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Fell and Pali Aike Caves

Date of Submission: 01/09/1998
Criteria: (iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Council of National Monuments
Coordinates: Fell Cave: Long. 70°03' W ; Lat. 52°02' S Pali Aike Cave: Long. 69°42' W ; Lat. 52°08' S
Ref.: 1204
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The first inhabitants of the southernmost end of America came from the north by land, and settled in the southern Patagonia area approximately 11,000 years ago, when the ice of the last glaciation had retreated to the Andean summits, giving place to more mild climatic conditions. The evidences of these first groups of hunters-pickers, in this case grouped together under the denomination of Cuitural Period I or "Paleoindian", have been found at the voicanic steppe area of Pali Aike, close to the Magallanes Strait. The most important sites are the Fell Cave, the stratigraphy of which shows the different stages of these groups' evolution, specially their technology, and the Pali Aike Cave which, among other relics, lodges three cremated human skeletons, proving the performance of funerary ceremonies and contributing valuable information regarding the physical characteristics of these people. These sites, corresponding to temporary encampments of these parties of hunters, were discovered and studied in the 1930s by Junius Bird who, in association with other researchers, found cultural traces, human remains, and Pleistocene fauna remains: large animals at present extinct which are a fondamental reference to understand the way of life of these groups. The main artifact employed by these groups was the dart's end known as "fish tail" on account of its looks. These ends were intensively used and reused after being repaired and, judging by their being found in hearths were pieces of American horses were roasted, they were also employed to carve Pleistocene fauna. Many different kinds of tools have also been found at the caves, among them cylindrical stones which seem to have had a ceremonial use. The stratigraphy of these sites showed an antiquity of 8,600 to 11,000 years. Thanks to the tools they fabricated, these honters were able to subsist on animals as diverse as the milodon (Mylodon listai), the American horse (Parahipparion saldasi), guanaco, fox, puma, birds, rodents, and ostrich eggs. That is to say, along with the extinct fauna, they made good use of modern species and some scarce harvested foods, but of no marine product, in spite of the relative closeness of the sea. These men made fire in hearths excavated in the soil of their caves -bucket hearths-, which are characteristics of these sort of sites. The Fell Cave shows in its most recent strata the transit from the Paleoindian stage to a more complex one, comprisi ng the use of ma ri ne resou rces and of more sophisticated honting techniques, such as bow and arrows -for hunting guanacos and dandus- and boleadoras (lasso with bails) for catching birds. Thus appeared the ethnic group historically known as southern aonikenk or tchuelches, who occu pied the Patagon ic steppe between the Sa nta Cruz riv er (Argenti na) to the north, and the Magallanes Strait to the south. as late as the last century. when their extinction began due to the contact with white men.