Category Archives: ARGENTINA

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina

Radio Cadena Agramonte reports that 12 graves dated between 6,000 and 1,300 years ago were unearthed in northwestern Argentina by a team of researchers from the University of Buenos Aires–National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), during investigations over the past 15 years.

Six thousand-year-old tombs found in northwest Argentina
A group of Argentine researchers found in the province of Catamarca 12 graves with more than six thousand years old, reported the scientific outreach agency CTyS, of the University of La Matanza.

According to the source, most were found fortuitously by residents of the area who, upon finding the remains, alerted the archaeological team that has been studying pre-Hispanic burial practices in northwestern Argentina for years.

The doctor in Archeology, Leticia Cortés, a specialist in burial methodologies in pre-Hispanic populations that inhabited the Valle del Cajón area, explained that when these practices are compared with current ones, they may seem strange.

“Knowing these customs, we can reconstruct the cultural practices of the past and put into perspective our own traditions, which are part of a cultural construction,” said Cortés, a researcher at the Institute of Cultures.

The search of this type began more than 15 years ago, with a research team dependent on the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research, led by María Cristina Scattolin and dedicated to excavation and analysis tasks in the town of Valle del Cajón.

This practice of burials before the arrival of the Spanish was far from what is customary today on the basis of the Judeo-Christian model.

Cortés pointed out that this type of find usually occurs after the rainy season, in summer, which is uncovered and the bones are exposed.

“There was a great variability of burial methods, in individual or collective graves, and also in the posture of the bodies. 

Some are hyperflexed, like squatting, with the shoulders touching the knees, others extended and disjointed and mixed, ”explained the specialist.

Cortés pointed out that many times people lived with their dead on a daily basis, buried them in the same patio where they cooked, made pots or carved stones. It is an interesting thing to see the different conceptions that were had about life and death, he said.

According to archaeology, they continue working and have found necklaces and pendants that would be associated with the deceased, as non-transferable objects that are buried next to the body and remain there.

Villa Epecuen: The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years

Villa Epecuen: The Town That Was Submerged For 25 Years

The landscape has the permanent look of winter. Leafless trees jag skywards while shimmering white dust covers the ground. The streets are deserted; the only sound is the breeze. Welcome to Epecuen, Argentina’s ghost town, with a population of just one.

Located 340 miles south-west of Buenos Aires, Epecuen was once a booming tourist destination on the shores of a salt lake famed for its healing properties. Then one-day disaster struck. On 10 November 1985, after a period of heavy rain, the banks of the lake burst. The town, stretching back for more than 100 blocks, was submerged in water 10 meters deep.

Over the past few years, the waters have receded and the town has re-emerged. Left behind is a crystalline residue that from a distance looks like snow, as well as hundreds of dead trees and a derelict resort.

Lone inhabitant of Villa Epecuen, 81-year-old Pablo Novak tends his wood stove at his on May 3, 2011.

When the flood hit, residents were forced to pack their bags and leave. No one dared to return, except for 83-year-old Pablo Novak, who now has the dubious title of being contemporary Epecuen’s only resident. Today he’s out for a jaunt on his rusting bicycle with his two dogs in tow.

“I got used to life on my own,” he says. “I decided to stay because I spent my youth here, I went to school here and also started a family here. So it seemed quite normal.”

The former slaughterhouse of Villa Epecuen, Argentina, among a stand of long-dead trees, photographed on May 4, 2011.
Norma Berg gestures next to the ruins of her family house in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.
A thin layer of salt, cracked, revealing the original paint of the wall of a collapsed building in Villa Epecuen, Argentina, on May 3, 2011.

The flood reduced Epecuen to rubble. No house was left untouched. Façades have disintegrated; walls have crumbled; pavements have sunk. Wooden staircases are exposed – in one spot are the rusting remains of a 1930s Chevrolet that an owner failed to salvage.

The salt has preserved tiny details, freezing the resort in time and allowing a voyeuristic glimpse into the past. Near the main street are the remains of a pizzeria. The sculptures that the owner bought to decorate his business are still intact, including a stone crescent moon sitting outside as though it were still 1985. In the rubble, a wood-fired pizza oven is clearly visible.

Walking among the crystalline ruins, the tracks left by a tractor that tried to salvage valuables from the long-gone Santa Teresista Church are still there. Dotted around the site, too, are green wine bottles half-buried in the sand. Further away from the main drag is what used to function as the municipal camping area. The eerie site has an abandoned playground: the frame of a set of swings still stands, as does a rusting seesaw, every inch reminiscent of Chernobyl.

Javier Andres, head of tourism for the normally sleepy agricultural region of Adolfo Alsina, has been swamped with interest in the last few weeks due to a concerted effort to promote the ruins. Epecuen has been compared to Pompeii, he says, but there is one major difference.

“We don’t think there’s anywhere in the world quite like it,” he explains. “Although it’s been called the Argentinian Pompeii, there you’re not able to walk around with a former resident explaining everything to you. Here you can do that.”

The waters began their retreat in 2009 but the tourist board delayed launching a campaign until now, respectful of the reactions the floods continue to provoke among the hundreds who lost their livelihoods.

“When you visit Epecuen, the sensation is hard to explain,” Mr. Andres says. “There’s a sense of wonder at this place that is completely in ruins, an apocalyptic vision. But then you can’t help thinking about the people that lost everything here, years of effort and hard work that disappeared overnight. So there’s a lot of sadness at the same time.”

The devastated landscape has attracted the attention of several movie crews and Roland Joffé’s Spanish Civil War drama, There Be Dragons, was partly filmed here. Yet the demise of Epecuen remains painful for former residents. The health resort was one of the most frequented in Argentina, growing in popularity from the 1920s and attracting European as well as local tourists at a time before the wide availability of alternative treatments.

The water – 10 times saltier than the sea – drew many of Buenos Aires’s Jewish community, nostalgic for the Dead Sea. The town’s population of just over 1,000 would swell fivefold during the high season.

“There are some things you can repair, such as the economic damage,” says Carlos Ruben Besagonill, 49, who used to run a hotel in Epecuen. “But you can’t replace the experiences, the affection, the moments you passed there.”

Mr. Besagonill says that it’s taken him more than 20 years to re-establish the business he had in Epecuen in nearby Carhue, now the region’s main tourist town. He was forced to leave behind everything in 1985, recently married and with a one-year-old daughter in his arms. “I used to dream every night that Epecuen reappeared,” he says. “I’d dream that I told my family: ‘Look we can go back and paint the hotel,’ because I really thought it was possible.”

Mr Besagonill is pleased that the ruins may soon be a major tourist attraction once more. For him, it should serve as a warning about “what not to do with nature”. He says that the province may be to blame for poor water management, but that the town should never have been built so close to the shores of a lake that was liable to overflow.

Argentina
A man compares a photograph of Villa Epecuen taken in the 1970s with the current state of the place, after almost 25 years beneath the water of Lago Epecuen.

Back on the main street, the ghosts of Epecuen continue to swirl around the crumbling concrete as Mr. Novak recalls the ice-cream parlour he used to pass, the bar he’d visit for a beer, and the clubs where he’d dance until the early hours.

Mr. Novak says that his children don’t like coming back – unlike his 21 grandchildren who love hearing his yarns and devour his photos of the old days – and every year they try to convince him to move away. But while he remains independent, he argues, he’s going nowhere.

Although Mr. Andres rejects the idea that somebody may be prepared to stump up the “six-figure sum” needed to rebuild Epecuen, Mr. Novak remains dogged in his hope that the town will one day recapture its glorious past. “I always thought it would revive, that’s the thing I find most difficult,” he says wistfully. “I keep on hoping it will happen. But sadly no one seems to want to do anything.”

Argentinian farmer discovered a prehistoric giant armadillo shell

Argentinian farmer Discovered a prehistoric giant Armadillo shell

The resting place of ancient armadillos that roamed the earth some 20,000 years ago has been discovered in Argentina. A farmer stumbled upon the graveyard containing fossilized shells of four massive Glyptodonts, with the largest being the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

The remains were discovered in a dried-out riverbed near the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires – at first, only two were spotted, but two more were found while paleontologists excavated the site.

Researchers believe the group consists of two adults and two young animals, but further testing will determine the cause of death, sex, and weight of the remains.

The resting place of ancient armadillos that roamed the earth some 20,000 years ago has been discovered in Argentina. A farmer stumbled upon the graveyard containing fossilized shells of four massive Glyptodonts, with the largest being the size of a Volkswagen Beetle

Juan de Dios Sota made the discovery while taking his cows out to graze near a river, Metro reported. He noticed two strange formations in a dried-out river bed and after taking a closer look, he knew he had stumbled upon something amazing and notified officials.

Pablo Messineo, one of the archaeologists at the scene, said: ‘We went there expecting to find two glyptodonts when the excavation started and then two more were found!’

‘It is the first time there have been four animals like this on the same site.’

‘Most of them were facing the same direction as they were walking towards something.’

Glyptodonts are the early ancestors of our modern armadillos that lived mostly across North and South America during the Pleistocene epoch. The creatures were encased from head to tail in thick, protective armour resembling in shape the shell of a turtle but composed of bony plates much like the covering of an armadillo.

The body shell alone was as long as 5 feet and as thick as two inches. It used its tail as a weapon – like a club – as the tip had a bony knob at the end that was sometimes spiked.

The group discovered in Argentina are believed to be two adults and two young animals, but experts are set to conduct further testing to determine the age, sex, and cause of death for each of the fossilized Glyptodonts.

The fossils were discovered in a riverbed by a farmer who was simply taking his cows out to graze
The body shell alone was as long as 5 feet and as thick as two inches. It used its tail as a weapon – like a club – as the tip had a bony knob at the end that was sometimes spiked (pictured)

A separate fossilized shell was discovered in 2015 by another farmer in Argentina. After popping out for some fresh air, farmer Jose Antonio Nievas stumbled across what experts said are the remains of a prehistoric giant. The 3 feet long shell discovered on a riverbank near a local farm may be from a glyptodont – a prehistoric kind of giant armadillo.

While there is a chance the shell is a hoax because it hasn’t been studied directly by experts, Adrian Lister of the Natural History Museum, London, told MailOnline: ‘I think it is quite likely this is genuine.’

‘The shell looks like a genuine glyptodont shell, and the hole is ‘wear and tear’, not where the head or tail went,’ he explained.

Glyptodonts are the early ancestors of our modern armadillos that lived mostly across North and South America during the Pleistocene epoch

At first, Mr. Nievas thought the black scaly shell was a dinosaur egg when he saw it in the mud, his wife Reina Coronel said. But a paleontologist who studied the pictures later said it belonged to an ancient ancestor of the armadillo.

Alejandro Kramarz of the Bernadino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum exclaimed: ‘There is no doubt that it looks like a glyptodont.’

Nievas told television channel Todo Noticias he found the shell partly covered in mud and started to dig around it. Various experts who saw television pictures of the object also said it is likely to be a glyptodont shell.

Professor Lister explained it’s common to find fossils buried in the bank of streams and rivers because flowing water gradually erodes the bank to expose ancient shells and bones.

‘The finder would first have spotted a small area of the shell exposed in the stream bank and then by digging, exposed the whole thing,’ he said.

‘This scenario is supported by the green staining on the shell, just in the area where it might first have been exposed to the stream, even with a kind of ‘tide mark’ on it.

‘It would be an ingenious hoaxer who would construct such a thing.’

The creatures were encased from head to tail in thick, protective armor resembling in shape the shell of a turtle but composed of bony plates much like the covering of an armadillo

Rancher finds the strange rock on his farm, it was not what he had in mind at all

Rancher finds the strange rock on his farm, it was not what he had in mind at all

A rancher came across an old bone sticking out of his desert property near La Flecha in the Patagonia region of Argentina four years ago. With the recent news of exciting dinosaur finds in that country in mind, he scratched around some more. Then he went to a local museum to ask paleontologists to come to look for more fossils.

The head of the Titanosaur sticks out into the hallway at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The discovery that led to the exhibit started with a find by a rancher in the Patagonia region of Argentina.Credit…

Many important dinosaur discoveries are made by non-experts in just this casual way. The rancher’s find soon led to the exposure of skeletal remains of six of the biggest titanosaurs. These herbivores lived about 100 million years ago, in the Late Cretaceous Period, on all continents, including Antarctica. They seemed especially plentiful in southern lands.

Now, the most imposing one of these dinosaurs from the far south of South America, assembled from 84 fossil pieces excavated from the rancher’s land, is the newest eyeful of ancient life on display at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The hulking skeleton cast made its debut as a permanent attraction. Museum officials and scientists called it a must-see addition to the ranks of such popular icons as the institution’s great blue whale and the fierce Tyrannosaurus rex.

“There’s nothing like finding a great new fossil, especially such a huge one,” said Michael J. Novacek, the museum’s senior vice president, provost of science and a curator of paleontology.

The dinosaur on which the Titanosaur cast is based was excavated in the desert near La Flecha, Argentina. Paleontologists at Argentina’s Paleontological Museum Egidio Ferugilio did much of the excavation.

The new research is expected to yield insights into the physiology of dinosaurs and how they were able to grow and function as such large creatures.

“Paleontology has become less geological and more biological in the last 20 years or so,” said Mark A. Norell, chairman of the paleontology division at the museum and a leading dinosaur researcher. He cited the field’s new “geochemical tools” for determining diet, growth patterns, and locomotion. “All of us are simply biologists who work on fossils,” he added.

The exhibit is not only a centerpiece for the museum’s fossil collections but also the start of a wide range of dinosaur programs for the year, including symposiums and another exhibition, “Dinosaurs Among Us,”

The Patagonian skeleton was not an easy fit in its New York home. At 122 feet in length, it was a bit too long for the gallery. Part of its 39-foot-long neck extends through an opening in a wall toward the elevator banks as if to welcome visitors to the fossil floors.

This titanosaur was a young adult, gender undetermined. Its appetite for all kinds of vegetation must have been prodigious. Based on bone sizes, researchers estimated that this individual weighed 70 tons — as much as 10 African elephants, the heaviest land animals today. Think of its possible heft if it were fully grown. Think of it satisfying its huge appetite by stretching its long neck to graze far and wide. With only a few shifts in position, it might have mowed the equivalent of all the grass in Yankee Stadium in a morning.

Weight was also a factor in preparing the skeleton cast for display, a task undertaken by Research Casting International in Canada. The actual mineralized fossils were too heavy to mount. Instead, all “bones” are made from lightweight fiberglass based on digital copies of the original fossils.

Much of the grueling excavation leading to the discovery was done by teams led by José Luis Carballido and Diego Pol, paleontologists at Paleontological Museum Egidio Feruglio in Argentina. They began excavating for months at a time after the rancher’s visit. Sometimes it took a week of digging to isolate a single femur or a forelimb. Thighs and upper arms are critical to judging the size and weight of a dinosaur.

Dr. Pol said the excavations revealed that at least six of these giant individuals, all young adults, had died at the site of what had been a flood plain near a river. Their deaths had happened at three distinct times, anywhere from a few years to centuries apart. Like many herding animals, they may have become isolated from the group and died of stress and hunger near their watering hole.

“That’s when we realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Dr. Pol said. Dinosaurs are the big game to fossil hunters, and these were some of the biggest plant-eating dinosaurs ever found.

The size and distinctive shape of an eight-foot femur of one specimen astonished scientists. This appeared to be a previously unknown titanosaur species, yet unnamed. Dr. Pol said a report that is being prepared may soon propose a formal species name.

In a bravura moment, Dr. Pol had his picture taken stretched out on the ground beside the femur, about the size of a living room couch. The photograph caught the attention of paleontologists at the natural history museum in New York, where Dr. Pol had done his Ph.D. research. “Maybe we can get that thing,” one said. “That would look great for a renovated dinosaur gallery,” another said.

Early last year, Dr. Novacek signed the deal with the Argentine museum to build the full-size skeleton cast for permanent display in New York. On a visit a few days before the titanosaur’s unveiling, workers were applying finishing touches as Dr. Norell paused at the entrance, under the watchful eye and toothy jaw of the star attraction.

A section of neck was rolled out of the basement garage of the museum. Scientists were astonished by the size and distinctive shape of the find.

“I guarantee you are going to remember this first impression,” Dr. Norell said. “Seeing something like this, you don’t quite have anything to compare its size and aspect with.”

He was right. The dinosaur was inexpressibly strange and big. Once again, we are reminded of what we know: Dinosaurs mostly were big, an engaging mystery and a challenge. The titanosaur’s arrival at the museum may inspire a new understanding of these incredible creatures. It is exciting enough to walk a corridor to the fossil galleries in anticipation of meeting it and spending some time with old friends of fond memory.

Dr. Novacek is not bothered by some skepticism that the specimens are from the biggest dinosaur discovered so far and that these may soon be eclipsed in size by new excavations.

“Every time we find the biggest dinosaur,” he said, “we soon find a bigger one in the next dig.”

The first dinosaur remains from the Cretaceous of Ecuador

A Titanosaur in Ecuador? New Dinosaur Discovered!

Ecuador has found the fossils of a previously unknown titanosaurus. The medium to small-sized dinosaur lived 85 million years ago, during the Upper Cretaceous period.

The remains have been found in the province of Loja at the southern end of the country. It is the first time in the history of dinosaur fossils and the northernmost example of its sauropod subfamily to date have been found.

The fossils of the titanosaur, called Yamanasaurus lojaensis, are the first of their kind and were discovered by a farmer in rocks of the Río Playas Formation in the Yamana parish. According to a report in El Universo , the fossils were passed along until they eventually became state property.

In August 2018, Argentinian paleontologist Sebastián Apesteguía of the University Maimónides was called in by professors John Soto, José Tamay, and Galo Guamán at the Technical University of Loja (UTPL) to give a conference and provide an expert’s opinion on the fossils.

Apesteguía told El Universo that he was asked to verify if the fossils came from a dinosaur and if he could tell the professors anything about the long -extinct creature . He could and did.

“It was a shock” Apesteguía said “the material they showed me was incredible because it is clearly the last two sacral vertebrae of a titanosaur.

Later my colleague Pablo Gallina and I were able to find out exactly what kind of titanosaur, but at that moment there was no doubt in my mind that it was a medium to small sized dinosaur.”

A paper on the discovery in Cretaceous Research states that altogether the Yamanasaurus lojaensis fossils include “a partial sacrum, a partial mid-caudal vertebra, and several associated limb bones” and the “Morphology, size, and age suggest that Yamanasaurus is closely related to Neuquensaurus, being the northernmost known by far.”

Image demonstrating the recently identified titanosaur’s size in comparison to a female adult and the fossils that were found (in red).

Technical processes were then carried out in Loja and analyses of the results in Buenos Aires . When the vertebrae were examined, the experts were able to make a particularly useful find – not the presence of chambers, which are more commonly found in a saltasaurus titanosaur (a titanosaurid sauropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous period with fossils found in Argentina), but a texture that was more sponge like.

This means that the animal was more similar to a Neuquensaurus australis (a genus of saltasaurid sauropod dinosaur that is from the same period but has left fossils in both Argentina and Uruguay).

And with this information in hand, Apesteguía told El Universo that the image of what the dinosaur looked like became clear:

“The comparison of the vertebrae, especially the caudal [tail] vertebrae of the Neuquensaurus, to the Patagonian saltasaurus, they have exactly the same form and size.

That means the animal is identical to Neuquensaurus, including the internal structure of the bones. So, it wasn’t necessary to invent much.

It’s pretty much placing the parts we have of the Yamanasaurus on the skeleton of a Neuquensaurus. It’s really rather simple. They are practically identical.”

Analysis of one of the vertebrae.

The researchers believe that the titanosaur was an herbivore that likely ate from smaller trees. But what does Apesteguía mean when he says that Yamanasaurus lojaensis is a medium to smaller-sized dinosaur? In this case, it refers to a creature that measured approximated six meters (19.69 ft.) long, was robust, and had a protective shell, according to El Comercio .

Its skin was also probably covered with tiny bones to provide further protection from predators. The reconstruction of Ecuador’s first known dinosaur was created by Argentinian paleoartist Jorge González.

An artistic representation of the Yamanasaurus lojaensis.

Apart from being Ecuador’s first known example of dinosaur fossils, the significance of this discovery has a wider reach. Apesteguía told El Universo that the find provides another detail on the knowledge of dinosaurs that lived in the region, “It’s the first in Ecuador and scientifically it’s the most northern, most boreal, example of a saltasaur that we have found.

Until now, the most northern was in the north of Argentina. But suddenly there’s a jump and we find the same type of animal from the same time period in Ecuador.”

Experts are aware that the lucky discovery of the titanosaur fossils may mean there are more to find in the area, so they’re already planning for a search, according to El Universo.

But there are very real concerns that if the proper authorities don’t act quickly they may lose out to others finding fossils and selling them on the black market before the experts even start their search.

Reconstruction of the titanosaur.

The mummified corpse of ‘magical’ baby boy who died 50 years ago attracts thousands of pilgrims

The mummified corpse of ‘magical’ baby boy who died 50 years ago attracts thousands of pilgrims

There are thousands of pilgrims hundreds of miles traveling to visit the tiny body of Miguel Ángel Gaitán, Spanish for “Miracle Child”. “El Angelito Milagroso.”

Fifteen days prior to his first birthday in 1967, Miguel died of meningitis. Seven years ago, however, he apparently returned from beyond the grave seven years later and refused to go back – so his family members displayed their wrinkled corpse to worshippers to visit. 

A young boy poses with Miguel

El Angelito was buried where he was born in Banda Florida, a small town in the northwest of Argentina.

But seven years later something odd began to happen when the boy’s grave and the coffin would often be found open – with objects and pieces of a stone thrown all around it.

The cemetery janitors initially blamed violent rainstorms that were battering the city at the time.

But the mysterious happenings continued even after the weather improved.

Pilgrims leave flowers, pictures, and toys around Miguel

The boy’s mother said: “We would even put stones and other objects over the cover – but every morning we’d find it open.

“We then figured Miguelito did not want to be covered – he wanted to be seen.”

Villagers moved the coffin out in the open – but then the coffin’s lid kept being removed.

Interpreting the bizarre phenomenon as a further sign Miguel wanted to be seen, the family moved him to a coffin with a glass lid.

Even after almost 50 years, Miguel’s tiny wrinkled corpse is still incredibly well-preserved.

The child’s body quickly became a local attraction and rumours began to spread far and wide about his supposed magical powers.

For decades now thousands of Argentinians from across the country have descended on the remote town to seek a miracle.

One man – Daniel Saavedra – went to visit El Angelito when he fell ill with a rare pancreatic disease and within weeks he made a full recovery – he claims.

While some people believe touching the mummy’s forehead can help them, others just come to see the peculiar situation and hear the story.

Many of the visitors leave toys and flowers at the tomb.

Meet The Megatherium: The Adorable 13-Foot Sloth That Ruled The Prehistoric Amazon

Meet The Megatherium: The Adorable 13-Foot Sloth That Ruled The Prehistoric Amazon

An artist’s rendering of a now-extinct Megatherium.

The year is 9,000 B.C. Humongous cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, and massive-antlered Irish elk roam the grasslands and forests of South America, but the biggest of all is the Megatherium, an elephant-sized ground sloth.

The Megatherium was one of the largest ground mammals ever to have existed. The Megatherium dominated the continent’s southern grasslands and lightly forested areas and was something of a king of the mammals for thousands of years before a mass extinction event wiped it from the planet.

Or did it?

Rediscovering The Megatherium

It would not be until 1788 that the Megatherium would be seen again after the mass extinction event that wiped out pre-historic animals like the wooly mammoth and saber-toothed tiger, too.

It was then that an archaeologist named Manuel Torres discovered a rare fossil specimen on the banks of the Luján River in eastern Argentina. Though he did not immediately recognize it, he deemed it worth further study and sent it back to his base of study at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (The Spanish National Museum of Natural History) in Madrid, Spain. There, it was assembled into its most likely arrangement and mounted for display. A museum employee also created a thorough sketch of the animal to further study it.

The original specimen found by Manuel Torres on display in Madrid.

Before long, the fossil caught the eye of esteemed French paleontologist Georges Cuvier. Cuvier was intrigued by the sketch of the creature and used it to further explore its anatomy and taxonomy, and over time, he managed to create a more complete picture of the Megatherium’s history. In 1796, just eight years after the Megatherium had been discovered, Cuvier published the first paper on it.

In this paper, Cuvier theorized that the Megatherium was a giant sloth, perhaps an early ancestor of the modern equivalent. Initially, he believed that the Megatherium used its claws to climb trees as modern-day sloths did. However, he later amended his theory and hypothesized instead that the sloth was much too large to climb trees and likely used its claws to dig subterranean holes and tunnels.

With this explanation, a picture of the Megatherium as it existed began to form; a sloth the size of an elephant, with giant, powerful claws, that lived mostly on and under the ground. With further study, scientists began to discover its habitat, diet, and reproductive cycle, and the picture became ever clearer.

The Megatherium likely lived across the continent of South America, from southern Argentina all the way to Colombia. Full grown, individual creatures likely weighed upwards of four tons — the weight of the average male elephant — making it the largest land mammal second only to the wooly mammoth. It probably walked most of its life on four legs, though it is believed that it could stand on its hind legs in order to reach treetops and high foliage to feed its herbivorous diet. When it stood, the Megatherium would have been upwards of 13 feet tall.

Due to its immense size, it’s likely that Megatherium moved slowly like the sloths of today. It was likely one of the slowest creatures in its environment. In looks, it was quite similar to the modern sloth, though with facial characteristics of another one of its descendants, the anteater. In fact, it was in part Megatherium’s resemblance to more modern creatures that got Darwin thinking about his theory of evolution.

The Megatherium lived in large groups, though individual fossils have been found in isolated locations such as caves. It gave birth to live young, as most other mammals do, and likely continued living in familial groups while their young matured. Due to the lack of predators – they outweighed (and could likely kill) saber-toothed cats and other small carnivores – they lived a quiet and probably diurnal lifestyle.

Further, the Megatherium wasn’t much of a picky eater. The gigantic herbivores didn’t have to compete with smaller mammals for food as they had the advantage of height and procuring food from distances that smaller mammals simply couldn’t. They could tolerate and adapt to various types of plants as well as allegedly nibble on the occasional carcass, which allowed the Megatherium to migrate and thrive all over the continent — for 5.3 million years.

So what, or perhaps who, led to this resilient mammalian force’s extinction?

Another artist rendering of two Megatherium.

Extinction And Possible Survival

In roughly 8,500 B.C., the earth experienced a “Quaternary extinction event” during which most of the earth’s large mammals disappeared.

The Irish elk and saber-toothed tiger went extinct during this time as well as mammoths within the confines of continents, as some survived for several thousand more years in remote island areas. And, of course, the Megatherium went extinct during this time as well. These giant ground sloths were thought to have survived in more remote areas for at least another 5,000 years following this extinction, though.

Scientists are still not entirely sure what accounts for this mass extinctionas it does occur simultaneously with glacial-interglacial climate change. Instead, the extinction of the Megatherium seems more to have been the work of the emergence of mankind. Indeed, Megatherium fossils have been found with cut marks on them, suggesting that they were hunted by humans. Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, scientists have long believed that the elephant-sized sloths have been out of commission for at least 4,000 years.

However, rumors of giant sloths living deep in the jungles of South America have emerged. Those who live in and around the Amazon rainforest have long passed down stories of a dangerous beast they call the “mapinguari,” a giant sloth-like creature who is over seven feet tall, with matted fur and large, sharp claws. They claim it tramples foliage and brush and roars out of a giant, second mouth on its stomach.

Stomach-mouth aside, the description of the mapinguari is actually quite similar to descriptions of the Megatherium, and indeed several drawings of the mapinguari are hard to discern from those of the Megatherium. Some experts have theorized that the initial mapinguari sightings many years ago may, in fact, have been Megatherium that survived extinction by sequestering themselves within the shelter of the rainforest.

Artist’s rendering of what the giant sloth-like mapinguari could have looked like.

As many theorize that the mass extinction event was, in part, caused by a human invasion of their habitat, it would make sense that some could survive by avoiding populated areas. If the Megatherium truly did evade extinction, then the modern-day interpretation of the mapinguari is most likely an exaggerated report blown out of proportion through a generations-long game of telephone.

However, it could always be the case that the Megatherium truly did go extinct all those years ago and that the mapinguari, with its fetid breath and giant stomach-mouth, is truly roaming the Amazon and we are all in terrible danger.