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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mandan & Arikara: Neandertal retromolar gap in Amerindians

The Neanderthal had a feature which was unique to them (they ALL had it) and is found in some modern humans: the retromolar gap or retromolar space.

A paper published in March 2015, "The Retromolar Space: A Morphological Curiosity Observed Amongst the Protohistoric Arikara and Mandan" by C. de la Cova DOI: 10.1002/oa.2451 International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, noted that it is quite frequent among two American Native groups, the Arikara and the Mandan peoples:

The retromolar space (RMS), defined in paleoanthropology as a space posterior to the third molar, between the distal edge of the tooth and the anterior margin of the ascending ramus when the mandible is held in lateral view, has been described as an autapomorphic trait unique to Neandertals despite its presence in anatomically modern humans (AMHs). This study examined RMS prevalence in a sample of Protohistoric Arikara and Mandan Amerindians to determine what craniofacial morphology is correlated with the RMS. It was hypothesized that the feature would be present in the Amerindians studied and associated with a long cranial length, a large nasal height, midfacial prognathism, a broad mandible, and dental wear. The results indicated that RMSs were present in the Arikara and Mandan and significantly correlated with cranial length, cranial breadth, nasal height, bizygomatic breadth, basion-nasion length, basion-nasiospinale, mandible length, gonial angle, bigonial breadth, and dental wear. Thus, RMSs are associated with a dolichocephalic skull, wide cranial and facial breadth, a prognathic face, large nose, and a corresponding wide and long mandible with a reduced gonial angle. This suggests that the RMS is the result of these features merging together in the craniofacial complex and should not be considered a Neandertal autapomorph.

Of course, the conclusion that Ms. Cova reaches is that it is not an exclusive Neandertal feature but that it is related to a certain skull morphology that these natives have...

How about testing another hypothesis: the natives have it because they have a high admixture with Neandertals and got the genes that produce the retromolar gap from the Neandertals themselves... maybe even admixing in America and not in Asia before migrating to the New World.

Both Mandan and Arikara live in North Dakota, and some websites and some books too, suggest that they have some link to the Welsh! example below:

Several explorers claimed that the Mandans were white people; that the skin on their bodies was white and that the copper color was applied to the exposed parts. Verendrye even claimed that they were a mixture of white and black races. Volney, who was among them at a very early date, says that the children are born white like the Europeans and that the women were white upon the thighs, hips and lower parts of the body and says that it is wholly erroneous to suppose that the copper color is natural to them.
These travelers all make mention of many of the Mandans having blue eyes and red hair. Maximillion of Wied, a German traveler-scientist and linguist, and who lived with the Fort Clark Mandan villagers during the winter of 1833-34, tabulated a list of Mandan words and called attention to a very marked resemblance to the Welsh tongue...

Below: A Neandrtal skull and the "gap" behind the last molar.

retromolar gap in Neandertal skull

The text above is from a very interesting site on the Mandans, based on the work of A.B. Welch which was written in the 1920s. Was the "white" "red hair" a Neandertal trait and not a Welsh one?

also tells about a Mandan who retold the ancient story of his people: An Indian tells Welch a story about meeting a "white man" who lived in the ground (cave dweller?) when they migrated to their current territory...

The text on these Indians, from "Travels in the Interior of North America" (1843) by Maximilian Wied (Prinz von) can be read here: (Link).

I definitively do not support the idea of a Welsh migration to America, or even the possibility that these were Vikings who admixed with the natives. Probably from time to time a group of Vikings or even cod fishermen from Medieval Europe were castaways on the coasts of America, but they could have never been enough of them to have such an impact as the one hinted at by Welch or Wied. A stable pre-existing population of Neandertal people would be another story and admixture would have had interesting consequences.

Further reading: Footprints of the Welsh Indians: Settlers in North America Before 1492, William L. Traxel Algora Publishing, 2004.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2015 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rock Piles: Cobbles, stone tools, and California during the ice age

Rock Piles: Cobbles, stone tools, and California during the ice age - from Journals

Quote from this blog linked above: 
" I found stone tools made out of the cobbles and mixed in with them. Those tools were probably made during an ice age. That is not too surprising, that people were in California making stone tools about 25 thousand years ago. The first things I found looked pretty "fresh" and were all of a certain style. But there were other heavier axes in there too, of a different style that were a bit rounded and smoothed - part way back to being cobbles. If you think about it, this means they were part of the cobble production of the last ice age, which means they were tools made during a previous ice age - around 60 thousand years ago. That is a bit more surprising.

So that's my story: stone tools made from glacial cobbles which themselves got turned back into cobbles. It means there were people in California making stone tools two ice ages ago."
Interesting!!  say 100 ky old tools, one (from the blog) is shown below:

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in PatagoniaCopyright 2009-2015 by Austin Whittall ©

Monday, April 13, 2015

Walker Hill's "oldest stone tools in America", a silenced finding.

Back in January 2011 I posted on the Neandertal Skulls found in Minnesota and later lost. The site was located in Boundary Waters Canoe Area, northeast Minnesota. Today I will mention some "old" tools that caused quite a commotion in early 2007, but the findings were silenced and nothing more was heard of them.

An example of the uproar in the media is the article in National Geographic, which announced: "Ancient Stone "Tools" Found; May Be Among Americas' Oldest... Crude stone "tools" found in northern Minnesota may be at least 13,000 years old, a team of archaeologists recently announced....The team found about 50 such objects during a routine survey for road construction in the town of Walker, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northeast of Park Rapids. The finds include what appear to be a large hammerstone, beveled scrapers, rudimentary choppers, a crude knife, and numerous flakes that could have been used for cutting."

The image shows one of these tools, and it looks quite crude.

The tool looks very similar to the one found in Oregon which is now considered the "oldest", at 15.8 ky. (see yesterday's post).

Then... silence, no paper in a reputed peer reviewed publication, no more news, just silence.

Apparently orthodox science silenced the find. For those interested in the tough rebuke, you can read it at this link: The Walker Hill Site (21CA668):Comments on the Possibility of a Late Glacial Human Presence in Minnesota, by Scott Anfinson, Minnesota State Archaeologist, 2/20/07.

Some excerpts below:

All the raw materials of the “artifacts” from the site can be found in the local till...
All the re-working/flaking/abrading of the “artifacts” could have been produced by natural processes, specifically rapid stream action and frost shatter...
The purported “tools” were so crude as to be unconvincing or would have been difficult to use for the proposed tasks...
There was no evidence for biface production, which is the principal activity at many Clovis sites...
The vast majority of the lithics from the Walker Hill site did not demonstrate the characteristics that one would expect from humanly produced stone artifacts...

Among the arguments are some that surprised me: "There is no evidence for a pre-Clovis horizon anywhere in the Upper Midwest...The earliest inhabitants of the New World came from Old World lithic manufacturing traditions that had over two million years to perfect their craft (cf. Delagnes and Roche 2005) so one would expect some degree of skill demonstrated in the Walker Hill lithics. High quality workmanship is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the entire Paleoindian period"

The first point can be refuted by saying that this is the first site found. There is always a groundbreaking find that sets the precedent. But regarding the second point, perhaps we are not looking at modern human toolage, but at some Acheulean tools crafted by Homo sapiens or older Oldowan tools.

The two images above, from the website of the contemporary Ojibwe Indians who live at the site, look very "Oldowan" to my layman's eyes. The link is interesting, it explains the finds, the initial skepticism, and the belief that they are genuine.

However, Anfinson demolishes the finding in his paper; see Point #9 where he argues that the site was very inhospitable 14 kya, and lacked adequate prey for hunters.

Could the tools be older? and were brought to the surface strata by glacial action? In other words, could tools layed down 500 kya or 1 Mya have been later moved to superficial soil layers? Perhaps at an earlier time the region did offer better prospects to non-sapiens settlers.

By the way, Walker Hill, is 200 miles (320 km) southwest of the "Neander Skull site".

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2015 by Austin Whittall © 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stone tool from Oregon is older than 15,8 kya

Modern humans have been in America for quite some time (and the hard facts of dated tools should be used to adjust the clocks used in molecular studies). An example is this interesting finding from Riley, Oregon:

Evidence of One of the Oldest Human Occupations in Western United States Discovered on BLM Land in Southeast Oregon, which was published by the Bureau of Land Management of the US Government on March 5, 2015.; I quote it below:

"Beneath the layer of volcanic ash, archaeologists discovered a small orange agate tool believed to have been used for scraping animal hides, butchering, and possibly carving wood. A blood residue analysis of the tool revealed animal proteins consistent with bison, the most likely species being Bison antiquus, an extinct ancestor of the modern buffalo.
...what has the archaeological community most excited is a small stone tool found below a layer of volcanic ash.
Near the bottom of a 12-foot deposit, archeologists discovered a layer of ash that was identified as volcanic ash from a Mt. St. Helens eruption about 15,800 years ago. Beneath the layer of volcanic ash, archaeologists discovered a small orange agate tool believed to have been used for scraping animal hides, butchering, and possibly carving wood. A blood residue analysis of the tool revealed animal proteins consistent with bison, the most likely species being Bison antiquus, an extinct ancestor of the modern buffalo. “The discovery of this tool below a layer of undisturbed ash that dates to 15,800 years old means that this tool is likely more than 15,800 years old, which would suggest the oldest human occupation west of the Rockies,” said Scott Thomas, BLM Burns District archaeologist.

This does open the door to more findings. Below is the tool, BLM photo:

It could have been made by any of our ancestors. Check out these examples:

Acheulean scraper


Mousterian scraper

mousterian scraper

Oldowan scraper

oldowan tool

Native American scraper

Two million years separate the Oldowan and the Native American scrapers, and the Acheulean scraper of Homo erectus and the Neandertal Mousterian scraper lie in between. And all are so very similar!

So, could the Oregon scraper belong to another non-sapiens group?

Possibly, but the official explanation will be: modern human.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2015 by Austin Whittall © 

Were Denisovans the last Homo erectus?

My previous post mentioned the new findings regarding Denisova admixture in Homo sapiens, and the two theories proposed to explain how Denisovan DNA spread between Austronesians and East Asians - Native Americans.

I believe that sooner or later we will find out that the elusive Denisovans are no others than Homo erectus. And I base my suspicions on two facts:

Erectus were alive in South East Asia about 40 kya. This was proved by Yokoyama Y, Falguères C, Sémah F, Jacob T and Grün R, in their paper (2008) Gamma-ray spectrometric dating of late Homo erectus skulls from Ngandong and Sambungmacan, Central Java, Indonesia. J Hum Evol. 2008 Aug;55(2):274-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.01.006. Epub 2008 May 14., the team concluded that: "we establish[ed] minimum age estimates of around 40ka, with an upper age limit of around 60 to 70ka. This means that the Homo erectus of Java very likely survived the Toba eruption and may have been contemporaneous with the earliest Homo sapiens in Southeast Asia and Australasia..

The 400 ky Sima de los Huesos remains from Spain also hint at this. The mtDNA of the remains from this Spanish site was sequenced and found to be closer to Denisovan mtDNA than to Neanderthal ⁄ Human mtDNA. This is quite hard to explain: how did Denisovans get more of this mtDNA than the Neanderthals did considering that Denisovans are located in Altai while Neandertals are located in between Spain and Altai? The authors offer 4 explanations, and I believe that their fourth is correct: bold font is mine [1]

A fourth possible scenario is that gene flow from another hominin population brought the Denisova-like mtDNA into the Sima de los Huesos population or its ancestors. Such a hominin group might have also contributed mtDNA to the Densiovans in Asia. Based on the fossil record, more than one evolutionary lineage may have existed in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene. Several fossils have been found in Europe as well as in Africa and Asia that are close in time to Sima de los Huesos but do not exhibit clear Neanderthal traits. These fossils are often grouped into H. heidelbergensis, a taxon that is difficult to define, particularly with regard to whether the Sima de los Huesos hominins should be included. Furthermore, there may have been relict populations of still earlier hominins, notably those classified as Homo antecessor, which share some morphological traits with Asian Homo erectus and have been found just a few hundred metres away from Sima de los Huesos in Gran Dolina.

Home erectus left Africa (or maybe even originated out of Africa, in Asia from H. Habilis who had migrated earlier, and some of them returned to Africa later, generating the African erectus.) 1.8 Mya. They had plenty of time to move across Eurasia, fromm Indonesia to China to, why not?, Spain. Surely they originated more "modern" versions as time passed, the Homo antecessor and later H. heidelbergensis could be some of them. As well as Denisovans.

Maybe they even marched all the way to the New World.

Later, when modern H. sapiens moved into their territories they admixed, in varying degrees. This admixture must depend on the population ratios of migrants and residents. We have therefore a high content of Denisovan gene flow in Austronesia, and also in East Asia and the New World. But they may have been the result of separate admixture events.

Orthodoxy requires that the Humans marching into America be the result of a split that took place in Asia. And if these future Amerindians were the only ones to enter America, then they had to admix with Denisovans in Asia. But neat theories are not the way Nature works. The history of our genetic makeup is much more complex. And it may involve admixture in the New World, both with Neandertals and Denisovans


[1] Matthias Meyer, Qiaomei Fu, ,et al., A mitochondrial genome sequence of a hominin from Sima de los Huesos, Nature 505, 403–406 (16 January 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12788

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2015 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Denisovans Amerindians and Austronesians

A paper by Pengfei Qin and Mark Stoneking (Denisovan Ancestry in East Eurasian and Native American Populations bioRxiv preprint first posted online April 3, 2015; doi:, takes a look at the Denisovan content in modern Homo sapiens genes.

Below is one of the maps posted in the supporting information (from page 8) which shows (blue shades) the higher introgression of Denisovan DNA into humans in Australia, New Guinea and Melanesia, while the Neandertal content is given by the red shades (higher in Asia, America and Europe. Green tint is the neutral African area.

denisovan and Neandertal admixture in humans

Neandertal and Denisovan DNA in modern humans. From Fig. S4 B in Pengfei and Stoneking.

They put forward two possible ways for the admixture of Denisovan and Homo sapiens genes. Allow me to quote them:

"However, there are (at least) two potential alternate scenarios that could explain these results. First, Denisovan admixture could have occurred in a population that was ancestral to both EE/NA (East Asia and Native American) and Oceanian populations; second, admixture could have occurred in a population that was ancestral specifically to Mamanwa, Australians, and New Guineans (as suggested previously (2)), followed by a back-migration from New Guinea to mainland East Asia. This putative back-migration would then have spread both New Guinea and Denisovan ancestry throughout East Asia and Siberia, and ultimately to the Americas."

The first option (admixture in Siberia near Denisova), would be followed by additional dilution in East Asia of Denisovan genes when more modern humans migrated into East Asia and admixed with the population that had originally received the Denisovan input. While this did not take place in Oceanian peoples.

In my opinion the back-migration out of Australia is unlikely. But what if... there was a sizeable populations of Denisovans in South East Asia and Sahul. Humans arrived and mixed with them. The higher the density of Denisovans or ratio of Denisovans to H. sapiens, the higher their "input" of genes into the mixed offspring of human - Denisovan matings. So PNG, Australia had a higher ratio of Denisovans than East Asia... or America (why must we always assume that the introgression took place once in one place?). Because admixture could have taken place in several locations: America, Asia and Austronesia.

Who are these Denisovans? The most likely candidate is an ancestor that lived in Asia and had left Africa before Humans and before Neandertals... that spells Homo erectus. They did live in Sahul and China (maybe America but that is not considered by mainstream science).

The interesting thing is that Neanderthal (see the red hues in the map above) genes are very strong in America among Native Americans too, suggesting (a) Modern Humans mixed with them in Asia and brought the Neandertal genes with them into America or (b) Admixture took place in America: modern humans met and mated with Neandertals in the New World.

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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

On the African of the "Ape woman" Zana

I have just read some articles about a new book (The Nature of the Beast) by Bryan Sykes. Coming from an Oxford professor it is a daring subject and the conclusions that are mentioned online are indeed surprising.

The yellow press loves these controversial subjects and puts forth eye-catching headlines like "Russian Apewoman could have been a Yeti" or "apewoman was not human", but there is no substance behind those claims so, unless I buy the book or read the scientific papers that apparently will appear later on, I will remain in the dark!

Fortunately, The Times published some excerpts from the book, and I am sharing them below (the link is this here): in bold I have highlighted some strange points in the text

Excerpts from The Times

Published at 12:01AM, April 4 2015 Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford, set out to investigate rumours that something almost human had been found lurking in remote woodland between Georgia and Russia. What he discovered could rewrite the history of humanity.
“In the early 1850s a merchant visiting the Ochamchir region of Abkhazia came across a young almasty [the Russian equivalent of the yeti] by a remote stretch of the Adzyubzha river. As soon as it caught sight of him the creature vanished into the forest. Some days later he returned with a group of hunters. When they saw it again, their dogs were unleashed, chased it into the forest and brought it down.
“After a fierce struggle it was eventually subdued and shackled to a log. It was clearly a female. She was held in a ditch surrounded by sharpened stakes, then sold on to a succession of “owners” until she was purchased by the Abkhaz nobleman Edgi Genaba and taken to his farming estate at Tkhina on the Mokva river.”
The wild humanoid was named Zana and tamed by Genaba until she came to serve him as a slave. About 6ft 6in, dark-skinned, covered with long, reddish-brown hair and extraordinarily muscular, she slept outdoors and ran naked around the estate until her death in 1890.
“In many ways Zana’s is a classic tale of a wild creature part-human, part-animal, captured and tamed. What has kept the story alive is that she had at least four children with local men. There are tales of drunken orgies and curious men being granted access to her in exchange for money.
“Two developments turned Zana’s story from an intriguing folk tale, albeit one substantiated by several witnesses, into a case with potential for scientific investigation. The first was that in 1971 Igor Burtsev [a Russian cryptozoologist] located the grave of Khwit, the younger of Zana’s two sons, in an overgrown graveyard in Tkhina and exhumed his body. The second was that Burtsev, and also lately Dmitri Pikulov, had managed to trace six of Zana’s living descendants.
“I could see a way of obtaining genetic information about Zana from her son’s skull. If I could recover mitochondrial DNA [passed down through the mother’s line], the strict matrilineal inheritance would mean that its sequence was identical to Zana’s. I could also see a way of discovering more about Zana’s genetic makeup through her living descendants.”
Professor Sykes sent one of the Russian enthusiasts to take DNA samples from Zana’s living relatives and set to work on analysing one of her son’s teeth. Their initial frustration at finding no matches with Neanderthal gene sequences quickly turned to astonishment.
“As soon as Khwit’s sequence came through I set about comparing it to the dozen or so Neanderthal sequences that have been published. It was very soon clear that Khwit’s, and thus Zana’s, mitochondrial DNA was not Neanderthal. The disappointment was temporary. Zana may not have been a Neanderthal but when I compared her detailed mitochondrial DNA sequence with my database of hundreds of thousands of records from all over the world, there was a major surprise. The sequence from Khwit’s tooth showed beyond doubt that his mitochondrial DNA, and therefore Zana’s, was from sub-Saharan Africa. I was stunned. How could it have happened that Zana, living wild in the forests of the Caucasus, had DNA from thousands of miles away on another continent?”
The DNA swabs from Zana’s descendants told the same story: she was pure African. But how did she get there?
“How was it that a full-blooded sub-Saharan African came to be living wild in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains in the middle of the 19th century? None of the explanations is straightforward. There had been a few African slaves in Abkhazia in earlier centuries when it was part of the Ottoman Empire and Zana could have been an escaped slave. The difficulty is that although the slave theory might explain her African DNA, it does not account for her appearance. She was nothing like a modern African in her looks or behaviour. Feral children and adults are rarely healthy and are usually discovered on the verge of starvation, yet Zana had superhuman strength and athleticism. Is it likely that an escaped slave could have sustained herself in the wild, and so well that she developed remarkable physical attributes? Almost certainly not.
“But if not a Neanderthal, was she fully human? Zana may have been in the genus Homo without being fully Homo sapiens. To begin to answer this intriguing question, I checked to see if there were any matches with Zana’s mitochondrial sequence in any of the available databases. There were none that matched exactly. I also had the scraps of her nuclear genome scattered among her descendants. Again, the African segments did not match any records. I hope to know soon whether Zana was indeed a survivor of an antique race of humans. If Zana’s people were in the Caucasus during the 19th century when she was captured, they might well still be there to this day, living as they have for millennia somewhere in the wild valleys that radiate from the eternal snows of Elbrus.”
• Extracted from The Nature of the Beast: The First Scientific Evidence of the Survival of Apemen into Modern Times by Bryan Sykes (Coronet £25). To order for £20 including postage visit bookshop or call 0845 2712134.

So here we have a woman captured in the Caucasus, whose mtDNA was Sub-Saharan African yet it did not exactly match any of those existing in the database.

Vague to say the least. Most Sub-Saharan African mtDNA belong to L haplogroups. And there are many differences among them yet all are "L", we can imagine that Zana's mtDNA was "L", and that pinpoints her as African, the fact that it is has some additional mutations does not mean it is ancient.

However, to be fair (I actually thought it was all some wild idea of Sykes), I found this scientific paper "Reconstructing ancient mitochondrial DNA links between Africa and Europe" by María Cerezo et al. Published in Advance March 27, 2012, doi:10.1101/gr.134452.111 Genome Res. 2012. 22: 821-826, which had some interesting findings about L mtDNA Hg in Europe:

Abstract Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages of macro-haplogroup L (excluding the derived L3 branches M and N) represent the majority of the typical sub-Saharan mtDNA variability. In Europe, these mtDNAs account for <1% of the total but, when analyzed at the level of control region, they show no signals of having evolved within the European continent, an observation that is compatible with a recent arrival from the African continent. To further evaluate this issue, we analyzed 69 mitochondrial genomes belonging to various L sublineages from a wide range of European populations. Phylogeographic analyses showed that ∼65% of the European L lineages most likely arrived in rather recent historical times, including the Romanization period, the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula and Sicily, and during the period of the Atlantic slave trade. However, the remaining 35% of L mtDNAs form European-specific subclades, revealing that there was gene flow from sub-Saharan Africa toward Europe as early as 11,000 yr ago.

So it seems that African L hg got into Europe around 11 kya and that accounts for more than one third of this Hg in Europe. The rest is modern, due to slave trade or migration.

Figure 5. Diagram showing the coalescence ages of L-European lineages and their 95% C.I. (see also Supplemental Table S2) and the estimated frequencies in Europe over the total number of existing L mitochondrial genomes from Europe..from Cerezo et al. (2012)

So maybe Sykes is on the right track, an African input (no Yeti or apemen) in the Caucasus, derived from an ancient migration OOA. We will have to see what hg his mtDNA belongs to. And compare it to those shown in the image above.

Let's not forget however that this area was home to the Homo Georgicus, as I posted in 2011. And they were "Africans" too, but about 1.8 million years older than any recent 11 ky old African migration into Europe. Could Zana have some relationship to those archaic hominins?

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