Travel just eight kilometers from El Calafate, and you'll discover one of Argentina's most historically significant treasures, the Walichu Caves. Located just off of the shore of Lake Argentina, or Lago Argentino, these caverns filled with Paleolithic cave paintings are both beautiful and archeologically significant.
A visit to the Walichu Caves will transport you back over 4,000 years ago, to a time when Argentinean aborigines used drawings of maps, people, and animals to aid fellow hunters and gatherers in the region. Created with materials such as gypsum, egg-whites, plant resin, and human saliva, many of the painting have survived the ages due to the protective environment of the caves. Others, however, which have given in to thousands of years of weathering have been partially restored to allow full appreciation for the work by cave visitors.
Francisco Pascasio Moreno, notable explorer in the region, was the first to discover the Walichu Caves in 1877.
Signs of the Paleolithic Era
The Paleolithic Era, which began with use of the first stone tools and ended with the introduction of agriculture, was marked by the necessity of hunting and scavenging activity for survival. Because of this need, many early human beings used cryptic paintings and sketches to illustrate maps of the land and successful hunting areas for their fellow tribe-mates to utilize. This is believed to be the case in the Walichu Caves, which house innumerable illustrations of the surrounding landscape and wildlife. While the early humans of the area had considerable knowledge about plants, herbs, and animal populations, without these informative cave drawings they may have never survived.
The Tehuelche People
Tehuelche is the name given to the numerous native tribes of the Argentinean Patagonia. It was one of these tribes that created the cave paintings that adorn the walls of the Walichu Caves still today. In fact, the name Walichu itself comes from the name of a Tehuelchian deity who was central figure in the culture's spiritual practice. These early Patagonian dwellers are now believed to be synonymous with the Patagones, a race of so-called "giants" described by European explorers traveling within southern South America.
Getting to the Caves
Making your way to the Walichu Caves is simple, as the area is accessible by car, foot, or even on horse-back. While the road from El Calafate to the caves measures only eight kilometers, plan on spending a few hours to appreciate this fascinating excursion.
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