Tierra del Fuego

Ancient archaeological sites discovered in Chilean Patagonia

The 27 distinct sites pertaining to the Yaghan indigenous people were discovered on Mascard Island, at the mouth of the Beagle Channel.

Monday, May 02, 2011  
Tierra del Fuego in Chilean Patagonia. Tierra del Fuego in Chilean Patagonia.

Though the first outsiders settled in the region in the mid-19th century, the remote Austral Islands south of the Beagle Channel still harbor astonishing secrets.


The most recent of these to be discovered is a collection of 27 archaeological sites found on Mascard Island, an uninhabited piece of land at the mouth of the Channel. Archaeologists believe they belong to the ancestors of the Yaghan people, the southernmost indigenous population on earth, now based primarily in the naval outpost of Puerto Williams on nearby Navarino Island.

The new sites were discovered by archaeologists working with CONADI, the Chilean National Organization for Indigenous Development. Once home settlements for the nomadic Yaghans, the sites contain weapons and tools fashioned from whalebone and stone. Though they have not yet carbon-tested the artifacts, the archaeologists believe that they are at least 2,000 years old. Similar Yaghan sites previously discovered on the Argentine side of the Channel have produced artifacts as many as 5,000 years old.
The discovery of these remarkable sites came as an unexpected surprise for the team, who originally arrived to investigate the environmental balance of this delicate territory. “The objective of our expedition was to assess how to protect and preserve the island. In the process, we happened to discover these sites,” said Nelson Aguilera, head of CONADI’s Punta Arenas office, in an interview with La Tercera.
The same expedition uncovered other important remains – two ancient skeletons in the vicinity of Douglas Bay, near Navarino Island. Of the four indigenous groups of the Tierra del Fuego, the Yaghan are one of only two still surviving, along with the Kaweshqar, whose population center has moved farther up the Patagonian coast to the town the Puerto Eden.
Within the town of Puerto Williams, the small, impeccable Martin Gusinde Museum documents the history of the Yaghan people and their ancestral territory, displaying ancient artifacts and photos, with outstanding supporting materials offered in Spanish and English.