Archaeologists have unearthed a pre-Hispanic canoe burial dated to around 1140 BC at the site of Newen Antug in the North Patagonian province of Neuque’n, Argentina.
The discovery was made during rescue excavation work carried out by the Secretariat of Planning and Sustainable Development of the Municipality of San Martín de los Andes.
It represents the first discovery of a canoe burial in Argentinian Patagonia, and the most southern example in the Americas.
Situated on the southeastern slope of the Chapelco Range, near La´car Lake, the burial was found to contain the well-preserved articulated skeletal remains of a female aged between 17 and 25 years old, extended straight in dorsal decubitus and measuring approximately 149 cm in height.
Valves of freshwater mollusc shells were found directly beneath the remains.
A spherical pottery vessel (interpreted as a bottle or jug) of Red on White Bichrome tradition had also been included within the grave. It is the earliest known example of this style recorded in Argentina.
Traces of red dye were identified on their cranium and forearms. Their shoulders were slightly hunched, indicating their head and neck (and the pottery vessel) had been resting on a structure which has now degraded.
At least 578 fragments of wood – identified through dendrological analysis as Chilean cedar – were uncovered in the grave, which has led researchers to believe the individual had been placed within a small wooden canoe or wampo, as it is known by the indigenous community of the Mapuche.
According to Mapuche culture, burial within a wampo symbolises the soul’s journey to the final abode of the dead, which is located across a body of water that must be crossed by boat.
Analysis of the wood fragments suggests they pertained to a single tree trunk hollowed out using fire, as indicated by evidence of charring.
Two other burials dating slightly later to c. 1480 BC were also unearthed during the excavation. One belonged to a male individual who was accompanied by an obsidian projectile point, and the other to a female interred with bone and pottery artefacts.
The research findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.