Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Monday, October 26, 2015

The age of the mtDNA from Upward Sun River in Alaska

The paper by Justin C. Tackney et al., (2015) Two contemporaneous mitogenomes from terminal Pleistocene burials in eastern Beringia, PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1511903112, published today has found that the remains of a stillborn baby and a very young infant that were buried at the same time in a grave in Upward Sun River, Alaska 11,500 years ago, belong to Mitochondrial DNA types C1b and B2, and these "allowing us to refine younger coalescence age estimates for these two clades. C1b and B2 are rare to absent in modern populations of northern North America. Documentation of these lineages at this location in the Late Pleistocene provides evidence for the extent of mitochondrial diversity in early Beringian populations, which supports the expectations of the Beringian Standstill Model.".

Though it is behind a paywall, the information published online indicates the ages of "about 12,800 years ago for C1b and 12,000 years ago for B2" and that one of the paper's co-authors "O'Rourke suspects the real times were even earlier, but that nonetheless both 11,500-year-old infants were at or near the root of their respective genealogical trees".

Additionally, O'Rourke said "'You don't see any of these lineages that are distinctly Native American in Asia, even Siberia, so there had to be a period of isolation for these distinctive Native American lineages to have evolved away from their Asian ancestors. We believe that was in Beringia,'".

This value of 12 to 12.8 kya is interesting. Why not 20 or 25 kya? It is convenient that the these 12,000 years situate the origin of these haplotypes at the time of a purported Beringian standstill. Lets see how they were calculated.

The Supplemental information, on page 4 tells us that "... Mutational distances were converted into years using a corrected molecular clock proposed by ref. 27 or a whole-genome substitution rate of 2.67 × 10−8 sub per site per year".

And this is a critical point, because based on this mutation rate is that the authors have estimated the age of these mtDNA haplotypes.

However this mutation rate is questinable. For instance a value of 0.43 × 10−9 per site per year was reported for the 45,000 year old shin bone from Ust’-Ishim.

The difference between 0.43 x 10-9 and 2.67 x 10-8 (which I will express as 26.7 x 10-9) is 62 times!

I eliminated the previous paragraphs because I was using autosomal and mtDNA mutation rates and they are not comparable. (see the comment below dated 27/Oct.) However, the following is valid. Because as I mention in Comments below, the mtDNA mutation rates estimated by different authors vary and considerably, from 1.3 to 3.2 x 10-8. Even the range for a 95% Confidence Interval is too wide for my liking, so...

Fidgeting with mutation rates one can get a wide range of coalescence dates...and that means you can get mistaken ones too.

I posted in June 2014 about mtDNA C1 haplogroup and in that post, I cited a paper that gave the following age to C1b: 17.9 +⁄- 2.3kya. Which is at odds with the figure calculated by Tackney's team.

In that post, besides questioning the molecular clock (I always seem to be irked by this subject), I wrote: "Interesingly, C1 has a high values for nucleotide diversity indices, and show a South to North cline (with most variations in South America), indicating that it has deeper roots in the southern part of the New World or that bottlenecks reduced its diversity in the North. In my opinion in points at an older date of entry into America than those mentioned above.", which again seems to be at odds with such early (12 kya) dates and a late Beringian standstill.

 C1 mtDNA hg map
A Map showing the mtDNA C1 haplogroup current and probable archaic range
Copyright © 2015 by Austin Whittall

Let's wait and see if they can get a Y chromosome haplogroup from the remains (but it seems both were girls).

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

More on language diversity

I came across the map shown below, and I found it very similar to the map that I included in my previous post on Language diversity: it has the same clusters in Papua New Guinea, Amazonia and northern South America, South East Asia and Equatorial Africa. But! it depicted another thing, "Tone diversity".

The website that published that map has a very interesting post: Phonemic diversity decays "out of Africa"? (April 16, 2011)

Yes, the red dots are higher in Africa, S.E. Asia and PNG, but none in north Asia or Europe, and quite a few in America. Regarding the pink dots, America has more than the putative cradle od Amerindians (Siberia) or Europe.

The blog is very good as it makes fun of the paper it is criticizing.

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Language diversity and the peopling of America

For years I have wondered why do Native American people speak so many languages? They supposedly reached the New World recently (i.e. 15,000 years ago) yet evolved over 40% of the global languages! A figure higher than that found in Africa, the "cradle of Mankind".

Africans have had the time (they are supposedly the oldest humans) and the advantage of not going through bottlenecks (I do imagine that bottleneck that wipes out genetic diversity does the same to languages... kill the speakers and the language dies), so they should have evolved most languages than any other group of humans. But they have not.

The diversity of Languages: highest in America. From [1]

Then we have the island of divesity in New Guinea has the highest language diversity in the whole world! 820 languages out of a global total of around 7,000. That is 1 language every 820 Papuans.

I found that quite reasonable, the island is a jungle, with many mountain ranges that isolate populations and keep them from mixinng. New Guinea has been considered as one of the first places reached by mankind during our epic trek out of Africa.

But America is different, we are newcomers. The Papuans had 50 ky to develop their languages, the Amerindians less than 15 ky. So how do we explain this?

To make matters worse, America's native population fell to half or even less during the period of discovery and conquest. How many languages were wiped out before even being discovered? Even so, it has the highest global language diversity.

The origin of languages

Human beings speak, and we are all aware that Chinese and English sound different, that Spanish, Italian and French may seem similar but are also different. We are humans and speak different languages despite having a common origin.

An early attempt to explain this can be found in the Bible (Genesis 11: 1- 9): "... But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.'" So God made us all speak different languages by an act of his almighty power. Neat and simple.

But we now know that humans originated longe before any ziggurats were built in Mesopotamia. Language is something that arose tens of thousands of years ago. According to Chomsky, Tattersall, Bolhuis and Berwick (2014), "The faculty of language is likely to have emerged quite recently in evolutionary terms, some 70,000–100,000 years ago" [3]. Of course (I have posted on this before) that date range is not inferred from language studies, it is taken from the date suggested by anthropologists as the date of emergence of Modern Homo sapiens. So if that date was not correct, then the date given for the origin of languages is also incorrect.

In fact, our next of kin, the Neanderthals, could and did speak: "From the consilience of evidence from anatomy, archeology, and DNA, one can conclude that some language abilities, if not necessarily full modern syntactic language, were present in Neanderthals" so perhaps the ability to speak in Neanderthals predates that in humans. [4]

Daniel Nettle [2] suggests that people living near the Equator live easier lives regarding food supply and can split into smaller groups, which favours creation of new languages: "Where the climate allows continuous food production throughout the year, small groups of people can be reliably self-sufficient and so populations fragment into many small languages. Where the variability of the climate is greater, the size of social network necessary for reliable subsistence is larger, and so languages tend to be more widespread."

And this makes sense, as you can see in the map below, language diversity is highest close to the warm equatorial areas:

The diversity of Languages: location of highest densities. A. Whittall

Interesting, but this explains the evolution of languages during the last 11,000 years after the discovery of agriculture. I cannot imagine a large society of hunter-gatherers all speaking the same language, but one of farmers and tax collectors does make more sense.

But how fast do languages evolve? Take Australian English and English English or American English. They Aussies and Americans split from the mother tongue between 250 and 400 years ago, and did keep in touch with the distant British Metropolis yet evolved distinct stress and intonation for the same words. Something similar has happened with Spanish in the different Latin American countries and Spain over the past 500 years. But change has been small perhaps due to the lack of isolation.

The image above, from L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza & Marcus W. Feldman clearly shows that American languages are different to those in Asia, the "source" of the Native Americans' ancestors. This is surely conveniently explained by the "Beringian standstill" (how convenient) which allowed the future Amerindians to differentiate from those remaining behind in Asia.

Last but not least, I usually read that all indicators of genetic diversity fall as you move away from Africa, a clear indication of an African origin for all human beings. But, this is not seen in the case of human language diversity. Why?

I do believe that we should look into language diversity as an indicator of an older origin for mankind as a whole and for an earlier date for the peopling of America.

For those interesting in reading about this subject in depth, German Dziebel has written about linguistic diversity in support of his Out of America theory. Read More, and see an analysis of it here.


[1] Mobility and Ancient Society in Asia and the Americas, pp 117-126, chapter " How America Was Colonized: Linguistic Evidence. Johanna Nichols
[2] Explaining Global Patterns of Language Diversity, Daniel Nettle, journal of anthropological archaeology 17, 354–374 (1998) article no. AA98032
[3] Bolhuis JJ, Tattersall I, Chomsky N, Berwick RC (2014) >How Could Language Have Evolved? PLoS Biol 12(8): e1001934. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001934
[4] Language Abilities in Neanderthals By:Johansson, S (Johansson, Sverker) ANNUAL REVIEW OF LINGUISTICS, VOL 1 Book Series: Annual Review of Linguistics Volume: 1 Pages: 311-332 DOI: 10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-124945 Published: 2015

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An earlier dispersal of Modern Humans or an Asian origin for mankind?

A very interesting paper by Liu, W. et al. in Nature The earliest unequivocally modern humans in southern China (2015) reports having found modern human teeth in Southern China that are at least 80,000 years old, and up to 120,000 years old. This is clearly at odds with other papers that suggest a much later "Out Of Africa" event.

The Abstract reads:

"The hominin record from southern Asia for the early Late Pleistocene epoch is scarce. Well-dated and well-preserved fossils older than ~45,000 years that can be unequivocally attributed to Homo sapiens are lacking. Here we present evidence from the newly excavated Fuyan Cave in Daoxian (southern China). This site has provided 47 human teeth dated to more than 80,000 years old, and with an inferred maximum age of 120,000 years. The morphological and metric assessment of this sample supports its unequivocal assignment to H. sapiens. The Daoxian sample is more derived than any other anatomically modern humans, resembling middle-to-late Late Pleistocene specimens and even contemporary humans. Our study shows that fully modern morphologies were present in southern China 30,000–70,000 years earlier than in the Levant and Europe. Our data fill a chronological and geographical gap that is relevant for understanding when H. sapiens first appeared in southern Asia. The Daoxian teeth also support the hypothesis that during the same period, southern China was inhabited by more derived populations than central and northern China. This evidence is important for the study of dispersal routes of modern humans. Finally, our results are relevant to exploring the reasons for the relatively late entry of H. sapiens into Europe. Some studies have investigated how the competition with H. sapiens may have caused Neanderthals’ extinction (see ref. 8 and references therein). Notably, although fully modern humans were already present in southern China at least as early as ~80,000 years ago, there is no evidence that they entered Europe before ~45,000 years ago. This could indicate that H. neanderthalensis was indeed an additional ecological barrier for modern humans, who could only enter Europe when the demise of Neanderthals had already started."

In the article (by some odd miracle I was granted Online access to the article by the content sharing initiative) it mentions that: "This evidence could support different origins and/or dispersal routes for modern humans across Asia". And indeed it does. Here we have humans in China 80 to 120 kya while they failed to reach Europe until 35 to 75 kya. The authors attribute this to the fact that: "... the possibility that H. Neanderthalensis was for a long time and additional barrier for modern human's expansion...".

An article by E. Callaway also in Nature includes this interesting comment: "Although Hublin says there is a good case that the Daoxian teeth are older than 80,000 years, he notes that several of the teeth have visible cavities, a feature uncommon in human teeth older than 50,000 years. “It could be that early modern humans had a peculiar diet in tropical Asia,” he says. “But I am pretty sure that this observation will raise some eyebrows." Martinon-Torres says her team plans to look more closely at the cavities and the diet of the Daoxian humans by examining patterns of tooth wear."

Dental cavities are much older than mankind. Cavities have been found in a distant relative, the Paranthropus robustus, that lived in Africa 2 million years ago. However the bacteria that causes tooth decay seems to have become more prevalent among humans after the invention of agriculture. Perhaps because it provided more carbohydrates in the diet, a good source of sugars for the tooth-decay bacteria. Nevertheless, a diet with plenty of fruit in subtropical China could also cause cavities.

The idea of an ancient dispersal out of Africa and admixture in Asia with even more archaic migrants is not new and has recently received support (see: Early modern human dispersal from Africa: genomic evidence for multiple waves of migration (2015), Francesca Tassi, Silvia Ghirotto, Massimo Mezzavilla, Sibelle Torres Vilaça, Lisa De Santi, Guido Barbujani. doi: However others have contended that dispersal took place only recently (See: Levantine cranium from Manot Cave (Israel) foreshadows the first European modern humans (2015), Israel Hershkovitz, et al., Nature 520, 216–219 (09 April 2015) doi:10.1038/nature14134) some 60 to 40 thousand years (kyr) before present (BP) as demonstrated by the former oldest remains of modern H. sapiens outside of Africa at Manot Cave (Western Galilee, Israel) dated to 54.7 +/- 5.5 kyr BP.

There has been another paper by Wu Liu et al., (2010). (Human remains from Zhirendong, South China, and modern human emergence in East Asia, PNAS 19201–19206, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1014386107) which clearly states that: "...The Zhiren Cave human remains, securely dated to at least 100 kya (early MIS 5), therefore represent the oldest evidence of derived modern human morphology in East Asia....The age and morphology of the Zhiren Cave human remains support a modern human emergence scenario for East Asia involving dispersal with assimilation or populational continuity with gene flow. It also places the Late Pleistocene Asian emergence of modern humans in a pre-Upper Paleolithic context and raises issues concerning the long-term Late Pleistocene coexistence of late archaic and early modern humans across Eurasia."

So, how did these modern humans reach China 80 to 120 Kya? Did they leave Africa even earlier? Did they originate outside of Africa?

Apparently the old peopling wave some 130 kya proposed by Hugo Reyes-Centeno, Silvia Ghirotto, Florent Détroit, Dominique Grimaud-Hervé, Guido Barbujani, and Katerina Harvati ( Genomic and cranial phenotype data support multiple modern human dispersals from Africa and a southern route into Asia. PNAS, April 21, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1323666111) is a fact. The South Asian route could explain an early modern H. sapiens in south China.

But there was admixing with other archaic people in Asia, the Denisovans are one of those groups, and did mix into the ancestors of Melanesians.

An early 130 kya wave of humans may have also headed north and then west, into America, reaching the New World 100,000 years earlier than what is now currently accepte...

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

Monday, October 12, 2015

Giant skeletons found in Ecuador...

This unexpected article "Legendary Giants Found in Ecuador", caught my eye a while ago, so I am sharing it with you.

The original source seems to be this one: Cuenca HighLife (Amazon giants may be for real; research team finds several large skeletons in settlements on the Ecuadorian – Peruvian border. Oct. 5, 2015, Liam Higgins).

The article says that Dement uncovered some remains dating back 600 years that belonged to a person measuring 7 ft. 4 inches, which is 2,24 m. Considerable height.

Apparently "One of the first mentions of them was in an article by the German researcher Franz Bosch, who heard about it from a community of the Shuar, southeast of Cuenca". The Shuar also known as Jivaro were the famous "head shrinkers".

I have not found what Bosch wrote about them, but instead came across what a Catholic priest, Juan de Velasco, wrote about giants in Ecuador. He did so in his book "Historia del reino de Quito en la America Meridional: La historia antigua", published in 1841 by the Imprenta del Gobierno, 1841 - Ecuador, and below I copy his comments on them:

The text says: "...[at] Manta... was at the beginning of the Christian Era... the location of a horrible race of giants. They consumed in part, and in part, forced to withdraw, the American nations that before them had inhabited that country. After the giants became extinct, the place was again peopled but slowly, by other common races... ".

But there is another even older reference to the giants, in chapter LXVI (De cómo ciertos gigantes aportaron a la provincia de Manta, los quales salieron de vnas yslas de la mar del Sur, y después fueron quemados con fuego celestial, y cuenta de otras cosas que ay en la tierra), by Pedro Gutiérrez de Santa Clara (1543-1603), a Mexican historian who wrote about the wars in Peru. See the full Spanish text here.

Apparently, de Santa Clara heard from the "old and ancient Indians" that lived in Puerto Viejo in the Manta province, that during the reign of Topa Inca Yupanqui, a "large quantity of gint Indians of ill shaped height and size " came in "very big boats or rafts made of canes and dry wood which had triangular Latin sails", they came from "where the Sun sets towards the Molucca Islands or the Strait of Magellan" (which is odd, as one is south and the other is west!).

These giants killed some Indians and evicted the others from their villages. So these natives called for help to the Inca ruler who sent the Curaca (governor) of the Chimo Valley and the governor of Piura as ambassadors to deal with the giants.

Topa Inca Yupanqui or Tú pac Inca Yupanqui ruled from 1471 to 1493. Which gives us a time frame for the arrival of these "giants".

This map shows the location of Manta and Cuenca.

An interesting point is that Giants were also reported in the book: Obras históricas de don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl by Fernando de Alva (1568 - 1648) was a Spanish - Aztec priest, who on page 17 writes: "In Nueva España [Mexico] there were giants, besides the proof of their bones that are found in many places, the ancient Toltec historians say that they were called Quinametzin". Which shows that giants were a prevalent myth in America at the time of its discovery by Europeans.

Last but not least, the type of ship mentioned by Santa Clara actually did exist and was reported by European explorers as can be seen in the following image:

Image from: "Navegación precolombina: el caso del litoral pacifico ecuatorial: evidencias e hipótesis", Alicia Alonso Sagaseta, Jean François Bouchard, Mercedes Guinea Bueno, José Alcina Franch, Revista Española de Antropología Americana, Vol 17, 1987. Which may imply that the "giants" were Native Americans from further north, from Mexico, Colombia or Central America...

Nevertheless, I am very sceptical about all stories that mention giants and am taking this with a pinch of salt until I see it published in a reputable publication.

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

Saturday, October 10, 2015

On the molecular "Clock" and divergence of humans, chimps and gorillas

I have written several posts on my doubts about the molecular "clock" used to calculate events such as the split between Homo sapiens and Neandertal or the Out Of Africa event. (see some examples here and here), today I came across a recent paper that proposes an earlier date for the split between humans, chimps and gorillas.

broken clock

This notion had been put forth by Langerbraber et al., (2012) Generation times in wild chimpanzees and gorillas suggest earlier divergence times in great ape and human evolution [Vol. 109 no. 39 15716–15721, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211740109], who calculated a split date for Humans, Chimpanzees and Gorillas between 9.35 and 20 million years ago vs. the commonly accepted figure of 6.69 Mya (see Table 2 in their paper).

The more recent work, by David Begun of the University of Toronto in Canada, suggests that the Dryopithecus apes which lived in Europe 12.5 million years ago are part of the great apes and that this moves the chimp-human split back to 10 Mya.

This will mean, if proven true by other studies, that the dates of other more recent events will have to be reviewed, and that the reliability of molecular clocks should not be taken for granted.

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

Into Africa gaining strength

A paper pubished in Science (Gallego Llorente et al., 2015. Ancient Ethiopian genome reveals extensive Eurasian admixture throughout the African continent, Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2879 two days ago, reveals what has been suspected for some time: All Africans have a Eurasian component in their genes.

The abstract says so clearly:

Characterizing genetic diversity in Africa is a crucial step for most analyses reconstructing the evolutionary history of anatomically modern humans. However, historic migrations from Eurasia into Africa have affected many contemporary populations, confounding inferences. Here, we present a 12.5x coverage ancient genome of an Ethiopian male (‘Mota’) who lived approximately 4,500 years ago. We use this genome to demonstrate that the Eurasian backflow into Africa came from a population closely related to Early Neolithic farmers, who had colonized Europe 4,000 years earlier. The extent of this backflow was much greater than previously reported, reaching all the way to Central, West and Southern Africa, affecting even populations such as Yoruba and Mbuti, previously thought to be relatively unadmixed, who harbor 6-7% Eurasian ancestry.

As it is behind a pay wall, I checked the web and found the following additional data:

  • "the scientists believe up to 25% of the DNA of modern Africans can be traced back to this event."
  • "... if you go to the corners of Africa, all the way to West Africa or South Africa, even populations that we really thought were purely African have 5-6% of their genome that dates back to these western Eurasian farmers."
  • " is also interesting to discover now that even sub-Saharan Africans have a bit (0.3-0.7%) of Neanderthal ancestry."

Who knows, perhaps this is the first step into a serious analysis of the real roots of mankind, and may lead to a revision of the conclusions of another recent paper (L. Pagani, 2015, Tracing the Route of Modern Humans out of Africa by Using 225 Human Genome Sequences from Ethiopians and Egyptians Cell):

"... the Ethiopian and Egyptian genomes showed different patterns. In particular, the Egyptian0 genomes displayed a more recent split from both the West African (21,000 years ago) and the non-African (55,000 years ago) genomes than did the Ethiopian genomes (37,000 and 65,000 years ago, respectively). This suggests a higher similarity between non-African and Egyptian components than between non-African and Ethiopian components, which is consistent with the fact that Egypt is the last stop on the way out of Africa. Such split dates also hint at a recent interaction between Egyptians and West Africans..."

They too noticed a similarity between Egyptian and Eurasian genes, but their conclusions are different.

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