Science as a bridge for the restitution of ancestral heritage
CONICET/DICYT The meeting took place in Loma Torta hill, with a campfire, music, Mapuche and Tehuelche people, scientists, a pile of stones, and the history of one community that with the help of science managed to trace their roots. Since 2013, scientists have collected bones, objects and grave goods of the members of the Ceferino Namuncurá- Valentín Saygüeque community in Loma Torta.
The restitution was the result of a study conducted by a group of anthropologists, archaeologists and biologists who are researchers of the Patagonian National Research Center (CENPAT) of the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET). The community and the scientists revisited the site for the 10th Conference of Archaeology that took place in August in Patagonia.
It all began in 2008, when one neighbor of Gaiman, in Patagonia, delivered fragmented bones she found in the peak of Loma Torta hill. The remains were in bad conditions because the site was used as a track for Enduro. Julieta Gómez Otero, CONICET independent researcher at the CENPAT, was one of the scientists who worked for five years on the identification of the bones. After the scientific analysis, the biological material was given back to the members of the community they belong to. Then, the Ceferino Namuncurá- Valentín Saygüeque peoples took it to the top of the hill, on the sacred place.
The remains found in the hill included complete or shattered bones, and cultural materials such as stone artifacts, small beads carved in mollusks shells, in perforated small pebbles, and a three centimeters disk made of bronze or copper. How did science contribute to this? With the studies conducted at the laboratory, the scientists managed to obtain some information about these peoples: how was their lifestyle, their habits, the gender of the individuals whose skulls or pelvises were found, the age when they died, and other indicators of health and food.
Among the fragmentary remains, the researchers could also identify six children under the age of five and one fetus of 25 weeks of gestation, which suggested the presence of its mother inside the rest of the bones. The researchers also managed to infer that that population was hunter-gatherer with high physical activity. Besides, there was no food stress according to the paleontological studies and these people were in good health condition. This is an example of how science can contribute to the memory and the historical reconstruction of our roots.