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

Friday, November 15, 2019

Captain Cook's description of the Haush and a large Fuegian beast

Continuing with my previous post on the Haush. I looked up Captain James Cook's journal for his comments on the haush, and sure enough, found them (CAPTAIN COOK'S JOURNAL DURING HIS FIRST VOYAGE ROUND THE WORLD MADE IN H.M. BARK "ENDEAVOUR" 1768-71, where the Captain wrote:

"[In Success Bay.]
Monday, 16th. A Fresh breeze of Wind at South and South-West, with frequent showers of Rain and Snow. At 2 p.m. Anchored in the Bay of Success in 9 fathoms, the bottom Owse and sand.* (* The Endeavour was three days and a half in getting through the Strait of Le Maire, as far as Success Bay. It is a difficult passage for a sailing vessel even in the present day, as the tides are strong and winds generally contrary, but experience has enabled good directions to be given as to the best way to pass the Strait. Cook himself gives capital advice farther on.) The south point of the Bay bore South-East and the north point East-North-East. This Bay I shall describe when I come to speake of the rest of the Coast. Hoisted out the Boats and moor'd with the Stream Anchor. While this was doing I went ashore accompanyed by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander to look for a Watering place and to speak with the Natives, who were assembled on the Beach at the Head of the Bay to the Number of 30 or 40. They were so far from being afraid or surprised at our coming amongst them that three of them came on board without the least hesitation. They are something above the Middle size, of a Dark Copper Colour with long black hair; they paint their Bodies in Streakes, mostly Red and Black. Their Cloathing consists wholy in a Guanacoe Skin or that of a Seal, in the same form as it came from the Animal's back.
The Women Wear a Piece of Skin over their Privy Parts, but the Men observe no such decency. Their Hutts are made like a behive, and open on one side where they have their fires; they are made of small Sticks and covered with branches of trees, long Grass, etc., in such a manner that they are neither Proof against Wind, Hail, rain or Snow, a sufficient proof that these People must be a very hardy race. They live chiefly on shell fish, such as Muscels, which they gather from off the Rocks along the Sea Shore, and this seems to be the Work of the Women. Their Arms are Bows and Arrows neatly made; their Arrows are bearded, some with glass and others with fine flint; several Pieces of the former we saw amongst them with other European things, such as rings, Buttons, Cloth, Canvas, etc., which I think proves that they must sometimes travel to the Northward, as we know of no Ship that hath been in these parts for many Years; besides, they were not at all surprised at our Fire Arms; on the Contrary, they seemed to know the use of them, by making signs to us to fire at Seals or Birds that might come in the way. They have no Boats that we saw or anything to go upon the Water with; their number doth not Exceed 50 or 60 young and old, and there are fewer Women than Men. They are Extreamly fond of any Red thing, and seemed to set more Value on Beads than anything we could give them; in this Consists their whole Pride, few, either Men or Women, are without a Necklace or String of Beads made of Small Shells or bones about their Necks. They would not taste any strong Liquor, neither did they seem fond of our Provisions. We could not discover that they had any Head or Chief or Form of Government, neither have they any useful or necessary Utensil except it be a Bag or Basket to gather their Muscels into. In a word they are perhaps as Miserable a sett of People as are this day upon Earth.* (* Cook's description of the natives of Tierra del Fuego is good to the present day, except that those who live farther westward are still more wretched. Those of the main island, in which the Bay of Good Success lies, are able to kill guanaco, and enjoy a better climate. They, as Cook observed, never go on the water, whereas those westward practically live in canoes.) Having found a convenient place on the south side of the Bay to Wood and Water at, we set about that Work in the Morning, and Mr. Banks with a Party went into the Country to gather Plants, etc.

As you can see, Cook met the Haush in Good Success Bay, just like Darwin would do over 60 years later. He described them in a very similar manner to Darwin. Yet there is no reference to their language... where did Darwin get the idea that Captain Cook has compared these people's language to a man clearing his throat?

But there is a reference in Sir Joseph Bank's journal, he was the naturalist on board the Endeavour; he wrote two interesting things:

Haush language, with the remark used by Darwin: "Their language is guttural especialy in some particular words which they seem to express much as an Englishman when he hawks to clear his throat, but they have many words that sound so ft enough.".

Wild Beast in Tierra del Fuego: "Quadrupeds I saw none in the Island, exept the Seals and Sea lions which we often saw swimming about in the bay might be calld such, but Dr Solander and myself when we were on the top of the highest hill we were upon observ'd the footsteps of a large beast imprinted on the surface of a bog, but could not with any probability guess of what kind it might be."

Was this beast a guanaco? Guanaco live in Tierra del fuego and are the largest mammal there. I doubt a fox would have been considered a "large beast".

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

The Haush of Tierra del Fuego used clicks in their language

Charles Darwin's "The Voyage of the Beagle" is an extraordinary account, and I enjoy picking it up and reading pages at random. Last night, I read about the Beagle's arrival in Tierra del Fuego and Darwin's first contact with Fuegian natives, which took place at Good Success Bay (Bahia de Buen Suceso in Spanish).

The bay is located on the eastern tip of the Island of Tierra del Fuego, it is the western side of the Strait of Lemaire, which separates the Isla de los Estados island from the main Tierra del Fuego island. Its name is due to the protection it offered sailors from the roaring winds and terrible waves of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Darwin and a party of sailors landed here and met natives, he was shocked:

"I could not have believed how wide was the difference between savage and civilized man: it is greater than between a wild and domesticated animal, inasmuch as in man there is a greater power of improvement. The chief spokesman was old, and appeared to be the head of the family; the three others were powerful young men, about six feet high. The women and children had been sent away. These Fuegians are a very different race from the stunted, miserable wretches farther westward; and they seem closely allied to the famous Patagonians of the Strait of Magellan. Their only garment consists of a mantle made of guanaco skin, with the wool outside; this they wear just thrown over their shoulders, leaving their persons as often exposed as covered. Their skin is of a dirty coppery red colour."

The Haush were people that lived on the Mitre Peninsula, on the last ranges of the Andes, in the forest, sandwiched between the Selknam people who lived to the north, in the grasslands, and the sea to the south, the domain of the Yamana (or Yaghan) canoe people.

What drew my attention was how Darwin described their language: (see bold highlighted text)

"Their very attitudes were abject, and the expression of their countenances distrustful, surprised, and startled. After we had presented them with some scarlet cloth, which they immediately tied round their necks, they became good friends. This was shown by the old man patting our breasts, and making a chuckling kind of noise, as people do when feeding chickens. I walked with the old man, and this demonstration of friendship was repeated several times; it was concluded by three hard slaps, which were given me on the breast and back at the same time. He then bared his bosom for me to return the compliment, which being done, he seemed highly pleased. The language of these people, according to our notions, scarcely deserves to be called articulate. Captain Cook has compared it to a man clearing his throat, but certainly no European ever cleared his throat with so many hoarse, guttural, and clicking sounds."

The fact that Darwin described them as having "Clicking sounds" is remarkable (see my recent post on click languages), it is the first reference that I have found of clicks in an Amerindian language.

I have mentioned the Haush (or Manek'enk) and their myths in my book (Monsters of Patagonia), they became extinct so not much is known about them. They were related to the Selknam people, hunted the local camelid (guanaco) and had a distinct language that though close to that of the Selknam, was unintelligible to them.

Lucas Bridges, son of Thomas, the English missionary who was the first European to settle in Tierra del Fuego (Ushuaia, the world's southernmos city was the site of his mission among the Yamana people), wrote about the Haush. He reported that they feared both Selknam and Yamana, and believed that they had been forced into the forested cul de sac where they lived due to this constant conflict with their neighbors. He also noticed the difference between the language of Selknam and Haush.

Bridges also believed that the Haush (or Aush) arrived in Tierra del Fuego before the Selknam did, and he based this belief on the fact that many place names in Selknam territory had Haush names.

My Map of Patagonian natives. The Haush are on the lower right tip of Tierra del Fuego:

A close up view of Mitre Peninsula, the land of the Haush, and Bahia Buen Suceso is marked with a red circle:

A photo of one of the last Haush ca. 1920s (notice the guanaco fur, worn with the "wool outwards". The European man is a Catholic priest. Their missions only spread measles, tuberculosis and flu, wiping out the few remaining Haush (and also Selknam and Yamana) people.:

Little is known about them, their customs and language. I have not been able to find any scholarly papers about these people (most refer to the Selknam or Yamana). We have photos, and some articles written later, such as Anne Chapman's books, but if you dig deeper, they repeat the same themes and don't add new information beyond the anecdotes compiled by Bridges, the Catholic priests and the first "scientific" expeditions to Tierra del Fuego in the late 1800s.

The click language of the Haush is another mystery worth being studied.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Life on Mars, new findings and the Viking experiments of 1976

I know that this post has nothing whatsover to do with the subject of this blog, but I have to admit that since my twelve-year-old eyes saw the amazing photos of Mars taken by Mariner 9 back in 1971, the possibility of life on Mars has always excited my imagination.

Then came the Viking missions and their experiments designed to find life on Mars (1976). The results were contradictory and surprising:

In the LR (labeled release) experiment, Mars soil was scooped up by the Viking probes, placed in a vat, laced with nutrients -to feed any possible microbes living in the soil. Nutrients that were tagged with a radioactive isotope of carbon (carbon-14 or C-14). The theory was that as the Martian microorganisms fed on the C-14 tagged nutrients, they'd release byproducts such as methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), the radioactive carbon would be bound into these molecules due to the processing by the microbes and sensors would detect the radioactive gases.

Both Viking landers carried the mini lab onboad and both probes 4,000 miles apart (6.400 km) detected signs of biological activity. Of course some non-biological processes could yield the same results such as soil activated by the solar ultraviolet radiation, so samples were taken from spots shaded by rocks from the UV radiation: they too displayed "biological activity".

Another test was run in which the soil was cooked at 160°C (320°F) to kill any microbes. Then the test was run again: no biological gases were detected probably because the heating killed the Martian microbes. Heating up to 50°C (122°F) also stopped bio-activity.

This meant life right? Well no, there was a gas chromatograph — mass spectrometer (GCMS) experiment that could detect organic compounds in the soil. It detected none. In fact it found that Mars had even less of these compounds than the Moon soil recovered by the Apollo missions. This was surprising (organic compounds are very common all across the Solar System) and apparently the GCMS was working correctly. The conclusion: no organic compounds meant no life. Case closed.

A few weeks ago I cama across a blog post in Scientific American (I'm Convinced We Found Evidence of Life on Mars in the 1970s - The Labeled Release experiment on the Viking mission reported positive results, although most have dismissed them as inorganic chemical reactions) it was published on Oct. 10, 2019 and written by Gilbert V. Levin, an engineer who was a principal experimenter of the Viking LR experiment. The article is worth reading. In it, Levin mentions the following: (quote)

  • Methane has been measured in the Martian atmosphere; microbial methanogens could be the source;
  • The rapid disappearance of methane from the Martian atmosphere requires a sink, possibly supplied by methanotrophs that could co-exist with methanogens on the Martian surface;
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling will-O’-the-wisps on Earth that are formed by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been video-recorded on the Martian surface;


Yesterday I read a news release that led me to a paper on Methane and Oxygen and their odd behavior on Mars: Seasonal variations in atmospheric composition as measured in Gale Crater, Mars, published 12 Nov. 2019, by Melissa G. Trainer Michael H. Wong et al.,

The paper looks into the data recorded by the Curiosity Mars rover on how the concentration of certain gases changes over the course of Martian seasons. They found that:

"The mixing ratio of O2 shows significant seasonal and interannual variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work... Oxygen has been observed to show significant seasonal and year‐to‐year variability, suggesting an unknown atmospheric or surface process at work. "

"...Surprisingly, however, we have found that O2 does not demonstrate the predictable seasonal behavior of the other major components... these are the first precise in situ measurements of O2, revealing a surprising seasonal and interannual variation that cannot be accounted for in current chemical models. Though Mars has the potential to generate significant O2 release due to abundances of oxidants in/at its surface, the mechanisms by which O2 could be quickly generated and then quickly destroyed are completely unknown."

Biological and natural processes can explain oxygen in the Martian atmosphere.

Both charts from NASA

But not only oxygen displays an odd seasonal variability, so does methane!:

"... it can be seen that both trace gases [oxygen and methane] exhibit seasonal variations with much greater amplitudes than Ar and N2 ... The observed behavior of either molecule is not currently understood,and a strong relationship between the two might inform the root cause of observed changes in both O2 and CH4, such as the potential seepage or release mechanisms hypothesized for CH4 [Moores et al., 2019]..."

Since both gases can be produced by life forms -on Earth- the same could be happening on Mars. But the rising and lowering of these gases could also be due to natural non-biological phenomena -yet unknown.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Toca do Serrote das Moendas - Brazil. A site that is over 21 Ky old.

This brief post will mention a paper written in 2014, that mentions a site in Brazil which was occupied by humans more than 21 +/-3 Kya.

AngelaKinoshita et al., (2014), Dating human occupation at Toca do Serrote das Moendas, São Raimundo Nonato, Piauí-Brasil by electron spin resonance and optically stimulated luminescence, Journal of Human Evolution Volume 77, December 2014, Pages 187-195,, reports the following:

Excavation of Toca do Serrote das Moendas, in Piauí state, Brazil revealed a great quantity of fossil wild fauna associated with human remains. In particular, fossils of a cervid (Blastocerus dichotomus) were found, an animal frequently pictured in ancient rock wall paintings. In a well-defined stratum, two loose teeth of this species were found in close proximity to human bones. The teeth were independently dated by electron spin resonance (ESR) in two laboratories. The ages obtained for the teeth were 29 ± 3 ka (thousands of years) and 24 ± 1 ka. The concretion layer capping this stratum was dated by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) of the quartz grains to 21 ± 3 ka. As these values were derived independently in three different laboratories, using different methods and equipment, these results are compelling evidence of early habitation in this area.

The authors argue that the deer remains and the human remains are the same age, which is the weak point in their case. Sedimentation could have altered the laying down of the fossils, and younger human bones could have ended up next to ancient deer teeth. Yet there is the chance that they were coeval events.

This is the location of the site:

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

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Hualongdong skull from China supports pre-OOA Homo sapiens evolution in Asia

A paper published last April (Archaic human remains from Hualongdong, China, and Middle Pleistocene human continuity and variation by Xiu-Jie Wu et al., PNAS May 14, 2019 116 (20) 9820-9824; first published April 29, 2019 challenges the commonly accepted viewpoint on human evolution: a skull that is 300,000 years old shows a mixture of ancient Asian and anatomically modern human (AMH) features.

The skull - Hualongdong 6 or HLD 6 for short- is one of a growing group of Asian, and specially Chinese crania displaying a mosaic of archaic and AMH features.

A virtual reconstruction HLD6 with the actual parts (yellow) and the mirror-images of the missing pieces (gray). The image also shows some stone tools found at the site

Why is HLD 6 important? Because it questions the Out of Africa model (AMH originated in Africa and spread across the world 60 Kya). It is clear evidence that shows the legacy of Homo erectus in Asia: they were successful, and evolved into Asian populations of Homo sapiens long beore African Homo sapiens left their homeland.

The abstract of this paywalled paper says:

"Newly found ∼300,000-y-old human remains from Hualongdong (HLD), China, including a largely complete skull (HLD 6), share East Asian Middle Pleistocene (MPl) human traits of a low vault with a frontal keel (but no parietal sagittal keel or angular torus), a low and wide nasal aperture, a pronounced supraorbital torus (especially medially), a nonlevel nasal floor, and small or absent third molars. It lacks a malar incisure but has a large superior medial pterygoid tubercle. HLD 6 also exhibits a relatively flat superior face, a more vertical mandibular symphysis, a pronounced mental trigone, and simple occlusal morphology, foreshadowing modern human morphology. The HLD human fossils thus variably resemble other later MPl East Asian remains, but add to the overall variation in the sample. Their configurations, with those of other Middle and early Late Pleistocene East Asian remains, support archaic human regional continuity and provide a background to the subsequent archaic-to-modern human transition in the region."

So despite my reservations on Chinese science and the state promoted Sino-centric view (akin to the deplorable Aryanism promoted by India's Hindu nationalist BJP party), I must acknowledge science and proof. HLD 6 is proof of human multiregional evolution.

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

Relatively quick origin for Homo floresiensis pigmies: 150 to 675 generations to shrink in size

The Flores Island Homini shrunk in height over a relatively short period of time according to an article published on October 9, 2019:

The paper written by José Alexandre F. Diniz-Filho, Lucas Jardim, Thiago F. Rangel, Phillip B. Holden, Neil R. Edwards, Joaquín Hortal, Ana M. C. Santos and Pasquale Raia (Quantitative genetics of body size evolution on islands: an individual-based simulation approach - 15Biol. Lett., simulated models to explain how hominins could have reduced their size over time:

"We applied the model to evaluate body size differentiation in the pigmy extinct hominin Homo floresiensis, showing that dwarfing may have occurred in only about 360 generations (95% CI ranging from 150 to 675 generations). This result agrees with reports suggesting rapid dwarfing of large mammals on islands, as well as with the recent discovery that small-sized hominins lived in Flores as early as 700 kyr ago. Our simulations illustrate the power of analysing ecological and evolutionary patterns from an explicit quantitative genetics perspective."

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

The tools found at Hueyatlaco - Valsequillo Mexico

Some additional information on the Valsequillo site in Mexico. Below are some photgraphs of the tools found there:
The tool found at Vasequillos. See full article and source

The only other images of the tools (source) discovered at the site:

Clearly they are three different tools and they seem to be mesolithic to my (layman) eyes. Of course, no size or scale is given so we can only guess what they were really like.

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

Hueyatlaco the controversial Mexican site at lake Valsequillos

The Hueyatlaco site in Mexico (map with location) has been controversial since it was first studied because the excavations conducted there back in the early 1960s (1962, 1964 and 1966) by C. Irwin-Williams and on occasions also Juan Armenta Camacho, found stone artifacts -later lost by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) located in Mexico City- that were set in extremely old soil layers.

These tools were dated to an age of several hundreds of thousands of years. Far too old to have been made by Homo sapiens.

A good detailed account of this site can be found here: Malde, Harold E., Steen-McIntyre, Virginia, Naeser, Charles W. and VanLandingham, Sam L. 2011. The stratigraphic debate at Hueyatlaco, Valsequillo, Mexico. Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 14, Issue 3; 44A:26p;

These early dates were unnaceptable because they contradicted orthodox findings. So they were rejected on the basis that Uranium had leached into the artifacts and altered their age as measured by the uranium series age technique.

An alternate measuring method was used (fission track dating), and the outcome was the same (Geologic Evidence for Age of Deposits at Hueyatlaco Archeological Site, Valsequillo, Mexico, Virginia Steen-McIntyre, Roald Fryxell and Harold E. Malde, DOI: Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017, Quaternary Research, Volume 16, Issue 1July 1981 , pp. 1-17). Below is the Abstract of this paper:

Direct tracing of beds during excavation in May 1973, confirmed that the artifact-bearing layers at Hueyatlaco underlie 10 m of fine-grained, water-laid deposits that constitute part of the wide-spread Valsequillo gravels. Dissection of these deposits by the adjacent Río Atoyac has reached a depth of 50 m. The stratigraphic section at Hueyatlaco includes four distinctive tephra units. The oldest one occupies a small channel in a series of cut-and-fill stream deposits that have yielded bifacial tools. It lies more than a meter above flat-lying, fine-grained beds from which edge-retouched tools have been recovered. The three other tephra units occur higher in the section.
Fission-track ages on zircon phenocrysts from two of the younger tephra layers (370,000 ± 200,000 and 600,000 ± 340,000 yr, 2σ) agree with concordant uranium-series dates for a camel pelvis that was found associated with bifacial tools at Hueyatlaco (245,000 ± 40,000 yr by 230Th and > 180,000 yr by 231Pa). These dates are compatible with the depth of burial and subsequent dissection of the Hueyatlaco deposits, as well as with the degree of hydration of volcanic glass shards and with the extent of etching of heavy-mineral phenocrysts from within the tephra layers.
These findings suggest to us that further search for archaeological remains in deposits as old as those at Hueyatlaco would be warranted.

Silvia Gonzalez from the Liverpool John Moores University disputes these early dates, but has agreed to dates which are also older than those currently accepted by orthodox science: 40,000 years.

In The Late Pleistocene Human Occupation of Mexico Silvia Gonzalez and David Huddart (FUMDHAMentos VII pp 237-259) discuss the older ages proposed by Steen-McIntyre et al, but also mentions several sites in Mexico with ages of up to 40 kya. One of them is the Toluquilla footprint layer, which has both animal and human foot and paw prints in volcanic ash deposited at Lake Valsequilo. This ash erupted from the Tolquilla volcano roughly 40 Kya:

Gonzalez and Huddart write:

"The stratigraphic context and geochronological control for the Xalnene Ash is shown in Figs.11 and 12 and discussed in detail in Gonzalez et al. (2006a). The Toluquilla Footprint Layer has been dated to 38 ±8.57 Ka (sample number: TW04-10) using Optically Stimulated Luminescence dating of baked, silty xenoliths within the ash which were interpreted as being baked at the time of the eruption, which reset the time signal. The ash layer is older than the stratigraphically younger, fluvial sediments from the Valsequillo Gravels exposed in the Barranca Caulapan (Fig.12) where there are radiocarbon dates between 9.15 ±0.5 Ka (W1896) from the top of the sequence to 38.9 ±0.8 Ka (Oxa-14355) on a mollusc shell at its base, as well as an Electron Spin Resonance date on a mammoth molar and U-Series dates on bones. All of the dates obtained with different methods are in agreement."

See my post on these footprints

Footprints at Valsequillo from Gonzalez and Huddart.

The only work to be published at a date more or less close to the time of the discoveries was written by Juan Armenta Camacho Vestigios de labor humana en huesos de animales extintos de Valsequillo, with his paper presented at the XXXV Congreso Internacional de Americanistas, Puebla, 1978. On its page 111, it mentions the controversial -and other not so controversial dates- for the animal bones with evidence of human activities on them (cuts, crushing, torsion breakage, perforations and even inscriptions).

Dates from Armenta's book (notice the 280,000 year old date)

The question seems to remain open: we have the very ancient dates, but we also have a firm refusal to accept them. Mainstream science simply ignores these findings which otherwise would undermine the neat construction built on the assumption that America was first peopled not more than 15-20,000 years ago.

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

Friday, November 8, 2019

Click Language may not be the "first" language of mankind

In previous posts I have written about languages, their diversity, out-of-Africa and the peopling of America.

I recently read an interesting article published several years ago in Scientific American (Social Clicks: Sounds Associated with African Languages Are Common in English) by Anne Pycha -February 1, 2012.

Pycha writes that:

"[English language] Speakers, it turns out, use clicks for a previously overlooked purpose: as a form of verbal punctuation in between thoughts or phrases. Melissa Wright of Birmingham City University in England recently analyzed click sounds in six large sets of recorded English conversations. She found that speakers used clicks frequently to signal that they were ending one stretch of conversation and shifting to a new one. For example, a speaker might say, “Yeah, that was a great game,” produce a click, then say, “The reason I’m calling is to invite you to dinner tomorrow.”
This pattern, which occurred for both British and American speakers, suggests that clicks have a meaning similar to saying “anyway” or “so.” That is, clicks provide us with a phonetic resource to organize conversations and communicate our intentions to listeners...

Why is this important? Because Click languages, which are only spoken in Africa, are often portrayed as ancient languages, the "original" mother tongue of human beings.

This video shows what a Xhosa sounds like speaking in his click language.

See these scholarly articles as an example of the above notion of a primeval African click language:

However if clicks were overlooked in English, were they also ignored among other languages?

There was one other language outside of Africa, spoken on Mornington Island, Australia. It was called "Damin", nobody speaks it now, it became a lost language. It was spoken in until the 1800s by the initiated men of the Lardil aboriginal tribe (read more here).

The idea that click languages are the original tongue of mankind is based on a weak assumption: since these languages are used by the South African hunter-gatherers, and these people are also (see my recent post on this subject) said to be the oldest group of humans based on their mtDNA, then it must be the primeval language. But are we expected to believe that these people kept their original language while elsewhere it evolved at a rapid pace, diversifying? Why would the click-languages remain static or evolve slower?

I side with Tom Güldemann who wrote: "The idea that modern click phonemes have their ultimate origin in the linguistic feature of a very ancient human language remains just one among several speculative hypotheses."

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

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Freshwater stingray sighted in Lake Nahuel Huapi - or was it a catfish?

I have posted on the "cuero" myth of the Mapuche natives, which is a creature that resembles a stingray (see my posts here). I mentioned some reports of freshwater stingrays in the region (Northern Patagonia) as an explanation for the myth.

However there are no scientific records of freshwater stingrays in Patagonia.

Today I came across a newspaper report published in January 2014 in Bariloche 2000, which mentions a sighting of a ray in lake Nahuel Huapi

"The neighbor René Zuker said he saw a ray in the waters of Lake Nahuel Huapi, in Villa La Angostura. The fisherman shared a photograph with B2000... [see photo below]... 'I think that it it a freshwater stingray and not a manta ray' René stated after verifying the information on the Internet... he reported that he was on the pier at Bahia Mansa and spotted the animal at a depth of 6 meters approximately. 'At first sight I didn't notice it, then I saw that it moved and I took the photograph quickly' he said, and he explained that as he is a photography fan, he carries his camera with him wherever he goes.
[he] told us that it is not the first time that he sees an animal of this kind: 40 years ago, on the shore of the lake, meters from the Limay River
[the outlet of Lake Nahuel Huapi] he saw a ray which he described as follows: 'it was the size of my hand, almost just born, and it was being eaten by some bugs, and it drew my attention, it was half rotten".

Ray in Lake Nahuel Huapi. By Rene Zuker

There are no rays, but the lake, and Northern Patagonia is the home to one of the oldest catfish familiess, the Diplomystidae. Not many people know that these fish live in the lakes and rivers of Patagonia. Most are aware of trout, salmon and perch, but not these catfish, pictured below:

They live in Chile and Argentina in the same region where the "Cuero" myth appeared (is that a coincidence?) - see maps below

The map above shows Patagonia in green, the oval is the area where the Cuero myth was popular among the Mapuche natives. In Yellow is the area where you can find freshwater stingrays.

Below is the current distribution of velvet catfish:

Of course a ray and a catfish are different, yet, a fish 6 meters (18 feet) underwater will appear larger than it is due to the refraction of light at the water-air interface (roughly 1.33 times larger than it really is):

The fossil record tells us that catfish have been living in Patagonia since the Eocene, tens of millions of years ago. The Diplomystidae or "velvet catfish" are quite special: they are the basal clade of all catfish, they are the only catfish to have a maxilla (bony jaw) with teeth on it. Furthermore, they are only found in Chile and Argentina.

The only problem with trying to identify the Nahuel Huapi catfish (Diplomystes viedmensis - also known as Olivaichthys viedmensis) with a gigantic freswater stingray is the size. The catfish are barely 30 cm long (one foot). However catfish (sliuridae) can grow into giants: the Siluris glanis can measure 5 meters long (15 feet), and one catfish caught in the Mekong river (source and photo) weighed 646 lbs and measured 8.9 ft long (293 kg - 2.7 m).

Maybe there are some very big catfish in Lake Nahuel Huapi... or who knows, perhaps some yet to be discovered freshwater stingray.

For now all we have is a blurred photo of a dark fish in the lake's clear blue waters.

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

Hookworms and the peopling of America - revisited

A paper on hookworms mtDNA published earlier this year (Monteiro K J L, Mitochondrial DNA reveals species composition and phylogenetic relationships of hookworms in northeastern Brazil, Infect Genet Evol. 2019 Mar;68:105-112. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2018.11.018. Epub 2018 Nov 30) provides more information on the subject of hookworms and the peopling of America (which has been the subject of two previous posts in our blog).

The paper found "... two strongly-supported clades, including Group A, corresponding to Necator americanus, and Groups B and C, corresponding to Necator sp. Group A was divided into three main clusters: A1 grouped with Asian sequences, A2 grouped with African sequences, and A3 had only Asian sequences. Group B was closely related to Necator sp., showing a sequence similarity of 98%–99% with African samples circulating zoonotically among humans and non-human primates".

The following image shows both clades:

N. americanus mtDNA tree. From Monteiro et Al.

The interesting part is the relationship between the Groups:

  • A1 Group (shown in pink above) is, according to the authors "Grouped with Asian sequences", the samples from Asia are marked with green rhombus.
  • A2 Group (shown in pale blue) "Grouped with African sequences", displays a recent Togo sample (brown square) among an older set of sequences.
  • A3 Group (shown in pale green) has indeed "only Asian sequences".

The authors calculated that the split between the two clades (one encompassing groups A1, A2 and A3, the other with groups B and C) took place in the middle Pleistocene (that means that it happened between 781,000 and 126,000 years ago).

They also found that "The most recent common ancestor among N. americanus groups was dated to the late Pleistocene." which places it between 126,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Unfortunately I cannot read the full paper, but it seems that the sample from Togo (Africa) is far younger than the other American ones. The point that has to be explained is how did these subtropical and tropical parasites reach America from Asia and avoided the freezing cold Beringian route?

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A human homeland in Botswana 200 kya? (unlikely)

A paper published last Monday in Nature (Human origins in a southern African palaeo-wetland and first migrations - Chan, E.K.F., Timmermann, A., Baldi, B.F. et al. Nature (2019) doi:10.1038/s41586-019-1714-1) reports that modern humans originated in what is now Botswana, in southern Africa "within the residual Makgadikgadi–Okavango palaeo-wetland of southern Africa, approximately 200 ka (95% confidence interval, 240–165 ka)".

These people carried the "oldest" mtDNA lineage, the L0 one. After 70,000 years of isolation in this former wetland, they finally moved out dispersing to the northeast and southwest between 110 and 130,000 years ago, eventually peopling the whole world.

This paper has received strong criticism for several reasons, such as:

  • It did not use Y chromosome data, which tell a different story.
  • Modern Human Fossils older than 200,000 years have been found in different parts of Africa, including NW Africa (i.e. Morocco 300 kya)
  • It assumes that people don't move: current carriers of L0 living in the area are assumed to have remained there over the last 200 kya! Maybe they moved there from somewhere else.
  • There has been no ancient DNA extracted from human fossils in Africa older than 15,000 years. So we cannot make assumptions on things that took place 200 kya based on contemporary populations.

This is a good criticism to the paper: No, a genetic study didn’t pinpoint the ancestral homeland of all humans

I strongly agree with the critics, and find the paper by Chan et al. unconvincing. Below is a map from the paper.

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