Groups of Indigenous People
The early people of Patagonia migrated to the area over 8 thousand years ago. They were nomadic hunters and gatherers in search of food. Their resilient nature made it possible to adapt to the harsh conditions of the land. These people originally included the Aonikens, the Kawesqars, the Yaganes and the Selknams.
Patagonia is such an isolated area that for thousands of years it remained undiscovered by the rest of the known world. But in 1520 all that changed. Ferdinand Magellan was the first to describe the land and its people during an expedition there. Magellan had already managed to travel much of the world and he was thrilled to discover a natural passage that connected both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, known today as the Straight of Magellan.
But for all his brilliance with world navigation and exploration, Magellan grossly exaggerated the nature of the people he encountered on the southernmost tip of South America.
The people were thought to be on average about 5’11” tall. This would have seemed quite tall to the Europeans who averaged in height ten inches shorter than that.
Anotonio Pigafetta was a member of Magellan’s crew and he recorded the following:
"One day we suddenly saw a naked man of giant stature on the shore of the port, dancing, singing, and throwing dust on his head. The captain-general [i.e., Magellan] sent one of our men to the giant so that he might perform the same actions as a sign of peace. Having done that, the man led the giant to an islet where the captain-general was waiting. When the giant was in the captain-general's and our presence he marveled greatly, and made signs with one finger raised upward, believing that we had come from the sky. He was so tall that we reached only to his waist, and he was well proportioned..."
The name Patagonia comes from this first expedition. The expedition used the term “patagon” to describe these people of the region. The word came to be associated with “Land of the Bigfeet.” In fact for centuries tales and rumors ran rampant in Europe about this land of giants.