54. Possible Relatives in the Americas
Archaeology and Prehistory
in the cone of South America
by George Weber
Table of Contents
The Cone of South America (Argentina, Chile, Uruguay)
1. Fuegian archaeological sites (Argentina and Chile)
2. Argentinian archaeological sites (north of Tierra del Fuego)
3. Chilean archaeological sites (north of Tierra del Fuego)
8. Climate changes in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the last 15,000 years
For descriptions of specific archaeological sites in
Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia klick on the links provided
1. Fuegian archaeological sites
Only the sites with a link are described further on this web-site
Archaeological sites in Chilean 1. Palli
Aike cave site(Chile) Archaeological sites in Argentinian a. Cerro Sota site (see Chilean Fell's
Tierra del Fuego
2. Fell's cave site (with Cerro Sota site)
3. Tres Arroyos site
5a. Grandi kitchen midden site
5b. Lauta Navarino, kitchen midden
4. Marazzi rockshelter site
6. Bahia Buena kitchen midden
7. Englefield island site
8. Ultima Esperanza cluster (Cueva: dos Herraduras, del Milodon, de Medio)
9. Lago Sofia site
Tierra del Fuego
b. Lomada del Olivia site
c. Punta Maria kitchen midden
d. Argentinian Milodon cave
e. Beagle Channel sites (Imiwuaia, Acatushun, Paiashauia, Shamakush, Mishiuen and Tunel sites)
Archaeological sites in Chilean
Aike cave site(Chile)
Archaeological sites in Argentinian
a. Cerro Sota site (see Chilean Fell's
2. Argentinian archaeological sites (north of Tierra del Fuego)
For sites in Argentinian Tierra del Fuego see above.
Only sites with a link are described further on this web-site. More links are added as and when sufficient data becomes available.
Southern Patagonia 1. Laguna Thomas Gould Middle Patagonia Northern Patagonia 24. Piedra Parada, Campo Moncada 2 Andean, Pampa and Gran Chaco
2. Potrok Aike
3. El Volcan
4. 3 RUDD-BK, Punta Bustamante
11. Cuvea de los Manos
12. Casa de la Ventana
13. Los Toldos
14. 1 Verano Cava 1
15. Piedra Museo
17. Alero Charcamata
18. Casa de Piedra 7
19. Puesto El Rodeo
20. Cueva de la Manos Pintadas
21. Arroyo Feo
22. Morhuilla Lebu LE-2
25. El Trebol
26. Casa de Piedra
27.Arroyo Corral, Cueva de Mayano
28. Cuyin Manzano
29. Epuyan grande
30. Cava Traful
31. Casa de Piedra
1. Laguna Thomas Gould
24. Piedra Parada, Campo Moncada 2
Andean, Pampa and Gran Chaco
3. Chilean archaeological sites (north of Tierra del Fuego)
A selection of Chilean archaeological sites Only sites with a link are described further on this
web-site. Northern Chile N1. Aguas Calientes site Middle Chile M1.Tagua-Tagua
site Southern Chile Tierra del Fuego See Fuego map above
N2. Salar Punta Negra
M2. El Manzano and Las Bateas sites
M3. Lampa site
M4. Quereo site
A selection of Chilean archaeological sites
Only sites with a link are described further on this
N1. Aguas Calientes site
Tierra del Fuego
See Fuego map above
4. The main Tooltypes in South America during the past 12,000 years
(chart adapted from Rolando Gonzalez-José, 2003.
El Probalmiento de la Patagonia, analisis de la Variacion
Cranofacial en el Contexto del Problamiento Americano,
Departement de Biologia Animal, Seccion de Antopologia.
(chart adapted from Rolando Gonzalez-José, 2003. El Probalmiento de la Patagonia, analisis de la Variacion Cranofacial en el Contexto del Problamiento Americano, Departement de Biologia Animal, Seccion de Antopologia. Barcelona)
5. Three ancient American tool types try to tell us something - but what?
There were three major stone tool point "industries" in
South America before 9,000 years ago and they were in use at
roughly the same periods: - the less widespread Tuina point found in parts of the
Atacama desert where Chile, Bolvivia and Argentina meet. - the recently discovered Punta Negra point that has been
found only in one small area (see Salar Puntsa Negra
There were three major stone tool point "industries" in South America before 9,000 years ago and they were in use at roughly the same periods:
- the less widespread Tuina point found in parts of the Atacama desert where Chile, Bolvivia and Argentina meet.
- the recently discovered Punta Negra point that has been found only in one small area (see Salar Puntsa Negra site)
"Industry" here means that over a more-or-less wide area early hmans were making stone tools, following a similar template or tradition. Such a tradition does not grow up quickly even in a small area, let alone spread over en entire continent. That such industries exist in such early times means that the people who made the tools had long-lasting traditions of tool making and contact to other similar groups. In areas where the three "industries do not occur either no finds have been made so far or there were many local "nonstandard" ways of making stone tools, many of which can be difficult to distinguish from an accident of nature.
So far so not too mysterious. What is definitively mysterious is the distribution of the three industries as shown in the map above. What does the split into two widely-separated areas of Fell point occurrences at the two extremes of South America, for example, signify? And why are all three industries occurring virtually at the same time in one tiny spot in the middle of a high-altutude desert? And why are there large areas where none of the three industries occur at all? What went on 10,000 or more years ago to create these pattern? Trade by boat along the coasts would explain why there is no trace of overland trade routes. But even if true, it cannot be the whole answer.
There are lots of speculative ideas but no convincing explanation. Only one thing seems clear: the odd distribution pattern is trying to tell us something. But what?
6. How and when did they get to Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia?
The text below is regrettable full of expressions like "could be", "maybe" ", "it is possible that" and the almost daringly definitive "it is likely that". So little on the subject is certain and so much remains unclear, controversial or completely unknown, that unfortunatzely such expressions cannot be avoided. .
America was settled in at least five and possibly more waves of migrations (see Genetics). The first humans to reach Tierra del Fuego are most likely to have belonged to the first wave and they came from the north, arriving in Tierra del Fuego at least 13,000 years ago. They must have been travelling south from wherever they first entered the American contininent for at least centuries if not millennia. The available evidence speaks rather for a relatively rapid advance. The existence of a Fuegian-like Palaeoindian population, the Pericu and Guaycura in Mexico that became extinct only around 200 years ago would provide a clue that the Pericu and the Fuegians-to-be landed in the Americas in Mexico or north of it. We continue to wait for a DNA profile of these people by Dr. Gonzalez.
The earliest known Americans are unlikely to have walked across the Bering Strait (which was then still blocked by vast expanses of glacier ice, but was always open to sufficiently experienced seagoing people along its fringes) - see Introduction to America.
The question arises why the Fuegians-to-be (who got around the icy north of America during the depth of the ice age and who must have been as good with boats in icy waters as their distant descendants would one day be in Tierra del Fuego), why they did not stay put in North American coastal waters. Instead, tthey seem to have headed south fairly soon - along the coast into and then out of the tropics, into and then out of the desert coasts until they reached cold and stormy Tierra del Fuego. The sea could have provided the best arguments: it would have provided familiar hunting grounds in abundance, and moderated the hot climates though which they had to pass. Even so, the Fuegians-to-be had to be adaptable to an almost unimaginable degree.There is also the possibility that they were Australians thata crossed into the Americas somewhere south of the equator - and then would not have needed to cross the tropical belt.
Archaeological traces of the first human populations in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego between 12,000 and 9,000 years before the present.
The red dots represent schematic hunting territories with a diameter of 50 km in schematized numbers. The black dot represents Monte Verde, the oldest known site in the area.
The barrier of the Andes mountain chain is shown in darker green.
Graphic adapted from L.L. Miotti and M.C. Salemme. 2004. "Problamiento, movilidad y territorios entre las sociedades cazadoras-recolectoras de Patagonia (Peopling, mobility abd territories between the hunter-gatherer populations in Patagonia)", Complutum, 15:177-26.
The Fuegians-to-be were certainly good with boats and probably fisher and boat people when they arrived in the Americas and some of them remained precisely that when they finally reached Tierra del Fuego and continued as such 13,000-odd years years later when they died out in the 20th century. Yaghan and Kwaseqar had such remarkable genetic adaptations to cold (they fished, dived and hunted naked in the icy waters and used almost no clothing when out of it) that a long adaptation of these people to cold climates is more than likely. All the more surprising then that they should have crossed the tropics on the way south.
Why did the newly arrived Fuegians and Patagonians to-be not stay in northern America (like the Pericu did) but moved on south, into the tropics? Did they cross very quickly, knowing that on the other side it would get cooler again? Did someone tell them - a still older population perhaps? Or did they cross (from Australia for example) and so bypass any need for crossing the tropics? How serious an obdstacle would the triopics reall yhave been? Questions in this field are distincly easier to find than answers and I am sure you can easily think up a lot more some more questions if you try.
With the site of Monte Verde in Chile (north of Tierra del Fuego on the Chilean Pacific coast) producing highly controversial dates going back 30,000 years, we may have to consider other possibilities. It could be that the Fuegians lived along the Pacific coast as far back as 30,000 years in small numbers until they were driven south by the Amerind migration around 13,000 years ago. Or the oldest Monte Verde (if it is real) was yet another and still earlier wave of migration (the "zeroth"). The latter is not as outlandish as it may sound. Australia was populated by humans between 40 and 70,000 years ago after all. Australia was easier to reach than America. We simply don't know and there are still many more discoveries to be made before a halfway convincing answer will present itself.
The earliest available C14 dates of settlement om the
"southern cone" east of the Andes mountain chain (adapted
7. Two Migrations into Tierra del Fuego: the Boat Indians and the Foot Indians
The genetic and other evidence is not strong but there are hints that the two groups
- the "Boat Indians" (the Fuegian Kwaseqar and Yamana and probably also the Chono), and
- the "Foot Indians" (the Fuegian Haush and Ona, and the Patagonian Tehuelche groups as well as the Puelche)
split up not later than 10,000 years ago and reached Tierra del Fuego. resp. Patagonia by different routes some time after that.
The word "Indian" here, incidentally, does not mean that Fuegians and Patagonians are directly related to the later Amerind (or Amerindian) groups that today make up the vast majority of aboriginal (native) groups in the Americas.
One of the two Fuegian/Patagonian groups adopted different ways of life in what must have been a long drawn-out process before and after reaching Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. It cannot be proven but it is more likely that the sea-oriented life of "Boat Indians" is closer to the group's original way of life and that it was the Foot Indians who changed to land-oriented hunters during and after there migration across the Andes and into Patagonia.
There is also the possibility that the two groups, though certainly related on the evidence of their DNA, arrived in the Americas at slightly different times within the same general pleistocene period. The two groups reached the far south by different routes andd probably at somewhat different dates. The Boat Indians moved along the Chilean Pacific coast while the Foot Indians crossed the Andean mountain chain and entered Tierra del Fuego by way of what is now the Pampas of northern and Patagonia of southern Argentina.
Strongly schematized routes likely to have been taken by the ancestors of the recent Boat Indian tribes (blue name lables) and the recent Foot Indian tribes (black name lables).
The arrows only give the general direction of the most likely routes taken by the two groups.
The Monte Verde site is given as the forking point since it is the only site in the area old enough (lowest levels claimed to date to 30,000 years old but this is highly controversial) to have possibly been the forking point for the two groups passing through on their way south.
However, another possibility is that there were separate migrations of people moving south on both the west and east coasts of the South American continent and that the two streams could have mixed. There is not enough archaeological or genetic evidence at present to decide this question - with just a little more evidence for the version we show here.
1. "Boat Indians"
2. "Foot Indians"
1. Mapuche (Araucanian)
Boat Indian Sites
The Boat Indians have left us no really ancient archaeological sites that can definitively be assigned to them. Not many sites have been found that can be clearly assigned to the Boat Indians and none go far enough to throw light on their earliest prehistory in the area. The most likely Yamana remains come from the Imiwuaia site: a tooth just under 6,000 years old(see Beagle Channel sites). This is not surprising since after their arrival in Tierra del Fuego during the late ice age, sea levels were lower than today and many Boat Indian sites are inaccessible under the sea.
Nevertheless, the oldest of all American sites anywhere found so far, in the the lowest level of the Monte Verde site may be distantly connected to both the Boat and the Foot Indians when both groups were still heading south. Such connection, however, is as speculative as the earliest dates of Monte Verde are controversial. Not too much weight should therefore be placed on it until more reliable dates are available. The Milodon cave site can be securely linked to the Boat Indians but it does not have nearly the same age as Monte Verde.
Foot Indian sites
The Fuegian Foot Indian's most important sites in Tierra del Fuego are Pali Aike and Fell's Cave. These and other sites on the east of Tierra del Fuego are really just an extension of the Patagonian groups' other ancient sites in Patagonia proper which include Los Toldos, El Ceibo, Cerro Sota, Cerro Lachina, Cueva de los Manos and many others.
The stratigraphy of these and other sites shows the increasingly sophisticated stages of the Foot Indian's technological skills and cultural development over time.
Scientific excavation of many of the sites mentioned here started seriously only in the 1930s with Junius Bird who, in association with other researchers, found cultural traces, human remains, and Pleistocene faunal remains, including large land-living and now lextinct animals. The sites he found clearly belonged to the people hunting land animals, i.e. the Foot Indians. Artefacts and tools of the Boat Indians areee much rarer and there are almost no human remains known.
The most important weapon among Foot Indians seems to have been the spear with the bow and arrow playing a lesser role. The most widely found artefact type are the remarkably sophisticated "fish tail" or Fell points". These are not an invention of the Fuegians or Patagonians but have been found rather mysteriously in many parts of the Americas. Many of the tools found show signs of intensive use. Repair points and other signs of wear and tear are common. Some also show signs of having been in a fire, i.e. most likely they were embedded in parts of animals that were roasted on a fire. Apart from the famous Fell points, other types of tools have also been found. Some are difficult to explain; for example, there are cylindrical stone objects which may have had a "ceremonial use" (often the archaeologist's fall-back explanation for inexplicable items).
"Fishtail points" or "Fell points" from this cave: the Foot Indians must have been in contact with other groups as this tool-type has been found all over the Americas where it occurs over long periods in a wide variety of sizes and materials. When, by whom or where these elegant and sophisticated points of the Americas were first made is not known. It is unlikely to have been in Tierra del Fuego, however.
The tools shown on the left were found in Fell's cave in Ona tribal territory.
Stone tools are usually dated from the the depth at which they are found, i.e. though their stratigraphy, and they have the advantage that they are practically indestructilbe (unlike bones, wood, etc)
The " Magellanic fishtail points", as the form shown above is officially called, are not ubiquitous in South America and they do not form a horizon marker in the strata below ave floors that make dating so much easier for archaeologists. Instead, the fishtail tools have an inexplicably complex distribution in time and space. There are gaps even at sites well dated to the time they should occur if the idea was passed from group to group. It seems that several projectile point styles were experimented (or were fashionable) with different groups between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago. Unlike North America, where popular point styles repeatedly became widely distributed, most early South Americans seem to have been very conservative. Yet that still does not explain the situation that new technologies apparently were adopted sometimes for a while - and then dropped again. Perhaps it would bee more accurate to call the South American tool users fickle.
All Foot Indians (Fuegians as well as Patagonians) lived from hunting land animals. Among their favourites was the Mylodon listai, a giant ground sloth that was probably hunted to extinction by humans around 10,000 years ago, a form of horse (Parahipparion saldasi) and the still surviving guanaco, fox, puma, rodents, as well as ostriches and other kind of birds. Remains of ostrich and other bird shells have also be found.
Distinctly odd is the fact that in Foot Indian sites no remains of marine animals (fish, octopuses, seals, walruses, dolphins and other sea mammals) have been found, and this even at sites that are close to the sea. Either the Foot Indians had such skills in hunting land animals that they could afford to ignore the ressources of the sea, or less likely that they ate only the sea food that does not leave traces in the archaeological record (jellyfish, most parts of the octopus), that there was a "taboo" of some sort on creatures of the sea, or that these remains have simply not been found yet. Only in the most recent strata of Fell's cave, for example, have traces of marine creatures been found.
Food was cooked in characteristic hearths that had originally been dug into the cave floor and used thereafter sometimes for hundreds of generations.
Such an irregulat landscape indicates the presence of ancient kitchen midden (piles of sea shells discarded by eaarly humans). This sample is along the northern coast of the Argentinian part of the Beagle Channel.
8. Climate Changes in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego in the last 15,000 years
The climate change from the last stages of the ice age (pleistocene) around 15,000 years ago until today have affected the southern cone of South America more strongly than they did the tropical parts. Whether the earliest humans moved into Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego at precisely the time when the climate there became a little warmer remains an open question. It is, however, rather likely that they did.
Sequence of the late Pleistocene climate stages:
14-13,000 years before the present:
Ice begins to recede and the first nomadic human hunter-gatherer groups arrive in Patagonia from the north in small numbers. No uncontroversial evidence of these earliest arrivals has yet been found - and it will be difficult to identify them even if and when found.
13-12,000 years before the present: m
More nomadic hunter-gatherer groups arrive from the north and enter Tierra del Fuego. Grassy steppes with thorny bushes and large animals dominate.
Main archaeological sites: Los Toldos (Argentina) , Monte Verde (Chile)
12-11,000 years before the present:
The climate becomes wetter with heavy rainfall, forests expand and even in dry Patagonia river run-off from the Andes increases, making water ressources more reliable and plentiful. Some game animals also increase in numbers.
Main archaeological sites: Fells (Chile), La Maria (Cerro Tres Tetas)
11-10,000 years before the present:
Pleistocene megafauna (large animals, including giant ground sloth Mylodon) is successfully hunted by humans who are now successful hunter-gatherers and are increasingly numerous and widespread.
Main archaeological sites: La Maria, Piedra Museo, Cuevo del Medio
10-9,000 years before the present:
Rising sea levels create the Strait of Magellan (wehich had been dry land until then) and glacirers retreat to roughly present-day levels. Human populations increase further and begin to specialize (land hunters, fishers and sea hunters)
Main archaeological sites: Marazzi, La Maria (Cueva Casa del Minero)
after 9,000 years before the present:
Rapid warming, human population increases further in numbers and specialization and has a growing impact on environment, extinction of megafauna (almost certainly caused by human hunting pressure)
Main archaeological sites: Pali Aike, Beagle Channel kitchen midden), Englefield, Grandi, Chonos sites
Among web-sites with further information on the subject is:
- http://www.ele.net/LaBelle/pampas/pamframe.htm (highly recommended for its overview and detailed site descriptions - three enthusiastic cheers for Tony Baker!)
- http://www.ele.net/LaBelle/pampas/appnds.htm (highly recommended for its detailed data sets)
[ Go to HOME ]
[ Go to CONTENTS OF OUT-OF-AFRICA CHAPTERS ]
[ Go to CONTENTS OF AMERICA CHAPTERS ]
[ Go to CONTENTS OF THIS CHAPTER ]
Last change 1 April 2007