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Native American cultures of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego

Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego lie at the southernmost extremity of the South American continent. The earliest humans arrived in the region well over ten thousand years ago.

At the time of first contact with Europeans, in the sixteenth century, several cultural groups inhabited the mainland and adjacent archipelago. They can be characterized by two different ways of life. The Aónikenk (Tehuelche) of southern Patagonia and the Selk'nam (Ona) of northern Tierra del Fuego exploited terrestrial resources: guanaco (a type of camelid), birds and plants. These terrestrial hunters used skilfully made bows, arrows and bolas to hunt both the guanaco and the rhea (South American ostrich). Guanaco skin was used to make clothing and dwellings.

The Yámana (Yaghan) and the Kawéskar (Alakaluf) inhabited the archipelagos to the south and west of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, and relied on canoes to exploit maritime resources, including large sea mammals, birds and molluscs.

Wood and tree bark was of central importance to the maritime groups; they used it to make objects ranging from canoes to buckets, while many of their tools and weapons were made of bone from sea mammals.

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