Fuegian's survival secret in their bones

Anne Mary Tafuri, Department of Environmental Biology
Social Sciences and Humanities

Dr. Mary Anne Tafuri from the Sapienza Department of Environmental Biology coordinated a joint research project, with researchers from the University of Florence and the University of Conicet in Buenos Aires and Ushuaia, revealing the results of a paleo-nutritional research on two valuable collections of bones from the Tierra del Fuego. These results are fundamental to understand how these ancient people survived at extremely low temperatures.

The work, which was published in PlosOne, is based on carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios measured in bone collagen. This data allowed the team to reconstruct the diet of the Fuegians over the last millennia. The skeletal series allowed researchers to study the variation in the diet of these peoples following the arrival of European and North American explorers and settlers, who reached the region mostly to exploit pinnipeds (i.e., otters), depriving the natives of their main source of food.

The research reveals a surprisingly homogeneous diet both before and after the arrival of the colonizers. This consistency implies the locals’ adaptation to the unfamiliar environment and how they managed to balance their diet and maintain their intake of calories and proteins by replacing the diminishing pinniped population with other sources of food, mainly marine birds.

The two bones collections analysed by the research project, which date back to the 19th Century, are housed at the Sapienza G. Sergi Anthropology Museum and at the Florence Natural History Museum and were collected by Captain Giacomo Bove during his expeditions in Patagonia at the end of 1800s.


Team Leader
Anne Mary Tafuri
Dip. di Biologia ambientale