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Mocha Island

Pre-Columbian Contact on the Chilean Coast


Mocha Island, Chile

Mocha Island, Chile


Mocha Island is a small (13x5.5 kilometers) island located 35 km from the southern coast of the Arauco region of south central Chile. Archaeological research on the island suggests that it was first occupied about 5,000 years ago, and that a permanent settlement was formed about 1500 years ago. Mocha Island is located within the region traditionally occupied by the Mapuche, a pre-Hispanic culture located in central-south Chile, Argentina and Patagonia.

After investigations at the site of El Arenal-1 in Chile identified precontact chicken remains, a search for faunal material in museums throughout Chile was undertaken to discover whether additional chicken bones or those of the Pacific rat existed. Although no additional rat or chicken bones were discovered, a small human skeletal assemblage was discovered at the Concepcion Museum on Mocha Island, only 100 km from El Arenal-1.

Among the human remains were six complete adult crania—human skulls—three of which were identified as having some Polynesian ancestry, based on physical attributes including a pentagonal skull form and rocker-shaped mandibles. Although little information regarding the context or dating of the skeletal material, artifacts stored with one of the Polynesian skeletons are associated with El Vergel complex (1000-1500 AD), that of El Arenal-1.

Sources and Further Information

Matisoo-Smith EA, and Ramirez J-M. 2009. Human Skeletal Evidence of Polynesian Presence in South America? Metric Analyses of Six Crania from Mocha Island, Chile. Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1(1):76-88.

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