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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Yamana natives "Fuegian Dog" - Tierra del Fuego (update)

The Anuario Hidrográfico de la Marina de Chile, Vol 6, page 50, published in 1880, reports different expeditions sent by the Chilean Navy to map and explore their coastline, including southern Patagonia.

One of the reports mentions the Fuegian dog, the dog of the canoe people. Which may either be Yaghans (Yamana) or Alakaluf (Kaweskar) natives.

The text is the following (bold font mine):

"A species of Canis familiaris accompanies the Fuegian indians on all of their excursions along the channels, it breeds in the wild in Tierra del Fuego. It is a small animal, but very fierce and it is very useful for the Fuegian, and for this reason they appreciate it a lot; it seems to be the outcome of a crossbreding of the Canis familiaris with the Canis magellanicus due to its similarity with the latter".

This same account was given by the Chilean governor in Punta Arenas, on the Strait of Magellan in his Tierra del Fuego and its Native Peoples memoir of the Governor of Magallanes, Manuel Señoret, 1896 (in Spanish). Who wrote:

"The Fuegian dog is abundant and an aid to the indians, its origin seems to be a mixture of dog and fox, and is an interesting scientific problem not yet solved.".

Canis magellanicus (photo by Brian Ralphs) is one of Patagonia's foxes, now it is known as "Lycopex culpaeus magellanicus", it is a subspecies of the culpeo fox.

Its body is about 80 cm long, with a tail 44 cm long. Height 42 cm and weight around 7.5 to 8.5 kg.

This dog, of the canoe people should not be mistaken for the other native (?) dogs of southern Patagonia. Apparently there were different dogs in Pre-Hispanic Patagonia:

  1. A large wolf-lik dog, used by Tehuelches, Aonikenk and Selknam people.
  2. A smaller one, the fox-like Fuegian canoe people's dog.
  3. And yet another one, small, with long curly hair of the extinct Chono canoe people of the Chilean fjords.

This is a photograph of a Yaghan dog ( image from page 332 of "Arkiv för zoologi" (1918-1920)

Text Appearing Before Image: "ETNAU LÖNNBERG, SOME SOUTH AMERICAN CANID. 13 is triangular, and in Ps. lycoides somewhat pentagonal, although perhaps less so than in most other South American Canidce. The dentition is different throughout. The Yaghan dog has comparatively larger incisors; its canines are shorter and stouter than in Ps. lycoides and rnagellanicus. In the Yaghan dog p^ is provided with a small posterior cusp and in p^ such a one is still better developed, while such cusps appear to be missing in the Ps. magellanicus-gTou-p. The difference..."

Text Appearing After Image: "Fig. 3. Skull of the Yaghan dog seen from the side. in shape of the upper carnassial {p^) is very important, as it seems. Its heel is much better developed in the Yaghan dog, and it is directed inwards in such a way that it forms a right angle against the longitudinal axis of the tooth itself. The inner end of the heel comes thus rather far behind the transversal line connecting the anterior ends of p^ of both sides. The shape of m^ is also different as in the Yaghan dog its longitudinal diameter is 78, i % of its transverse diameter, while in Ps. lycoides the same percentage is a little more than 68, and in Ps. magellanicus about 65 as far as my material admits any judgment. These relative dimensions of m^ of the Yaghan dog agree thus much better with the corresponding ones of Canis aureus viz. 74,4—80%,"

More posts will follow...

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

On horses in the Pampas: the name "Bagual" for wild horses

In 1802 Felix de Azara wrote about the origin of the wild horses of the Pampas prairies of South America:

When Buenos Aires (founded in 1536) was abandoned in 1541 and its few residents moved by ship to Asunción in Paraguay "they were unable to carry along with them all the horses they had brought from Andalusia; so that five mares and seven horses were left behind on the plain".

What sources he used are unknown, contemporary chroniclers didn't report this event, furthermore, the residents almost starved to death and resorted to cannibalism so why would they have left the 12 horses alive instead of eating them?

Azara continues:

The multiplication is quite extraordinary, a mare has a pregnancy of 11 months, and mares come into heat about a week after foaling, so this would mean one birth per year per mare over their breeding lifespan (from their first or second year till their mid twenties) she would in theory produce 12 males and 12 females before dying. These young mares would do the same and so on.

Between 1541 and 1580 when Buenos Aires was founded again, those 12 horses would have become....not more than 105,614 horses based on acutal growth rate values for feral horse populations (Growth Rates of Feral Horse Populations, Robert A. Garrott, Donald B. Siniff and L. Lee Eberhardt, The Journal of Wildlife Management Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1991), pp. 641-648. doi: 10.2307/3809513).

The formula is: Nt+1 = Nt x λ, where λ is the "finite population growth rate", Nt is the population on year "t", and Nt+1 is the population the following year. The values of λ according to Garrott et al., range from 1.15 to 1.27 with an average value of 1.21, so the horse population in the Pampas would have grown from 12 horses to 2,430 (λ = 1.15), 16,789 (λ = 1.21) or in the best case 105,614 (λ = 1.15) horses.

Azara asserts that the local Pampas or Querandí natives called these wild horses "bagualada" or "baguales".

Where did the name "Bagual" come from?

Some have said it was the deformation of the Spanish word "Caballo" (horse) transformed into "bagual" (from the Native Mapuche word "Cawellu"), I doubt it.

The word Bagual was used by the Querandí people though the meaning is unknown.

In the mid 1620s, a native Querandí tribe, with 223 members lived in a "Reducción" or native village called San José. It was headed by chief Juan Bagual (ca.1560 - 1642) who adopted the name Juan -John- when he was baptized. They lived in horse hide tents, had a few horses which they captured from the wild horses that roamed the Pampas. The village was located on the Areco River, 18 leagues (57 mi. or 90 km) from Buenos Aires.

They been "encomendado" (a type of serfdom) to Cristoval Altamirano in 1582 shortly after Buenos Aires had been founded for a second time.

Bagual was unruly, he rose several times against the Spaniards, escaped from the encomienda, was sent to the "Reducción", deserted it for the open countryside during the measles epidemics, laid siege to the then infant city of Buenos Aires, and was defeated time and time again by the Spaniards.

He and his tribe were repeatedly "reducidos" (Spanish for subdued) and confined to a certain area under the supervision of a Spanish overlord known as a "Reducción.

These people of Bagual's tribe were good horse riders. They are specifically mentioned as folows; they "ride on some skins and use sticks as stirrups and some use bridles".

So it is quite clear that Bagual was a native name, like that of his fellow chief Tubichaminí

The name has also been written by his contemporaries as "Vagual" (the latter name is from this source - pp 26) and "Mbagual" -the addition of the "M" in front of his name was probably due to the influence of the Native Guaraní language (see source), which uses the "Mb" phoneme, though it is usually preceded with a vowel.

He is also said to have been called "Miniti" of unknown meaning.

s he escaped time and time again, and sought freedom, the story goes, the wild horses of the Pampas were named after this indomitable native chief. A nice tale, but very probably not true.

The Araucano and Mapuche who later replaced the Pampa - Querandi people on the prairies, didn't use the word "Bagual" for wild horses, they used "Caitá" (Viaje al Pais de los Araucanos, E. Zevallos, 1881).

The word, according to Augusta's Araucano - Spanish dictionary is actually: kaita, an adjective that means "wild".

So these are the facts:

  1. The Querandí people who lived in what is now the northeastern part of Buenos Aires province, had a chief who lived in the late 1500s and early 1600s who was called "Bagual" (Vagual or Mbagual). Little is known about the Querandí, they became extinct shortly after the mid 1600s due to disease.
  2. The word for wild horses in Southern south America (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina) is "Bagual" it was used by Spaniards, Portuguese and natives alike
  3. The Mapuche people of southern Chile and Argentina had another word for wild horses: "kaita" or "caita", meaning "wild".

Native people such as the Mapuche used animal names as part of their clan or personal names: Nahuel (jaguar), Pangue (puma), Manke (condor), so perhaps the Querandí did the same and "Bagual" was the name of an animal of the Pampa plains, such as a horse, a native horse, indigenous to America.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Siberian or Indigenous Horses in America: Curly "chino horse" in California

According to the International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds (by Bonnie L. Hendricks page 68), the Bashkir horses are not curly: "Mane and tail hair is thick and grows quite long in winter", no refrence to curls. They were bred from steppe horses of western Asia and ancient skeletons have been recovered from tombs spanning the area from the Volga River to Krasnodar (the area between the Black and Caspian seas north of Georgia).

So the "American Bashkir Curly" horse which has curly hair is surely unrelated to these Russian horses.

The The Official Horse Breeds Standards Guide: The Complete Guide to the Standards of All North American Equine Breed Associations, by Fran Lynghaug states that when the horse was registered in the US as a breed, "it was initially believed that the Russian Bashkir horse was curly coated; thus it probably was an ancestor of the American Curly... after the fact, it was discovered that it wasn't the Bashkir Russian horse that had a curly coat. It was actually the Lokai [from] Tajikistan"

We mentioned the Lokai Horses in one of our posts, a few days ago.

So, Baskirs are not curly, and have no relation to the American curly hair horses. Lokai, from Asia, are curly, so the question is: Did Lokai horses somehow reach America?

Siberian horses in America?

A paper by Ovchinnikov IV, et al. (2018) (Genetic diversity and origin of the feral horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. PLoS ONE 13(8): e0200795. analyzed the DNA (autosomal and mtDNA) of feral horses that live in the North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP), US. By comparing hair samples from 196 of those wild horses, they found some interesting things:

  • The horses carried L and B mtDNA haplotypes.
  • "Two complete mtDNA sequences of haplogroup L were closely related to the mtDNA of American Paint horse" which implies admixture with European horses brought to the New World by Spaniards and whose pinto color was favored by the Native Americans.
  • Their haplotype B did not have close matches in the genetic records: "The closest mtDNA sequence is carried by a Thoroughbred racing horse from China... Other closely related sequences to the horse were obtained from the unspecified Italian breed horse, the Yunnan horse from China, and the Yakutia horse ) from central Siberia, Russia".

The authors conjecture about the origin of these Asian genes: "raising a possibility of historical transportation of horses from Siberia and East Asia to North America."

I would also add the possibility of a population of ancient horses spanning both Asia and North America where the American horses never became extinct and therefore share genes with their Asian relatives, and mixed with later European horses brought across the Atlantic by the colonizers and conquerors of America (Spaniards, French and British).

The most interesting finding was that the Autosomal analysis placed these TRNP horses on a branch of their own, making them "distinctly different from 48 major horse breeds.", see this tree below:

B and L halpogroups split some 90 Kya, and the average age of B haplo is 30,000 years, and B haplogroup is very frequent in North America:

"haplogroup B seems to be most frequent in North America (23.1%), with lower frequencies in South America (12.68%) and the Middle East (10.94%) and Europe (9.38%). Although the frequency of this lineage is low (1.7%) in the Asian sample of 587 horses, this lineage was found in the Bronze Age horses from China and South Siberia"

The age (30 Kya) and the fact that their frequency is highest in the America seems to suggest an American origin. However it could also imply a bottleneck where B halplo horses brought from Europe becam more prevalent in the Americas.

The problem with horses is that they were domesticated some 5,000 years ago and since then, selective pressure caused by humans has altered the original genetics of horses. Wild horses have died out, but for millennia they admixed with domesticated horses. Current "wild horses" carry a strong content of domesticated breeds' genes.

This was confirmed by C. Gaunitz et al., (Science 10.1126/science.aao3297 (2018). Ancient genomes revisit the ancestry of domestic and Przewalski's horses), who recently found that "Przewalski's horses art the feral descendants of horses herded at Botai and not truly wild horses".

But lets return to the Asian horses in America.

If the curly horses reached America from Asia, the only route seems to be Russian horses taken to their Alaskan outposts during the 1700s and 1800s.

Did they export horses to Alaska?

We have photos of wild horses on an Aleutian Island, descendants of horses left by the Russians (Smithsonian magazine).

Bonnie Hendricks (Read full text believes that Russians would have brought the "hardy" Yakut horse and not the Lokai horse to Alaska. She also says that there were only 16 horses in what is now Alaska back in 1817. So the notion that these horses somehow escaped and trotted all the way to Nevada and lived there in the wild until they were discovered and became the American Curlies, is very improbable.

An American origin?

I have already mentioned that Charles Darwin wrote about the curly haired horses, quoting Azara on the Paraguayan curly "Pichaí" and referring to a Russian breed (Lokai?) and more interestingly, to correspondence with a "Dr. Canfield informs me that a breed with curly hair was formed by selection at Los Angeles in North America."

Below is this letter written by Dr. Colbert A. Canfield to Darwin on August 5, 1871 (read it in full here):

"The wild horses of Western N. America are mostly dun-colored of various shades from yellow to brown; roans of various shades,-gray-roan, iron-gray-roan, red-roan, strawberry-roan, &c.; and gray changing, as the horse grows older, to white. Most of the yellow, dun-colored & light-brown and some of the grays have the spinal, shoulder & leg-stripes of a darker color. The same is true of the mules bred among them. There was a race of "curly horses", or horses with the hair short & curled; that had been produced intentionally by selection for that purpose, on a ranch near Los Angeles.
In 1853 there were in that band or Caballada several hundred curly-haired horses.

Very interesting, it mentions a herd of "curly horses", a "caballada" (Spanish word for a herd or team of horses) which had been "intentionally" produced by selection.

The letter discloses tht Canfield was a rancher who had horses, interacted with wild mustangs (he lived in Monterey, California). So he had an in depth knowledge about these creatures.

The point is: were these horses -the original stock of the curly breed- native to America, wild horses captured and bred selectively or, on the other hand, European, and being found in California, Spanish horses?

In 1869 (The resources of California... by J. Hittell, 1869 page 222-4) there were 150,000 horses in California, one-third wild Spanish, one-third tame Spanish and the final third, American. So it was from the 50,000 wild horses that the curlies came from.

There is a reference to a "curly horse" in California American Agriculturist, Volume 8 printed in 1849:

So it had a "general appearance of the horse, with the shaggy hide of the buffalo, and a tail without hair", which according to a Mexican from Zacatecas is a very rare horse, "occasionally seen among the numerous herds of Mexico", where they were known as "Caballos chinos, or curly-haired horses".

As an Argentine Spanish speaker, the word "chino" to me, means "Chinese" (from China), however in Mexico the word "chino" means "Curly" (Vocabulario de mexicanismos Comprobado con ejemplos y comparado con los de otros paises hispanoamericanos by Joaquin Garcia Icazbalceta, 1899). Why Chinese? after all, Chinese have straight, lank hair, not curly hair! The official Spanish Language dictionary of the Real Academia Española does not record this Mexican variant.

The origin of this word is Pre-Hispanic, it comes from a Native American Tewa word "Tsini" (in Spanish pronounced "chini"), these people lived in New Mexico. Below you can read the text from "Ethnozoology of the Tewa Indians. pp 28 Junius Henderson, John Peabody Harrington:

So here is a Native American word used to refer to curly animals applied to a curly horse. Perhaps a clue to its American origin.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Curly haired Tarpan horses in Poland

Tarpan is a Tartar name meaning "wild horse", and was applied in 1780 by Pallas to describe wild horses that roamed the Eastern European steppes.

It was later used to designate the European wild horses (Equus ferus ferus) whose remains have been found in post-glacial sediments from the Holocene.

Their range surely extended east beyond Europe into Asia and primitive wild horses (i.e. Riwoch's horse of Tibet) found there may be related to them.

The Tarpans became extinct in 1879. They had been hunted down and killed by the farmers who were fed up with the stallions stealing their domesticated mares and also, that these herds ate their crops.

Modern "Tarpans" derive from wild horses captured in Bialowieza Forest, in Eastern Poland, in the 1780s. These were taken to the game park of Count Zamojki and, after it closed down in 1812, the horses were given to local peasants in Bilgoraj. Eventually these horses bred with others but retained part of the Tarpan genome.

Professor Tadeusz Vetulani (1897-1952) worked with these horses in the 1920s and "recreated" the Tarpan lineage, now known as Konik.

Below are two texts from the book The Natural History of Horses: The Equidae Or Genus Equus, by Charles Hamilton Smith, Conrad Gesner published in 1841. It describes the "curly haired" horse with "narrow hoofs" which is exactly what Azara described in Paraguay, South America, in 1802: the curly haired Pichaí, with narrow asnine-like hoofs and curly hair: (I have underlined the text in red)

These wild horses are surely the ones mentioned by Darwin (see my previous post) when he stated that there were curly haired horses in Russia. In fact this forest is now in Poland, but during most of the XIXth century, it was part of Belostok Oblast, a province of the Russian Empire.

Finally, some images of Tarpans, the first is "The tarpan wild horse", from Sir William Jardine The naturalist's Library 1840s. The photograph is from a page on the recreator of Tarpans, and seems to depict a Tarpan from the early 1900s.

Of course modern Tarpans have mixed with domesticated horses for thousands of years, so they are not the "original" wild pre-domestication horse that roamed the steppes from Poland to Siberia. But they do retain some of the characteristics of these primigenious wild horses.

What is the link between Tarpans and American Bashkir Curlies (now -after dropping the Bashkir part of the name- known as American Curlies)? Also, what are Bashkir's anyway? Are these "Russian" horses linked to the American ones?

That will be the subject of our next post. To be continued...

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Curly Haired Horses: indigenous to America?

Yesterday's post dealt with horses and mentioned the peculiar gait of some of them, specially the Latin American ones. Today's post looks into curly haired horses.

They are interesting because they have been reported in Asia and in America, but not in Europe. If the mutation that causes it survived in America and did not reach the New World carried by Spanish or European horses, then it means that it survived here in indigenous American horses.

In Paraguay 1800 AD

Felix Manuel de Azara (1742 - 1821) was a Spanish military officer who was stationed in Southern South America from 1771 to 1801. During this period he studied the local natural history and later wrote several books. In onte of them (The Natural History of the Quadrupeds of Paraguay and the River La Plata, Volume 1 pp 42 he described a curly haired horse found in Paraguay, South America:

"I have seen many crisp-haired horses, called in Paraguay Pichaí; their hair is curly, like that of the Negros of Guinea and their hoof as narrow as that of Spanish mules, in which they differ from the common run of horses. I have seen them in various colors, but not piebald nor white".

Note: Piebald are horses whose coat has large black and white patches, and the native Guaraní word "Pichaí" means "curly".

Curly haired horses are not very common and Azara wrote that " they are very ugly, attempts have been made to exterminate them by castration, and even by killing the mares", so it isn't surprising that there were not many records of curly haired horses in historic records.

I have not been able to find refrences about them in Spanish or Latin American chronicles during this period, and the only historic reference comes from China, 1,200 years before Azara saw these horses in Paraguay.

In China 600 AD

Li Shimin was the second Emperor of the Tang dynasty, and ruled China as Emperor Taizong of Tang from 626 to 649 AD. He was very fond of his war horses and had his tomb (the Zhaoling Mausoleum) decorated with stone reliefs of them. One of these steeds was Quanmaogua, which is Chinese for "Curly hair horse".

It had a wavy saffron-yellow coat, the relief shows him with nine arrows sticking out of his body, yet he has an arrogant and wound defying attitude. Can you make out the curls in the stone sculpture?

Quanmaogua curly horse China 600 AD.

Asian and North American curly hair horses

Darwin wrote about these horses in 1860, and mentioned three distinct locations where they could be found (Paraguay, mentioning Azara's text), Russia ("A Russian breed of horses is said to have curled hair" and the US ("Dr. Canfield informs me that a breed with curly hair was formed by selection at Los Angeles in North America.")

Let's look into both geographical locations:


The curly haired horse from Russia (actually, from Tajikistan) is known as Lokai. The International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, by Bonnie L. Hendricks, mentions the Lokai horse as follows:

"This breed was developed by the Uzbek Lokai tribe in the sixteenth century... the surface hairs of the coat are characteristically curly", but it does not seem to have always been so, the breed is recent, but based on wild ponies:

"in the Lokai breed the foundation sire of the curly-coated strain was a golden sorrel named Farfor, found in 1959 in the Kolchoz Lamanov in the Parchar Region... curly fromt the ears to the hooves, with tight curls like a Karakul lamb."

These horses even exhibit Appaloosa color markings according to James Blakely (Horses and Horse Sense: The Practical Science of Horse Husbandry)


The American curly haired horse could be related to these Lokai horses: Eduard De Steiguer in Wild Horses of the West: History and Politics of America's Mustangs is categoric: "Mustangs in Nevada's Fish Creek HMA wear the unusual wavy-haired coat of the Lokai Curly, a breed brought from Russia and released on the range by an American horse fancier in 1874". There is no source quoted for this statement. But we do know (Darwin) that someone had bred the curly hair horses in Los Angeles in the 1850s-60s.

However there is an older date mentioning curly haired horses in North America, and this comes from the Lakota people. Pictographs of the North American Indians, by Garrick Mallery mentions the Lakota winter counts. Their year spanned the period between two winters and they drew images on hides as a record of each year: one image per year, recording the most memorable event. The story behind it was then passed on by oral tradition.

The 1803-04 winter count was known as the one where "Blackfeet steals many curly horses from the Assinaboines..." or, according to another native, White-Cow-Killer: "Plenty-wooly-horses winter."

The Lakota were also known as the Teton Sioux, and they lived in the upper Mississippi Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas) and later moved by war into the Great Plains. We have depictions of these horses drawn in 1880-81 (Spirit Beings and Sun Dancers Black Hawk's Vision of the Lakota World, Indian Pictures drawn by Black Hawk Chief Medicine Man of the Sioux, by Janet Catherine Berlo:

There is an interesting written document (The Aboriginal North American Horse, Statement of Claire Henderson, History Dept. Batiment de Koninck, Laval University, Quebec, Canada. Feb. 1991), which I will quote below:

"Dakota⁄Lakota people have an extensive "horse vocabulary," and they distinguish between their "own" horses, which among other names they call "sunkdudan," the small legged horse, and the European imported horse which they call the long-legged horse, orthe American Horse.
this writer [C. Henderson] used LaVerendrie's maps and diaries, as well as other documentation and interviewed numerous Elders and old ranchers. Eventually the site was located in Wyoming, and all of the people he met and traveled with were found to be Lakotas. But these interviews also lead to a wealth of information about the Indian pony.
According to Elders, the aboriginal pony had the following characteristics: It was small, about 13 hands, it had a "strait" back necessitating a different saddle from that used on European horses, wider nostrils, larger lungs so that its endurance was proverbial. One breed had a long mane, and shaggy (curly) hair, while another had a "singed mane."

So here we have it, one of the Lakota's local (not European) horse breeds had curly hair.

Does this mean that these were indigenous horses? Horses that did not become extinct in America?

Recent horse remains found in the Americas

There is extensive evidence of Prehistoric horses, but most of these remains date back to the end of the last Ice Age, and then American horses seem to have disappeared. Their Eurasian counterparts survived, American ones died out. But is this the case?

A paper published in 2016 (Difusion temprana del caballo en territorio de la Actual Republica Oriental del Uruguay, Bracco D, Bracco R, Fariña R. Temas Americanistas No. 37, p 67-87 Dec. 2016) tells of a domestic horse dated to 1465 - 1635 and 1350 - 1630 AD by C14 and OSL methods. Which is on the fringe of the arrival of Spaniards to the region (after 1516, and with horses after 1536).

More horse remains have been discovered in Carlsbad California, US, where a ritual burial "took place sometime between 1625 and 1705. So these horses died at least 50 years before San Diego Mission de Alcala, the first of the California missions, was founded in 1769.", of course these could have been stray beasts that ran away from the Spanish settlements in New Mexico or even Mexico, colonized after 1520.

American horses would be indistinguishable from European ones and their mtDNA (image is from Cheek tooth morphology and ancient mitochondrial DNA of late Pleistocene horses from the western interior of North America: Implications for the taxonomy of North American Late Pleistocene Equus, Barrón-Ortiz CI, Rodrigues AT, Theodor JM, Kooyman BP, Yang DY, Speller CF (2017) . PLoS ONE 12(8): e0183045. show how Prehispanic Argentine horses -blue arrows- mix with those from the Urals and modern domesticated horses from Europe:

What causes curly hair?

There are two mutations that cause wavy hair in horses (An epistatic effect of KRT25 on SP6 is involved in curly coat in horses, Annika Thomer, Maren Gottschalk, Anna Christmann, Fanny Naccache, Klaus Jung, Marion Hewicker-Trautwein, Ottmar Distl & Julia Metzger Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 6374 (2018) Published: 23 April 2018):

"we identified two missense variants in KRT25 and SP6 acting independently on the development of a curly coat... Hair fibers from both mutant SP6 or mutant KRT25 horses showed typical curly hair characteristics like a polymorphic shape, restricted medulla and rotated shafts with depressions. These findings, which were also identified in human, rat, mice and cattle curl types, were postulated to be essential properties of curly hair"

And these were found only in American horses, another paper The Genetics of Curly coated horses by Wilkinson M., says: "Two SNP mutations located within the 11th equine chromosome, KRT25 and SP6, have shown to be the causative mutations in two types of North American curly coated horses. The two mutations were not found as causative mutations in equine populations in Asia, South America, and some additional equine populations in North America. This suggests that there are many more causative mutations yet to be isolated."

If this is true, then the story of the Russian horses introduced into Nevada in 1874 would not be possible because they'd have the Asian mutation and not the one found in America.


An online article states that "There are curly coated horses in Argentina. In the wild horse herds of Patagonia, a percentage of the horses have curly coats. Hair samples have been obtained from several of these horses and they do not have the KRT25 mutation. Whether they have one of the undiscovered mutations mentioned in North American curly coated horses will be determined after isolation of other curly genes"

It ads that "In 2013, Andrea and Gerardo Rodriquez contacted Angie Gaines through the Curly Mustang Association Facebook page. The couple stated that they were raising curly coated horses that had been captured from the wild horse herds of Patagonia, Argentina. Their ranch was close to a remote village named Maquinchao" (in Rio Negro province, in the Patagonian steppe) "Hair follicle samples were sent from Argentina to Gus Cothran's lab in Texas. The samples proved not to have the KRT25 mutation". This ranch is the "Yeguada Rodriguez" ranch, but I have found more information on Yeguada Rodriguez which states in Spanish the following (translated by me to English): "Yeguada Rodríguez is the only breeder of Curly American Bashkir in South America... Currently there are just over 4000 bashkir in the world, mainly in the US, and the only one in South America with registered DNA is in Maquinchao." The picture below is from their website:

If they are American Curly Bashkir then they can't be "wild horse herds of Patagonia".

I have tried to find references about curly "bagual" (feral horses in Patagonia) a word derived from the native Mapuche word "Cahual" which in turn comes from the Spanish word for horse (Caballo).

Nobody seems to have written about curly Patagonia bagual horses. But I did find a refrence (Los aborigenes del pais de cuyo, Cap. I PP Cabrera). It describes several people who having been captured by the natives managed to escape and reach the Spanish settlements in Southern Cuyo region in what is now Argentina (Mendoza province), just north of Patagonia.

These events took place in 1658. One of these men remembered a "Corregidor" or Mayor appointed by the King, from Chillán in Chile, who had a "curly horse" (caballo crespo), though he couldn't remember the man's name.

Nowadays there are long-tangled haired ponies in Chiloe (see this photo of a Chilote horse, which in the comments is called a "Chascón", word used in Peru and Chile to name a "curly horse"). This Chilote horse is (source) located on the same branch of the phylogenetic tree that holds all of the gaited Latin American horses mentioned in our previous post).

The curly horse was not unknown in the Pampas region of Argentina: It is mentioned by Ricardo Hogg ( Sobre vacas ñatas y otros temas camperos in La Prensa No.26.176 Nov 9, 1941 Secc. 2, 4e):

"... the curly haired horse, variety almost extinct nowadays".

I will try to find out more on Curly Haired horses in Patagonia.

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

Friday, September 20, 2019

Extant Prehispanic Patagonian horses (part IV)

I am updating this thread, which had 3 parts, and which I wrote back in 2013. (part 1, part 2, part 3).

I stumbled across a very interesting blog post [by Maju in his blog "For what they were… we are": Horse genetics (autosomal DNA)] which mentions the following paper: Genetic Diversity in the Modern Horse Illustrated from Genome-Wide SNP Data, Jessica L. Petersen et al, Published: January 30, 2013

The Parsimony tree from this paper is pictured below (from the paper and with Maju's comments):

As you can see the branches closest to the root of the tree are the Latin American breeds from Puerto Rico, Peru and Brazil, followed by the Iberian breeds.

Maju's comment was revealing: "Ignoring by the moment the Latin American breeds, which stem directly from the root of the tree, the oldest division is between the Iberian breeds (Lusitano, Andalusian) and all others, which in turn split in two groups, both scattered in Europe and Asia (different parts of Asia however). This would seem to confirm the dual origins theory.
However there are two more elements to consider: on one side the Northern Iberian breeds (apparently even older than the Southern ones, per Warmuth 2011) are not being considered here.
The other element to ponder is the most strange position of the three Latin American breeds. As there were no horses in America at the arrival of Europeans, the origins of such anomaly must be in the Old World, meaning probably that these breeds retain genetics of even older populations. These could be the already mentioned Northern Iberian breeds but they are said to have some admixture from Berber horses (or Barb) as well and this population (argued to be very old) has not been subject to any genetic study as of now.

The point is that these Latin American breeds appear to be even closer to the asnine root than their alleged Iberian forebearers, that is, they are even "older" than the European breeds that are their ancestors. How come?

A recent paper by Ludovico Orlando et al., (Tracking Five Millennia of Horse Management with Extensive Ancient Genome Time Series Cell, vol 177:6 P1419-1435.E31, May 30, 2019 DOI: also noticed that there was a very basal Iberian breed, now extinct in the lineage of modern horses:

"We find that two extinct horse lineages existed during early domestication, one at the far western (Iberia) and the other at the far eastern range (Siberia) of Eurasia. None of these contributed significantly to modern diversity."

Below is a tree from Ludovico Orlando's paper. The pink branch at the top is the "ancient" Iberian lineage, followed by the Siberian one in pale blue:

However Orlando's paper does not have the DNA of American horses -logically because his team was studying domesticated horses, and that happened in Eurasia not America.

Could local "native" American horses, of the original American equine stock have mixed with later evolved Iberian horses brought by Portuguese and Spaniards to the Americas?

This would explain their position as more ancestral in the tree.

The interesting point is the "gait" gene. The Spanish and Latin American horses have a special gait.

Horses have gaits, they trot, gallop, canter and walk. But some breeds have another natural gait that is very peculiar (The rider appears motionless in the saddle, and there is no perceptible up and down motion of the horse's back); watch this video with the gait of a Peruvian Paso Fino horse (yes, it is one of those mentioned further up as a Latin American breed).

The Peruvian Paso Fino is one of many gaited horses. This is due to the DMRT3 "gait" gene, which (see source): "...must have diverged from a common ancestral sequence within the last 10,000 years. Thus, the mutation occurred either just before domestication or more likely some time after domestication and then spread across the world as a result of selection on locomotion traits".

Petersen's paper (mentioned further up) also noticed this: "It thus seems that the genetic variant associated with the gait phenotype arose well before the separation of breeds.", and notices that not only Iberian horses and Latin American ones are gaited, so are the Icelandic horses but these, "Instead of clustering with the other gaited breeds, the Icelandic clusters with the Shetland" suggesting a separate origin for this group, a branch that probably split from the original group carrying the mutation.

The gait trait is found all over the world -humans took their horses with them- in almost half the breeds tested and at "a frequency ranging from 1% to 100%" Worldwide frequency distribution of the 'Gait keeper' mutation in the DMRT3 gene, M. Promerova et al., Animal Genetics, vol 45:2 April 2014 P 274-282 DOI: 10.1111/age.12120). Some believe that it has been artificially selected for, by human domestication, as riders prefer this type of gait.

The ancient Asian Przewalski's horse does not carry this mutation, and although some suggest an English origin ca. 800 AD for the mutation, it was present in Spain over 2000 years ago because Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) wrote that horses from what is now Asturias in Northern Spain moved both legs on the same side alternately and did not trot.

In the Americas, apart from the Latin American horses mentioned above, the North American Indian's appaloosa breed also has a particular gate known as the "shuffle" (see appaloosa shuffle video). This horse is better known for its spotted coat, which was favored by the Natives.

A global distribution map of the DMRT3 mutation (from Promerova et al.)

As you can see no Southern South American (i.e. Caballo Criollo Argentino or Chileno) were sampled.

Considering that it originated at least 10 Kya, and is found in America and Eurasia, it is very possible that this mutation arose in the original American horse stock and spread across Eurasia. The Spanish horses brought to America by the conquistadors mixed with native horses that also carried the mutation hence Latin American horses with 100% levels of this gait gene.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Denisovans now have a face (and body)

A paper (Reconstructing Denisovan Anatomy Using DNA Methylation Maps, by David Gokhman et al., Cell, Vol 179 - 1, P 180-192. doi: published today came up with a "reconstructed Denisovan anatomical profile".

Unlike forensic reconstructions (there aren't enough Densiovan bones to do such a thing), the authors used DNA hypermethylation to work out how genes were regulated and validated against Neanderthals and chimpanzees.

They found that "Denisovans likely shared with Neanderthals traits such as an elongated face and a wide pelvis", and also Denisovan traits such as "as an increased dental arch and lateral cranial expansion".

But how did they do this? They looked for differences in the activity of certain genes known to be linked to anatomical features.

They found 32 different traits which give a good idea of what the Denisovan skeleton looked like.

They have several common features with Neanderthals such as The 21 shared traits include characteristic Neanderthal features such as "robust jaws, low cranium, increased cranial base growth, low forehead, thick enamel, wide pelvis, large femoral articulations, wide fingertips, and large ribcage"

Their face was wider than that of modern humans and Neanderthals and it protruded more than ours but less than the Neanderthals' face.

Face shape was also predicted: "we predict a widening of the Neanderthal and Denisovan chin compared to MHs [modern humans]. We also predict that the Denisovan had a more triangular face compared to the Neanderthal".

To validate this method they used it to define the morphology of chimps and Neanderthals and obtained a precision of +85% in predicting their traits (here of course they had bones to compare to their predictions, validating them).

The images below reproduce the work of Maayan Harel who also illustrated the paper:

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The "lake Monster" of Lake Rosario: just a clump of algae (didymo?)

An article published yesterday (16 Sep. 2019) in the Spanish language online journal "Diario Jornada" (¿Un monstruo en Lago Rosario?, based in the Patagonian province of Chubut, Argentina, mentions a strange sighting in Lago Rosario, a lake set on the eastern foothills of the Andes. The article's title translated to English reads: "A monster in Lake Rosario?".

Well, no it wasn't a monster, actually it looks like a clump of algae trailing green scum underwater.

Photos from the article:

The "monster" was only a blob of algae. Diario Jornada

The video also shows a clump of lake weeds -although some might think it looks like a gigantic jelly fish or medusa:

It was filmed about four years ago, and published now. The lake is located close to the towns of Esquel and Trevelin in Argentina (see this Map.

In a post back in Feb. 2010 I mentioned the Lake Bulls, a Patagonian myth, and among the lakes that reported sightings, was Lake Rosario:

"Lake Rosario also Laguna del Toro Negro (Lake of the black bull). (43°16' S, 71°20' W). Set on the edge of the steppe its shores are surrounded by ñire forests and with the mighty Andes are its backstage.
The local natives tell an ancient tale about a fierce black bull that lived by the lake that killed the son of an Indian chief who had tried to hunt it. The grieving chief in turn killed the bull, which, even dead, can often be heard howling and "seen swimming in the lake".
Another version says that the lake was formed when a White Bull "one night, furious, pounded a water spring with its hoofs". In this version the howling being is not the bull, but the spirit of the dead Indian

I also posted on Lake Rosario in Nov. 2009, saying that "The lake is also said to have a Cuero (see our post on Cuero)and a mermaid “sirena” - (see our post on Mermaids)".

Floating clumps of algae can surely explain these sightings. And I hadn't seen such masses of lake algae in any Patagonian lake until now. I should point out however that there is a species of exotic invasive algae, the Didymosphenia geminata also known as "didymo" or "rock snot" that has recently been expanding rapidly in Patagonia. It originated in the northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere and is now found in New Zealand, Chile, Argentina and the lower 48 states of the US. See distribution map below:

Could this algae in the video by rock snot? Below some photos of didymo:

Not all that floats in a lake and looks unusual is a monster. It can be some invasive algae.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The diversity of Amerindians - Purepecha from Michoacan

I have read a paper (Complex Nature of Hominin Dispersals: Ecogeographical and Climatic Evidence for Pre-Contact Craniofacial Variation, Ann H. Ross and Douglas H. Ubelaker Scientific Reportsvolume 9, Article number: 11743, 2019) that explored the differences in skull size and shape among Pre-Hispanic Amerindians from 0 CE to 1500 CE, so they are not very ancient.

One would expect cranial morphology to be influenced by inheritance (members of a group would have similar shaped skulls and faces when compared to other groups), but it is not so simple: the authors found "multifactorial forces from spatial/geographic distribution, altitude, and climate, as well as demic diffusion and drift" moulding the shape of skulls.

We'd expect many similarities among Native Americans, and differences too. The interesting find is that: "The sample from Michoacán is the most dissimilar from all of the samples", and that "The Mexican sample from Chihuahua is significantly different from all other samples" the two figures reproduced below show that this is quite true for the Michoacan natives but it does not seem so clear cut for the Chihuahuans.

From the paper.

What didn't surprise me was that the authors are aware of the "short" time allowed by current prevailing theories for these morphologic differences to develop. Not more than 15Ky. So they state: " It has been proposed that significant levels of craniofacial diversification that occurred in a relatively short time span observed in southern South America cannot be fully explained by drift alone and it was concluded that random factors such as directional selection and phenotypic plasticity should also be considered".

But, what if... these changes took place over longer periods of time? I will leave this question open.

The present inhabitants of Michoacan in Mexico are known as Purepechas or Tarascas. They are a Native American group, with a curious history.

In Geographical Origins of the Tarascans, Vincent H. Malström, Geographical Review Vol. 85, No. 1, January 1995, the American Geographical Society of New York, we find out that "only after the conquest of Michoacán was completed did the Spanish begin to perceive how different the people were from their neighbors to the east. In some ways the former were far more primitive than the Aztecs. They depended on hunting and fishing to the degree that the Aztec term for the region, Michoacán, meant "place of the fishermen." Their religion centered on the worship of fire and of the moon, and they had a rudimentary counting system based on five. Their calendar was a simplistic copy of that used by their neighbors. The temples they constructed looked like nothing else in Mesoamerica; their language was unrelated to that of any people in the region; and their manner of dress differed markedly from all other indigenous peoples in Mexico."

This paper adds that " the Spanish learned that the Tarascans called themselves Purepecha, which in their tongue meant "the latecomers" or "the recent arrivals." The term piqued the Spaniards' curiosity, and they immediately set about questioning the elders of the tribe as to where they had come from and when. As a preliterate people totally dependent on oral tradition, the Purépecha had no way to record their history in written form, except by drawing pictures. Consequently the Spanish had them summarize the legend of their migration on a piece of linen called the Lienzo de Jucutácato, which was not rediscovered until the 1870s (Craine and Reindorp 1970, x). It purports to explain how the Purépecha journeyed from a homeland far to the south to their current abode in Michoacán. Though historically the Lienzo is considered a priceless document, geographically it has to be one of the most farfetched reconstructions."

So they are "latecomers" with different culture, traditions and language; that came from somewhere else. This paper proposes a South American origin: "A primary assumption is that the Purépecha language is related to Quechua, the native tongue of the Incas (Adams 1991, 324). The obvious implication is that the Purépecha did come from South America, though not necessarily from Cuzco and certainly not by way of the Orinoco delta and Veracruz. Although a recent classification of Mesoamerican Ianguages relates Purépecha to Chibcha in Colombia rather than to Quechua (Greenberg 1987), the point remains the same - the closest antecedents of the Purépecha language are found in South America.".

But if this was the case, these Purepechas would be more similar to the Peruvian skulls and they are very different.

Other authors state that the links to Quechua, Mayan or Chibcha are tenuous (see Raina Heaton in Language Isolates).

I have not been able to find clear genetic information on the Purepecha, but when I do I will post it here.

To be continued...

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia Copyright 2009-2019 by Austin Whittall © 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Lagoa Santa sites and remains: old and odd

As promised, this post will look into the Lagoa Santa remains from Brazil, which are very old and have some enigmatic traits.

Lagoa Santa in Brazil is a region covering over 100 km2 in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais (see map further down), it comprises several sites such as Lapa da Amoreira, Lapa de Carrancas, Lapa Mortuária: Rockshelter and Cave, ("lapa" in Portuguese means "cave") Santana do Riacho, Cerca Grande 6, Cerca Grande 7, Escrivania 3, Sumidouro, Cerca Grande 2, Cerca Grande 5, Lapa do Caetano, Lapa D'Agua and the cave where "Luzia" was found: Lapa Vermelha IV.

The first excavations here were done by Peter Lund at Sumidouro Cave (1842). Over the years amateur archaeologists dug the caves searching for bones, and their antiquity was clear because they were found close to megafauna bones in the same sedimentary deposits. [2]

In 1956 W. Hurt and O. Blasi conducted the first professional digs in the area. They managed to date some of their excavations to some 9,720 and 9,028 years before present (BP) at Rock Shelter 6. This was very important as it gave them a Late Pleistocene - Early Holocene age.

Over 250 skeletons have been unearthed in Lagoa Santa since Lunds days.

A breakthrough was the escavation at Lapa Vermelha IV cave in 1975, by Annette Laming-Emperaire who discovered the remains of a female who was named "Luzia" (the name is a homage to Lucy, the Australopithecus afarensis found in Africa in 1974, 3.2 million-years-old).

Luzia, buried under 12 meters of sediments inside the rock shelter was dated [1] using charcoal samples found near her skull. They gave an age of 11,243–11,710 cal BP.

This makes Luzia one of the oldest Paleoindian skeletons found to date in the American continent.

Lagoa Santa Skulls have Australo-Melanesian features

Walter Neves (1999) [3] studied the "Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid 1", or "Luzia" and found that she "exhibited an undisputed morphological affinity firstly with Africans and secondly with South Pacific populations. In the second comparison, the earliest known American skeleton had its closest similarities with early Australians, Zhoukoudian Upper Cave 103, and Taforalt 18. The results obtained clearly confirm the idea that the Americas were first colonized by a generalized Homo sapiens population which inhabited East Asia in the Late Pleistocene, before the definition of the classic Mongoloid morphology."

So her first similarity is with Africans followed by South Pacific people. This is relevant as we will see later.

Six years later he and Hubbe (2005) [2] expanded their sample side and studied 81 skulls recovered from Lagoa Santa and compared them with those of other extant groups using multivariate analysis. They found that: (bold font is mine)

"The results obtained from all multivariate analyses confirm a close morphological affinity between SouthAmerican Paleoindians and extant Australo-Melanesians groups, supporting the hypothesis that two distinct biological populations could have colonized the New World in the Pleistocene/Holocene transition.
The three different quantitative analyses undertaken in this study demonstrate that the first South Americans exhibit a cranial morphology that is very different from late and modern Northeastern Asians and Amerindians (short and wide neurocrania; high, orthognatic faces; and relatively high and narrow orbits and noses) but very similar to present Australians/Melanesians and Africans, especially with the former (narrow and long neurocrania; prognatic, low faces; and relatively low and broad orbits and noses). Taking into account the large number of early specimens used in this study, this trend is unlikely to be a result of sample bias. The phenomenon cannot, as well, be said to represent the result of microevolutionary processes restricted to Lagoa Santa because the same cranial pattern has already been described in places as distant and as ecologically different as Southern Chile [Magellan's Strait], Colombia [Sabana de Bogotá], Mexico [Mexico Basin and Baja California], United States [Florida], and elsewhere in Brazil [Bahia and São Paulo]

So this seems to confirm his initial finding, an Australian / Melanesian - African affinity and this led to the now controversial craniofacial reconstruction of Luzia:

Luzia's skull and face reconstruction

We will cite Neto, Valle and Santos (2010) [4] whose paper "The colour of the bones: scientific narratives and cultural appropriations of 'Luzia', a prehistoric skull from Brazil", looked into the impact of the subjective bias that scientists invariably have:

"the BBC in London, looking to make a documentary on the prehistoric occupation of the Americas, funded a craniofacial reconstruction of the specimen in 1998, undertaken by Richard Neave of the University of Manchester in England. Luzia's skull was mapped using computerized tomography in Brazil and the images sent to Manchester. There a replica of the skull was produced in resin over which the face was reconstructed using red-brown modelling clay. This reconstruction generated a face suggesting a visual similarity between Luzia and the appearance of populations of African origin."

You can judge this reconstruction by yourself, please take a good look at the image below:

Luzia's craniofacial reconstruction by R. Neave. BBC

Quite controversial indeed, Luzia as depicted in that reconstruction looks like an African or even an Australian Aboriginal or a Melanesian person.

But there were more skulls at Lagoa Santa, and one team led by A. Strauss (2015), [5] studied one belonged to a person who had been decapitated. Yes, this man was is the oldest decapitation known in the New World.

Another Lagoa Santa facial reconstruction

A. Strauss and his team studied the man of Lapa do Santo, Burial 26, whose head had been chopped off 8540+/-50 14C BP. (There are plenty of photos of the site and the skull in the paper [5]).

They too compared it to other human groups and found that (bold is mine):

"The DFA also show similar results for both size and shape, and size corrected analyses (S4 Table). When either posterior probabilities or typicalities are taken into account, Burial 26 classifies clearly with Australia, which has been shown in the past to share high morphological affinities with Early South Americans. Yet, interestingly, in none of the analyses Burial 26 appear close to the other Lagoa Santa remains. When typicalities are taken into account, in both analyses, Burial 26 is statistically different (p<0.05) from Lagoa Santa’s centroid. However, these results may be influenced in this case by the reduced number of individuals in the Lagoa Santa sample, which is probably biasing the population estimates in these analyses.
The results do not indicate Burial 26 from Lapa do Santo presents a distinct morphology compared to other specimens from the Lagoa Santa region, thus supporting the notion he was a local individual and not an outsider.

Again we come across a similarity with Australians, and some remarks that it is "not close to" other Lagoa Santa skulls but isn't exactly different either (they looked into this to discard the possibility of the Lagoa Santa people beheading a prisoner from some other tribe or group).

One of the team's members, Caroline Wilkinson, a specialist in forensic reconstruction, at the John Moores University in Liverpool, England, and a "disciple of Neave" conducted a facial reconstruction of this skull [6].

She worked on a digital model fo the skull, and the outcome is quite different from Luzia.

Strauss explains: "Even though we are used to the traditional facial reconstruction of Luzia, with strong African features, this new image reflects in a more precise manner, the appearance of the first inhabitants of Brazil, displaying generalized and undifferentiated features, from which, over thousands of years, the great Amerindian diversity was established." [6]

What Strauss is saying is that the Lagoa Santa people left Asia before those that stayed behind acquired their current "Asian" features, and once in America evolved into the current Amerindian features.

Below is this new facial reconstruction, which could be that of a modern European, Indian or Middle Eastern person. Eurasian features. The flat nose and the African features are absent.

Lagoa Santa, Lapa do Santo, Burial 26 man, facial reconstruction. C. Wilkinson.

Genetics of the Lagoa Santa people

Bones are interesting, but DNA comparisons are also revealing. A study on Central and Southern American populations (C. Posth. et al., 2018) [7] compared ancient remains in Asia and the Americas, North and South. Posth's paper mentions two rare genetic variants in the Lagoa Santa genome:

1. Y chromosome haplogroup: "our observation of the currently extremely rare C2b haplogroup at Lapa do Santo disproves the suggestion that it was introduced after 6,000 BP".

C2B is extremely rare in modern and recent Amerindians. In fact, it is so rare that a late arrival to America (after all the other groups had settled the continent) had been suggested to explain this odd situation.

But the Lapa do Santo individual carried this haplogroup, and he died more than 6,000 years ago.

2. EDAR gene Variant.: "Our data show that a variant in EDAR that affects tooth shape, hair follicles and thickness, sweat, and mammary gland ductal branching and that occurs at nearly 100% frequency in present day Native Americans and East Asians was not fixed in USR1, Anzick-1, a Brazil LapaDoSanto 9600 BP individual and a Brazil Laranjal 6700 BP individual, all of whom carry the ancestral allele. Thus, the derived allele rose in frequency in parallel in both East Asians and in Native Americans."

This is interesting, the Lapa do Santo individual carried the ancestral allele for the EDAR gene, so he reached America before the mutated form (the "derived" alelle EDAR V370A) evolved.

The derived EDAR is found in 100% of contemporary Native Americans and East Asians but was not present in Lagoa Santa, Anzick Montana (12,000 years ago) or in USR1 (Upward Sun River, Alaska) 11,500 BP.

Posth concludes that the derived EDAR was not yet fixed at that time and that it evolved later, in some kind of convergent evolution on both sides of the Pacific.

Then we have the issue of the "Polynesian mtDNA" among the Botocudo people in Brazil, considered the descendants of the Lagoa Santa Paleoindians:

Botocudos with Polynesian mtDNA

Goncalves, et al., (2013) [8] studied the cranial masures of different groups of extant and past American Natives. They concluded that "the Botocudo Indians presented sufficient similarities with the Lagoa Santa Paleoamericans to be considered candidates to be their possible descendants".

There is nothing odd in this finding, the probem is that when they analyzed the mtDNA of Botocudo skulls they found that they had a haplogroup that is found on the other side of the world!:

"[they had a ] sequence as belonging to haplogroup B4a1a1a (32–34). This haplogroup is found at high frequency in Polynesia, Micronesia, parts of Near Oceania, and Easter Island".

How could these genes find their way into Brazil? Goncalves' team put forward three explanations: (1) Slave trade from Africa brought Madagascar / Polynesian / Melanesian people into Brazil. (2) Slave trade from Polynesia (enslaved Polynesians) into South America -such as what happened to the Easter Island people, forcibly taken to South America and (3) the Botocudo got the genes from their Lagoa Santa ancestors who supposedly carried this haplogroup (no papers have reported it though).

We will look into their comments on the third explanation:

"[This] scenario, prehistoric, is related to the possibility of genetic continuity between the Paleoamericans from Lagoa Santa and Botocudo Indians, which indeed originally had motivated this study. It is conceivable that the Lagoa Santa Paleoamericans carried ancient mtDNA sequences related to those of modern Polynesians, possibly because of a contact with their ancestors, and passed them on to early Amerindians, along with genes associated with Paleoamerican skull morphology.
However, for this scenario to be acceptable it has to be chronologically compatible with what is known about the evolutionary history of the mtDNA "Polynesian motif" (14022G, 16217C, 16247G, 16261T), which has been associated with the Austronesian expansion and settlement of Polynesia and Micronesia at a time scale more recent than peopling of the Americas. Notably, the Polynesian motif has additionally been found in Indonesian populations at low frequencies and also in Madagascar.
Polynesian islands were apparently populated around 3,000 y ago. Nevertheless, the time to the most recent common ancestor (TMRCA) for the Polynesian motif in Papuans and Polynesians was calculated as 9,300 +/- 2,000 y before present... These TMRCA dates for the Polynesian motif appear too recent for having been introduced into the Americas by the Paleoamerindian migration. Still, we cannot rule out this possibility—however improbable—because, as pointed out by Friedlander et al., the variances of these coalescence estimates may be greater than generally acknowledged.

In my opinion, the link across the Pacific via Lagoa Santa people seems to weak. The likely explanation lies with hypothesis (1) or (2): slave trade.

Nevertheless, Strauss, Neves et al. (2015) [9] reached the same conclusion: Botocudos descend from Lagoa Santa people. But they couldn't explain the Polynesian DNA found in the former:

"In conclusion, our analyses of the morphological affinities of the Botocudo Indians within a worldwide context support the hypothesis proposed by Lacerda and Peixoto (1876) that these groups from East-Central Brazil retained the same morphological pattern from the early inhabitants from Lagoa Santa
From a morphological point of view, our results fit better a scenario where the Botocudo are biological descendants from early Paleoamerican groups (e.g., Lagoa Santa), who share they last common ancestor with Polynesian groups probably in Southeast Asia, before the morphological differentiation that resulted in the present-day morphological pattern seen in Asia and most of the Americas occurred.
However, this scenario fails to shed light on the origin of the Polynesian DNA lineages found in the two Botocudo specimens collected from Rio Doce.

Last but not least, is the skull with prominent brow ridges unearthed by Walters in 1958 at Lagoa Santa, reported by Owen B. Beattie and Alan L. Bryan in 1984 [10] (they were trying to recover them, assuming that they had been sold to some private collector).

I had written about this skull in my post Diprothomo and Lagoa Santa - Homo erectus?, back in 2011, because those heavy supraorbital ridges looked very primitive to me:

Image : Skullcap from Lagoa Santa. Beattie and Bryan (1984) [10]

Harold Victor Walter published his findings in a book "Arqueologia Da Regiao de Lagoa Santa, Minas Gerais. Indios Pre-colombianos Dos Abrigos-rochedos. (Archaeology of the Lagoa Santa Region.)" in Portuguese and English in 1958. Did he mention this skull?


And that is all for now. Lagoa Santa sites are very interesting because they have produced hundreds of skeletal remains of Paleo Indians older than 6,000 years BP. Some have very rare genetic haplogroups. They seem to be linked to an early East Asian - Australian - Melanesian people which lived before the typical East Asian and Amerindian features evolved.

Their purported descendants, the Botocudo people of Brazil carry genetic markers found in Polynesia (an area peopled long after America), so this raises interesting questions too.

Last but not least, the emblematic skull of Luzia, depicted with African features in a facial reconstruction is quite different from the reconstruction of another Lagoa Santa skull, which has a more neutral Eurasian appearance.


[1] Michel Fontugne, (2013), New Radiocarbon Ages of Luzia Woman, Lapa Vermelha IV Site, Lagoa Santa, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Volume 55, Issue 3 (Proceedings of the 21st International Radiocarbon Conference (Part 2 of 2)) 2013 , pp. 1187-1190. DOI:
[2] Neves WA, Hubbe M. Cranial morphology of early Americans from Lagoa Santa, Brazil: implications for the settlement of the New World. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005;102(51):18309–18314. doi:10.1073/pnas.0507185102
[3] Neves, WA. et al. Lapa vermelha IV Hominid 1: morphological affinities of the earliest known American. Genet. Mol. Biol. [online]. 1999, vol.22, n.4 pp.461-469. Available from: . ISSN 1415-4757.
[4] Gaspar Neto, Verlan Valle and Santos, Ricardo Ventura. The colour of the bones: scientific narratives and cultural appropriations of 'Luzia', a prehistoric skull from Brazil. Mana [online]. 2010, vol.5Selected edition [cited 2019-09-04], pp. 0-0 . Available from: . ISSN 0104-9313.
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