambridge University Press, pp. 303.
[9] Vivien de Saint-Martin, (1872). L'ethnologie du Grand Archipel d'Asie... races humaines. L'Anée Géogr. 9:90-97

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Tuberculosis and the early peopling of America

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a mycobacteria that infects different hosts, and one of them is us, humans. The M. tuberculosis sensu stricto is found among people all around the world. The bacillus that causes tuberculosis (TB) infects its host and may remain for a long period of time in a latent state where the host's immune system contains the infection yet is unable to eliminate the bacterium. About 33% of humans carry TB in this latent state. It only attains higher virulence under certain conditions.

Its specificity regarding our species implies that we have very long relationship with M. tuberculosis; it was transmitted from one person to another, ususlly within family settings, and therefore dispersed across the globe with our social group migrations. Its dispersal reflects the march of humans across the globe. In fact there are several genetic families of human M. tuberculosis and they have specific geographical locations. It also infects other mammals (cows, goats, seals, etc.) and they have been suggested as the original source for the human strain of TB.

TB poster

As usual, in my quest for proof on an early peopling of America (by H. erectus or Neanderthal), I am always attracted by odd gradients in the distribution of genetic traits. The bacteria that causes TB has some peculiarities in its global distribution and mutations. Today's post looks into this.

The Beijing TB genotype

A paper Mokrousov et al., 2005 [1] studied the origin and dispersal of TB. They chose the Beijing strain of the bacteria and in their analysis detected another variant (bold is mine): " a low-endemic type in the United States, the N-branch has no IS6110 insertion in NTF region. Sequencing of the NTF region in N-branch demonstrated that it is intact; that is, it has never harbored IS6110 insertions. In our opinion, this implies that N-branch presents the most ancient or “primordial” group that was isolated from the rest of the Beijing strains at the very beginning of its evolution" [1].

So here it is, a strain unique to the Americas, where it is found at a low-endemicity and which seems to be older than the widespread Eurasian Beijing line.

But what to the authors make out of this? Not what I expected; they disregard a possible American origin for this line of TB and strongly support an Asian origin for it (My comments are Bold) : [1]

"We sought to define a human host population in which the most recent common ancestor of the Beijing primordial N-branch (currently, endemic North American) and the ancient MIRU types MT11 and MT2 (radiating through a presumably Chinese primary expansion) appeared.
If the Amerindian endemic N-branch is "primordial", then it is in my opinion, a line that appeared in American and spread from there outwards.
This most recent ancestor could not be in the initial group of humans migrating from Africa, nor it could be in next step Levantine populations since this genotype is not endemic in Africa as a whole or in the Middle East and Europe (Bifani et al. 2002; Glynn et al. 2002).
Being absent in Africa and the Middle East makes me wonder if it may be even more ancient than modern humans, for instance a strain in H. erectus, who left Africa 1.8 Mya. They probably evolved this branch far away from the Middle East and African populations, taking it to America. Alternatively we can imagine a Neanderthal population in America as its source.
It could not have arisen in China (east Asia), since Chinese isolates already had one IS6110 insertion in the NTF locus (Bifani et al. 2002) and presented a second step in the Beijing evolution. It seems unlikely that the North American N-branch (i.e., initial Beijing variant) emerged in situ, since we can hardly imagine any significant human gene flow from there to east Asia or Eurasia as a whole.
Once again the "prejudice" against an "Out of America" theory. The paper dismisses the possibility that H. erectus or even Neanderthal had reached America early carrying a M.Tuberculosis strain, } evolved there and later back-flowed to Asia.
Rather, the low-level endemicity of the most ancient Beijing N-branch in North America demonstrates that it was brought to this continent from Eurasia with a small human group, an event that corresponds to the first entry of humans to this continent.
Or does it reflect an ancient archaic origin, that prevails until now, having infected the more recent arrivals (Homo sapiens) as the archaic ones admixed with them?

Of course Mokrousov et al., 2005 [1] adopt the mainstream point of view and propose a late entry of the "archaic" lineage into America:

  • The Beijing genotype first appeared in humans with K-M9 Y chromosome haplogroup in central Asia.
  • This population later split in humans into other groups that entered Siberia and East Asia. Y chromosome hg. P -M45 marched northeast (20 - 30 kya) with the ancestral Beijing strain (intact NTF).
  • The strain reached Beringia entering America some 17 - 20 kya.
  • The initial peopling bottleneck and the post-discovery decimation of the population produced the current low-endemicity of this archaic strain.

Interestingly, [1] "two N-branch strains with intact NTF region were found in our collection of Russian Beijing strains and that Beijing strains, defined as ancestral by other markers, have previously been described, although as low-endemic, in modern Russia and the United States [...] Thus, they may represent relic strains left on the first passage of the Beijing primordial sublineage (intact NTF) through Siberia to North America 20,000-30,000 yr ago."[1]

Once again, things could be the other way round: the Russian strain with intact NTF region (i.e. the ancestral version) may be a back-migration Out of America and into Siberia of the archaic American strain. Actually the sequence mentioned above could have taken place earlier, with Neanderthals or H. erectus as the vectors from Africa into America.

The American variety of TB

A more recent paper (Hershberg et al., 2008) [2] did an in-depth analysis and sequencing of M. tuberculosis genome, and revealed that the different TB strains were more genetically diverse originally imagined. The image below (from [2]) shows the lineages of TB found around the world. The paper suggests that the "purple" colored strain reflects the initial Out of Africa migration to Australia, along the coast of the Indian Ocean (it may reflect in my opinion, the OoA move of H. erectus), and suggests a dispersal mode for the other strains:

TB strains tree
Strains of TB bacteria. From [2]

This paper places the West African, "rim of Indian Ocean" and Philippines strains grouped together with some "animal" lineages and classifies them as "Ancient". The other strains: European-American, East African and East Asian are grouped together as "Modern". But this is biased due to how it considers the American line:

Unfortunately the paper [2] ignores the ancestral Amerindian strains mentioned in [1] and focuses on the orthodox Out of Africa dispersal and a recent post-Columbian entry of TB into America (the red colored strains in the image above): "...the presence of Euro-American (red) strains on the American continent can be explained in terms of the exodus from the over-populated European cities to America at the end of the 19th century—a 'vast movement that dwarfed all earlier migrations'" [2].

I find it very probable that the TB strains carried by Europeans to America found a fertile territory in which to expand, and it did so, almost obliterating the endemic local strain found among Amerindians.

But, this obliteration began much earlier than the nineteenth century. It started during the initial discovery period (1500s), when the European TB strain reached Ameica. It had a different evolutionary trajectory and a greater virulence compared to the local Amerindian strain. This surely caused a rapid progression from latent to active disease and death among Native Americans, replacing the original ancestral strain. This is seen nowadays in Africa where imported modern strains overtake the ancient local ones. [2]

The horrendous bursts of tuberculosis among Native American were not due to the Americas being devoid of the illnes. On the contrary, "different pathogenic strains of the bacteria, the absence of long or permanent immunity and, of course, the socio-cultural determinants" were factors which led to a prevalence of the European variety of the disease. [5]

TB in Pre-Columbian America

Surprisingly, as I mentioned above, the local endemic Amerindian TB line is completely ignored in many studies. Yet TB was a widespread disease in prehistoric America and many papers have been written on the subject. Below I will detail some findings and cite some scholarly bibliography, merely as a reference:

I. South America

The most ancient case in the New World comes from the South American Paracas-Caverna culture (Peru), dated to ca. 160 BCE (2,150 ya). [5]

Peru and Northern Chile are ideal sites for detecting TB: The dry climate of that region has contributed to preserve thousands of mummies, which have been analyzed for TB cases. A sample of about 1,000 mummies from this area were autopsied and yielded Five (5) "clear cases of Pott's disease" [3]. This allows the calculation of "the estimated pre-Columbian tuberculosis prevalence on the sample [of] between 10 and 25%." [3]. This is a "pandemic level" for the disease ca. 900 C.E.

The paper suggests some back-flow of Amerindian TB to Europe after the 1492 Discovery period. [3]

Even the Chachapoya mummies prove the existence of TB in that region: prevalence of pulmonary TB among them "might have been as high as 25%". [6]

Argentina [4] also has ancient examples of TB: At Santa María, Catamarca province where "six individuals out of seventy so far excavated provided evidence of the existence of the disease in the Santa Maria Valley between the end of the Late Ceramic Period and the onset of the expansion of the Inca Empire [1310 to 1480 C.E.] [4]

Patagonia has also provided remains of a person with TB from Salitroso Lake, Santa Cruz dated 728 BP, but it is still disputed. [4]

II. North America

In North America it has been detected in human remains from the U.S. Central Plains and Lake Ontario, Canda and are younger than the South American samples. [5]

Summarizing, tuberculosis has existed in America for thousands of years and only when conditions favored it, did it become epidemical. Mostly it occured as a low endemic disease. [5] There is a bias towards mummified samples because those remains are better preserved than others, and these are mostly from the coastal areas of the Peruvian and Chilean region, so the disease may have been much more widespread than imagined, but is yet undetected.

The relatively recent dates (post 1,000 C.E.) for North American TB may be due to contact with Vikings in the 1400s who could have spread the disease to America [5], it is therefore possible that North and South American natives had different "different epidemiological histories for tuberculosis" where one is Viking originated and the other dates back to the initial peopling of the Continent. [5]

As can be expected, the scarcity of complete human remains and a disease which even under pandemic conditions only infects between 10 and 25% of the population, makes it pretty unlikely to find TB in the bones of Paleoindians or other prehistoric populations. We should not suppose that it is recent because the oldest bones with TB are only 2,000 years old. This is actually not the case.

Homo erectus and TB

A paper by Kappelman et al., (2007) reported finding evidence of TB in a 490 - 510 ky old Homo erectus specimen found in the town of Kacabas, western Turkey.

But was this strain one of those found nowadays? or is it ancestral to modern human TB lineages?

The different Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (MTBC) agents infect a wide range of mammals, for example: M. bovis, (cows), M. pinnipedii (seals), and M. caprae (goats). However these and the human M. tuberculosis are very similar. These TB bacteria like the syphilis bacteria are clonal, and have very little genetic exchange among them. Their synoymous nucleotide variation is less than 1 in 5,000. Small indeed! So it is very likely that the H. erectus variety of TB microbe be the "ancient" root mentioned as endemic in the Americas and ancestral to the Beijing strain.

Unfortunately there are no other papers reporting TB in Neanderthals or other hominins, so we cannot be certain of its ancient distribution range or its prevalence among archaic humans.

Closing comments

The sequencing of the genome of the native American strain of TB will surely show that it does not share its root with the European clade. however the Amerindian strain is rare and surely overlooked in the samplings that have been carried out. Perhaps recovery of M. tuberculosis from ancient remains may provide evidence of its singular origin. We will have to wait for additional studies to prove or discard the possibility that Homo erectus or Neanderthals reached America with the ancient TB bacteria which evolved there into the Amerindian strain and back-migrated to Asia to continue evolving there.


[1] Igor Mokrousov, et al., (2005). Origin and primary dispersal of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis Beijing genotype: Clues from human phylogeography. Genome Res. Oct 2005; 15(10): 1357–1364. doi: 10.1101/gr.3840605
[2] Hershberg R, Lipatov M, Small PM, Sheffer H, Niemann S, et al., (2008). High Functional Diversity in Mycobacterium tuberculosis Driven by Genetic Drift and Human Demography. PLoS Biol 6(12): e311. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0060311
[3] Guido P. Lombardi and Uriel Garcia Caceres, (2000). Multisystemic tuberculosis in a Pre-Columbian Peruvian mummy: four diagnostic levels, and a paleoepidemoloigical hypothesis. Chungara, Revista de Antropologia Chilena Volumen 32, N° 1, 2000. pp. 55-60
[4] Mario A. Arrieta, Maria de la Asuncion Bordach and Osvaldo J. Mendonca, (2011). Tuberculosis precolombina en el noroeste argentino (NOA). El cementerio de Rincon Chico 21 (RCH 21), Santa Maria, Catamarca . Intersecciones antropol. vol.12 no.2 Olavarria jul./dic. 2011
[5] Jordi Gómez, Prat, Sheila MF and Mendonça de Souza, (2011). Prehistoric tuberculosis in America: adding comments to a literature review. Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz vol.98 suppl.1 Rio de Janeiro Jan. 2003
[6] Gerald Conlogue, (2002). More TB in Peruvian Mummies . Archaeology Volume 55 Number 2, March-April 2002
[7] Kappelman J, Alcicek MC, Kazanci N, Schultz M, Ö:zkul M, Sen S., (2007). First Homo erectus from Turkey and implications for migrations into temperate Eurasia. Am J Phys Anthropol (in press) doi:10.1002/ajpa.20739

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

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Peruvian Chachapoyas or "white indians"

The Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de León (1520 - 1554) wrote a chronicle in which he described Peru at the time of Spanish conquest. His "Crónicas del Perú" also recorded the history of the local native groups and, of course, the Incas and the tribes that they had subjected.

He mentions a certain group of Indians, The "Chachapoyan" natives [1], that lived in the Andes, in what is now Northern Peru, right next to Ecuador, in the Cachapoyas District of the Department of Amazonas. Theirs was an area with high mountain ranges: the Calla-Calla range in the south reaching 4,300 m (14,100 ft.) and the Cordillera Oriental to the east with 3,500 m. (11,500 ft.), with forests. The Marañon River flows through the area, draining towards the Amazon. (See map below).

The Chachapoyan region has been inhabited for over 8,000 years, but the group we know as Chachapoya, arrived much later: their most relevant cultural remains date back to 800 C.E. and their society peaked during the eleventh century C.E. (Their buildings at Olán, Yálape, Congó and especially Cuélap are monumental). They were subdued by the Inca around 1470 and incorporated as a province of their Empire after a though campaign. Many Chachapoyans were uprooted and sent to Cuzco and other parts of the Empire, where they were resettled and given new land to grow their crops on (This was a usual practice of the Incas, to dilute local resistence). [4]

After the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they too dominated the Chachapoyans (1535), it was during this period that Pedro Cieza de León visited the region and recorded his encounter with them. He described them as:

"These Indians that live at Chachapoyas are the most white and good looking of all those that I have seen in my travels through the Indies [America] , and their women were so beautiful that merely due to their good nature, many of them deserved to be women of the Incas and be taken to their temples of the sun; and so we see nowadays that the remaining Indian women of this lineage are extremely pretty, because they are white and very well built..." [1]

text describing Cachapoya
Text quoted above. From [1]

The "White" natives, true or false?

I have read some posts and articles that imply that these people have a Pre-Hispanic European origin, that is, that they somehow reached America long before Columbus did. And that is why they were "white skinned". I am skeptical about this, because trans-Atlantic communications probably did take place (I have posted about possible Phoenician, Greek, Micenian and Carthaginian navigators reaching the eastern coasts of America), but from there to the Andean foothills of Peru there is quite a distance and a long stretch of inhospitable Amazonian jungle. I doubt that the Chachapoyans were stray Phoenicians or similar sailors.

The official version is that they were a Native American group of people: The symbols that they used to decorate their buildings and the manner in which they mummified their dead suggests that the ancestral Chachapoyas may have reached their territory from the coastal areas of Peru or, from the northern mountain ranges [4].

Little is known regarding their pre-Inca or pre-Hispanic history. The oldest written reference about them dates back to January 14, 1538 in a letter from Alonso de Alvarado to the Spanish leader, Francisco Pizarro after his campaign to conquer the region.

The meaning of the word "Chachapoyas" is uncertain, and it is definitively not a Quechua or Aimará word, (which is what the Incas spoke). Little is known about the language spoken by the Chachapoyas before their conquest by the Inca, so we cannot shed any light on the matter from that angle.

There are of course many theories regarding its meaning: the local chronicler, Garcilaso de la Vega wrote in the 1600s that a Jesuit priest who accompanied the Spanish invaders in 1535 said it meant "Land of strong men", Lecuanda in 1792 suggested that it meant "Mountain of clouds", but these are only conjectures. [3]

They, like most of the American Natives suffered a dramatic population drop after the initial contact with the Spanish conquerors (they were decimated by the epidemics of measles, small pox, and plague that took place in 1546, 1558-59, 1585-91, 1614, 1618-19 and 1721). The population which in 1549 was nearly 88,000 strong, fell to 2,200 by 1793. Many Chachapoyans ran away into the junges to avoid being subjected to the forced-labor of the Spaniards. [3]

This must have bottlenecked the population considerably. Add to this the fact that many of them had been transplanted to other parts of the Inca empire after their defeat in 1470, and that other groups were placed in their homeland. The consequences of this dispersal and impantation plus massive population loss is that the original aboriginal Chachapoyan stock has been seriously diluted since 1470.

Below is a photograph from a book [5] which puts forward the theory that the Carthaginians escaped the destruction brought upon them by Rome after the Punic wars and reached America, and their descendants are... the Chachapoyans! The fair children among the Chachapoyans are known as "gringuitos", diminutive for "gringo" which is the way that Americans (from the U.S.A) are given in Latinamerica. But, wouldn't Carthaginians look like North Africans or Middle Eastern People (darker skinned, dark eyes, dark hair) instead of being blonde?

I posted about this in February 2011, so it does not surprise me. But, as I said above, it is hardly probable that they would have reached the western shores of South America.


To assume that contemporary fair haired children living in that region as "white" caucasoids with a pre-Columbian origin is an over simplification of complex facts. There may have been considerable European admixture during the Colonial period and later, as the population recovered during the nineteenth and twentyeth centuries. Only by studying the genes of their ancestors may we glean some useful information on their origins.

Fortunately the Chachapoyas mummified their dead, so we have plenty of material with a potential to yield useful genetic sequences.

The Mummies

Samples taken from seven Chachapoyan mummies were sequenced in a genetic study; only three yielded viable mtDNA which were assigned to haplogroups B2, M and D1, the others had insufficient coverage. [2]

The haplogroups B2 and D1 are a clear indication that the maternal lineage was American. Haplogroup M is quite strange because it is not one of the founding lineages of American Natives. It is found in Asia and only one other study mentions haplogroup M in the New World. Perhaps future studies will find more cases of it.

Anyway all three haplogroups are of a East Asian origin. This is ratified by a principal component analysis of SNPs overlapping between modern populations and the Chachapoyans which places them clearly in the "Amerindian" group together with the Aymara and Mayas, far from the Europeans and admixed hispanics (Colombian, Puerto Rico and Mexicans from Los Angeles) and closer to the East Asian groups. These people were definitively not "white" Europeans, they were Native Americans with ties to Eastern Asia. Below is an example of two of the samples that were sequenced:

Chacapoya gene analysis

Of course the alleged European origin is sustented by the fact that some of the mummies exhibit, as one blog states: "... Chachapoyas had curly brown or red Caucasoid hair, and not stiff black Mongoloid Amerindian hair.... the individual had red or reddish-brown Caucasoid hair". Below is a photo and some links to photographs of these mummies, so you can see them and decide for yourself:

Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4, Photo 5.

mummy of a Chachapoya

The hair is indeed wavy not straight. The color... well it seems to be brown, not the usual jet-black of the Amerindians. But, does this necessarily imply pre-Columbian European admixture?

The mummies are not dated. Are they older than 1535 or more recent? If older then we can assume that their brown hair is not due to post-discovery admixture. But even then it does not imply European ancestry.

I have posted extensively on Red Haired Native Americans during January 2014 and as I posted in my criticism to the Paracas cone heads, I believe that Neanderthal genes may be responsible for red or brown hair among pre-Hispanic Native Americans.

Red hair is a feature found in several Native mythical hominins (This post links to several posts on red haired hominins). and the reason for this, I believe is some ancient memory of their interaction with Neanderthals in America.

So maybe Europeans and Chachapoyans share a similar origin for their hair color: a common Neanderthal ancestry.


[1] Pedro Cieza de León, Obras Completas 1984, Cavileño, Madrid, pp. 104
[2] Meredith L. Carpenter, et al., (2013) Pulling out the 1%: Whole-Genome Capture for the Targeted Enrichment of Ancient DNA Sequencing Libraries. The American Journal of Human Genetics, Volume 93, Issue 5, 7 November 2013, Pages 852–864. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.10.002
[3] Inge Schjellerup, (2005). Incas y españoles en la conquista de los chachapoya. Fondo Editorial PUCP.

[4] Kauffmann Doig, Federico. (2000). Primera expedicion arqueologica a los mausoleos chachapoya (s) de la laguna de las momias (Dpto. de Amazonas, Perú). Chungará (Arica), 32(1), 49-54. Recuperado en 06 de agosto de 2014, de 10.4067/S0717-73562000000100009.
[5] Hans Giffhorn, Wurde Amerika in der Antike entdeckt?: Karthager, Kelten und das Rätsel der Chachapoya, C.H. Beck. 2013.
Further Reading on Chachapoyans: An Overview of Chachapoya Archaeology and History, by Adriana von Hagen.

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lake Manix Acheulean tools

Last Summer my wife and I drove along Interstate 40 between Barstow and Needles, California, we were surprised at how desertic the whole area was. It reminded us of some very arid places in Western Argentina and Northern Patagonia, with shrubs, sand and even extinct volcanoes and black volcanic slag. Then, while crossing a hilly sector close to Needles, the dark stormy clouds overhaed burst in a heavy downpour that slowed the traffic along the highway and flooded some side roads. It was indeed a contrasting event: dry desert and summer thunderstorm.

Only later would I recall that famously controversial Calico site was just a few kilometers northeast of Barstow, along Interstate 15 towards Las Vegas. I also remembered that when I had read and written about Calico, I had asked mysef what were paleoamericans doing in such a dry and desertic place. Now I know: the area was full of lakes until 20,000 to 8,000 years ago, then it dried up and became the desert we see today.

Yesterday I came across a blog post, by Thomas Venner [1], where he summarizes a paper he co-authored with James G., Duvall in 1979 [2], (A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California), which, as its name indicates, deals with that site. However today's post is not about Calico, it is about another site mentioned in Venner's blog and paper: the Lake Manix Basin in California.

Where now there is sand, once there were lakes

The currently arid region that spans Nevada, parts of northwestren Utah and the Mojave in California, was not always parched. During the Pleistocene glaciar periods, ice melt and rainfall created many large lakes in this region (Paleolakes). All of the modern lakes (Great Salt Lake, Carson Lake, Lake Tahoe, etc.) in these states are actually the shrunk remnants of those grand archaic lakes. As the following map, by the U.S. Geological Survey [3] shows, there were large surfaces of freshwater in the Southwest of the US in those days:

Paleolakes Nevada Utah and California
Pleistocene Lakes California, Nevada, Utah, From [3]

At the end of the Pleistocene, deglaciation accompanied by climate change and global warming led to increased evaporation which in turn caused the gradual desiccation of those bodies of water. Their level dropped and they broke up into smaller lakes. Most of them dried up quickly while others shrunk to their current size some 8 kya. Their ancient coasts are marked along the valleys that were once filled with freshwater.

Lake Manix

The Manix basin is part of the Lower Mojave Valley which is set right in the center of the Mojave Desert to the north of Interstate 40. The Mojave river flows sporadically through the area, from the San Bernardino Mountains in the west, draining the region towards the east.

Sediments laid down during the Holocene and even earlier, during the Pleistocene have buried the possible remnants of ancient lithic assemblies made by pre-Colvis people. The rainfall events like the one I experienced moves silt and erodes the slopes, covering superficial objects.

However, at the Manix basin some environmental factors have worked to keep sedimentary layers spanning 350,000 years of geological history, accesible to archaeological studies.

The lake itself formed about 400 - 500 kya, and disappeared during the late Pleistocene. Its level rose and fell with the dry and wet periods. The last period of maximum lake surface ended 18,100 years ago when it drained suddenly breaching its terminal dam perhaps due to an earthquake or excessive water inflow. At that time it covered a surface of 236 km2 or 91.1 sq. mi.

It has a "T" shape, with Coyote arm on the northwestern part of the "T", Troy Arm on the southeastern part, and Afton Arm as the main body with a norteastern orientation. Calico Site is just to the west of th base of Coyote arm. Interstate 15 runs along the middle of the paleolake's bed.

Fossils of Pleistocene animals are found in the sediments around the ancient lake: mammoth, horse, bear, coyote, saber-tooth cat and many birds spanning a period from 20 to 350 kya.

It is logical to assume that water and such a collection of potential preys would have attracted human hunters to the region, and stone tools have been found in the area.

Stone tools from Manix

The image below [4] shows some tools found along the ancient shores of Lake Manix:

Lithic assembly from Lake Manix. From [4]

The tools look rather coarse, roughly hewn, primitive and have caused debate. As Venner writes: [1]

"Thousands of rocks that bear a strong resemblance to prehistoric tools have been found at the site, both on the surface, and up to 8 m (26 ft) below the surface. Scientifically dated to over 200,000 BP, the excavated subsurface objects are many times older than the traditional date of the first human entry into the Americas, approximately 11,000 BP.
The Debate – The debate centers on whether the “tools” were made by humans (i.e., artifacts), or through typical geological processes (i.e. geofacts). The general scientific consensus is that the subsurface items are geofacts.
" [1]


The original study on the Manix Lake Industry was conducted by Ruth Simpson in 1942. She surveyed the area leater between 1954 and 1964 and wrote papers in which she provided evidence for an ancient date for the stone tools found in the Manix area:

"She noted that the sites of the Manix Lake Industry occur on or above the highest beach lines of Lake Manix, whereas "Playa" and later industries were found along lower beach lines. Since Manix Lake Industry sites were on higher beaches relative to the other assemblages, Simpson reasoned that the Manix Lake Industry was the oldest Simpson also asserted that her conclusion was supported by the absence of projectile points in the Manix Lake Industry and by its typological similarity to the Paleolithic of the Old World. Furthermore, radiocarbon dates on tufa from the highest beach line of Manix Lake dated to 19,500+⁄-500 and 19,300+⁄-400 years ago..."[5]

The primitive aspect of some tools led to the argument that they were not paleolithic implements but refuse. Furthermore Simpson was accused of not collecting more "advanced" tools, thus skewing the study by making it appear to contain "older" artifacts.

Cores, axes and bifaces

What I find interesting is that: "... a large number of bifaces [and] cores ... Large bifaces. broken and complete, both roughly flaked and finely flaked. were found in all of these sites..." [5]. Big bifaces and cores spell out, in my opinion (as a layman, not an archaeologist): archaic lithic traditions, not the work of modern men, but ancient technology applied by pre-modern humans.

Could these sites along Lake Manix be the quarries or workplaces of archaic humans? It could be possible...

Yet orthodoxy argues the opposite They look old but are modern: "... the bifaces may have been made from necessity rather than choice. This creates the further possibility that these bifaces may represent the convergence of two or more independent technological trajectories." [5], in other words, not primitive but modern using primitive techniques due to restrictions in the features of the quarry.

N. Nobora Nakamura studied the area in 1966 but remained unpublished until 1991 [6]. He too noticed the coarseness and simplicity of the Manix Lake Industry and gave the following explanation: tools that have the same shape may have three different origins: (a) they are really ancient, primitive tools -i.e. Lower Paleolithic implements. (b) They look primitive because complex tools have moved towards a simplified shape either because the available stone is of poor quality or because the makers are seeking more specialized toolage. (c) They are "Juvenescent artifacts", which are unfinished tools and they are not finished because of faulty materials or because they were used in an unfinished form out of necessity.

N. Nakamura argues that although they look primitive, they may be new, recent tools and not ancient ones. They are the work of modern humans. [5]

As expected, instead of accepting the most parsimonious explanation (if it barks and wags its tail, it is a dog - if it looks old it is old), orthodoxy must defend a recent peopling of America at all costs. The tools are dismissed as being either geofacts or, if man made, they are recent, even though they look very primitive.

It is interesting to point out that in 1958, the Lake Manix tools were shown to European scholars, familiarized with archaic toolage (Neanderthal and older) and, these [7]:

"European scientists agreed that the specimens brought from America were man-made, were different and probably older than any American material they had seen previously. The concensus of opinion was that, until stratigraphic relationships can be established for the desert lithic material, no age determination should be attempted; that it should be considered in its own right as a separate American industry with Lower Paleolithic-like attributes. The speaker therefore now designates the Mojave Desert hand axes and related implements as the Manix lithic assemblage, in recognition of the type site: Pleistocene Lake Manix." [7]

But, after 1958 and the mid 1960's initial studies, the tides turned slowly against these strange findings: Calico flourished under L. S. B. Leaky and soon overshadowed the Lake Manix site; and later, when Calico became a hotly debatable issue, Manix was almost forgotten: Pleistocene peopling of America became tabu and those supporting it faced heavy flak. The whole issue was left alone, no deep studies were conducted, no funding was obtained. Manix was forgotten and until today remains an open question.

I have read some posts in blogs (which I will not cite since they don't mention their sources), that attribute a 200,000 year age to the Lake Manix tools. Venner also mentions this date in his blog post (200,000 BP) but does not give any Manix specific reference (Calico es mentioned, but Manix is not). Perhaps these dates are reasonable, considering the rise and fall of the lake's water level over the past 350 - 400 ky. It is also reasonable that lacustrine sediments would have buried any tools left on its shores by early hominids. So the subsurface stone tools would be old if they are accepted as being man-made and not the outcome of natural processes.

Let's try to figure out who was the maker of the Manix cores and hand axes. The technology is Homo erectus, the dates (200 kya) are quite recent (compared to their Asian remains), but not improbable. Another alternative would be the Neanderthals, they were living in Eurasia at that time but their Mousterian technology is different to H. erectus' Acheulean industry. So, if these tools were made by humans, it was the work of Homo erectus, in America, 200,000 years ago.


[1] Thomas Venner, (2010). A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California”, Journal of Field Archaeology, Winter 1979. Posted July 6, 2010
[2] Duvall, James G., and Venner, William Thomas, (1979). A Statistical Analysis of the Lithics from the Calico Site (SBCM 1500A), California. Journal of Field Archaeology, Winter 1979: Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 455-462.
[3] U.S.G.S., Paleoclimate Variability of the American Southwest
[4] Lake Manix and Calico lithic industries. Topic ID #807 posted 4/13/2007 9:29 AM [5] Claude N. Warren, (1996) The Manix Lake Lithic Industry in Historical Perspective. Proceedings of the Society for California Archaeology. 1996, Vol. 9, pp. 120-126.
[6] N. Nobora Nakamura, Mark Q. Sutton, (1991). The Baker Site: a Non-Projectile Point Assemblage at Pleistocene Lake Mojave. In Papers on the Archaeology of the Mojave Desert:2. Pp. 11-42: Coyote Press. 1991 (tDAR ID: 261259)
[7] Proceedings of the Academy. Bulletin, So. Calif. Academy of Sciences Vol. 58, Part 1, 1959. pp. 54.

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