Identification of the geographic origins of people buried in the cemetery of the Salesian Mission of Tierra del Fuego through the analyses of mtDNA and stable isotopes

J. M.B. Motti, S. Winingear, L. O. Valenzuela, M. A. Nieves-Colón, K. M. Harkins, P. García Laborde, C. M. Bravi, R. A. Guichón, A. C. Stone

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3 Scopus citations


Considering that the treatment of dead bodies constitutes an expression of the symbolic world, the objective of this work is to obtain greater knowledge about the regional geographic origins of the individuals buried in the post-European contact Salesian Mission “La Candelaria” of Tierra del Fuego. Historical data report that two groups of people made use of this cemetery: Native Americans from Southern Patagonia (indigenous) on one hand, and colonists and missionaries (non-indigenous) on the other hand. We used two new lines of evidence: mtDNA sequences and oxygen isotope data (δ18O), to identify these groups and assess whether the location of the individuals in the cemetery shows patterns that could be associated with group affiliation. Of the 26 individuals we tested, our results indicate that 85% of the individuals were local, i.e. Natives from Southern Patagonia and a 15% of the individuals came from outside this region (non-local). In the excavated sector of the cemetery, no trends were identified in the location and disposition of burials that could be associated with group affiliation. We found no differences in burial treatment that could indicate difference among individuals of European origin, migrants from nearby areas, and Natives from Southern Patagonia. While variability in the geographic origins of the people was expected considering the historical data, the fact that people with different geographic origins were buried together, without spatial separation within this section of the cemetery was not. The non-existence of spatial separation between indigenous and non-indigenous people may be related to the main objective of the missionary process: the evangelization of indigenous people. In this sense, all the individuals buried in the cemetery went through Christianization and their bodies were treated without observable differences between them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102559
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
StatePublished - Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
To the members of Selḱnam community “Rafaela Ishton”. To Marilina Martucci, Carlos Huilinao, Diego Hérnandez Pérez, Rocío Guichón, Francisco Guichón, Martín Fugassa, Manuel Dángelo del Campo, Mariana Segura, Alejandra Ibáñez and Rosana Avendaño, who participated in the excavations. To Patricia Palacio for drawing the map in figure 1. And to R. Aidan Campbell for code support. We thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive revision of the manuscript. This project was funded by: PIP 0359 (CONICET, Argentina); PICT 0575 and PICT 2015-1405 (ANPCyT, Argentina); and Arizona State University Regents’ Professor funds, United States. RAG, JMBM, CMB and LOV are members of CONICET , Argentina.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • Control Region
  • Native American
  • Oxygen isotopes
  • Subcontinental origins


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