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, 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 © 

1 comment:

  1. Great bit of detective work, Austin! Can't wait to read the rest. It makes me wonder how groups, perhaps now lost due to the post-Columbian population crash we have no information on.


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