All art is but imitation of nature. ~ Lucius Seneca (Roman Stoic philosopher)
On a recent trip to South America and the region of Patagonia (flyfishing of course), while staying at the Estancia Laguna Verde lodge, our host, Luciano Alba, told us about some ancient petroglyphs near by. I have seen the art carvings of ancient cultures in Africa, France and Alaska, so was curious and excited to take some time out from flyfishing and visit the basalt cliffs and the petroglyphs.
The people who lived in this area of Patagonia some 10,000 years ago were the Tehuelche people, a collective name for the native tribes of Patagonia and the southern pampas region in Argentina and Chile. “Tehuelche” is an indian word meaning “Fierce People”. They were not only fierce warriors, but also a race of very tall people, who routinely intimidated and attacked other tribes, mainly the smaller coastal indians.
Sadly, like most of the native indians in Patagonia, they were systematically exterminated by Argentine ranchers and the military in the late 1800s and early 1900s to make way for the establishment of the large sheep and cattle estancias (ranches) in the region. There was even a bounty placed on them as a way of incentivizing the ranchers to hunt them down.
The ancient Tehuelche people were nomadic hunters who lived in a harsh land of high altitude ancient lava flows dotted with rock cliffs and glacial lakes. The wind was constant and at times fierce, with weeks on end of 50-80 km/hr winds. They would often gather near cliffs in the lee of the wind and it was here petroglyphs can be found.
I always find it amazing that people at a subsistence level, cold and probably hungry most of the time, still had the urge to carve their history, stories and dreams into solid rock. To take time for art. Obviously, art is deeply woven into the DNA of the human race, as I suspect music is as well. Both constitute lasting ways to teach and carry on the tribal traditions. Shared knowledge and social cohesion was critical to survival and the perpetuation of the tribe, and music and art were the first forms of shared tribal knowledge.
So we hopped in a 4X4 pickup truck and headed for the 45 minute drive from the lodge to the location, over rocky roads at first and then no roads at all. Just up and down over the bleak terrain of broken lava and large boulders left by the glacial moraines.
We were accompanied by famous nature photographer Jim Klug, seen here doing his thing. Jim has a great photography site at www.klugphotos.com.
While the site we found was modest by some standards, it was spectacular in the fact that these images were carved into solid volcanic basalt rock and told a definite story of these nomadic people and their life. Here are some photos of these ancient, about 4,000 years old, petroglyphs, showing their main food source, the Guanaco, lizards, Puma tracks, children’s feet, mothers giving birth, flightless Rhea tracks. The story of a people’s life in this harsh land.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress