In A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World The Voyage Of The Beagle, Darwin calls upon eye-witnesses and printed texts to tell the story of repeated mass deaths of South American horses and cattle as part of a discussion of interpreting “such an enormous collection of bones.” — George P. Landow,Editor-in-chief and Webmaster, the Victorian Web

I was informed by an eye-witness that the cattle in herds of thousands rushed into the Parana, and being exhausted by hunger they were unable to crawl up the muddy banks, and thus were drowned. The arm of the river which runs by San Pedro was so full of putrid carcasses, that the master of a vessel told me that the smell rendered it quite impassable. Without doubt several hundred thousand animals thus perished in the river: their bodies when putrid were seen floating down the stream; and many in all probability were deposited in the estuary of the Plata. All the small rivers became highly saline, and this caused the death of vast numbers in particular spots; for when an animal drinks of such water it does not recover. Azara describes the fury of the wild horses on a similar occasion, rushing into the marshes, those which arrived first being overwhelmed and crushed by those which followed. (7/9. "Travels" volume 1 page 374.) He adds that more than once he has seen the carcasses of upwards of a thousand wild horses thus destroyed. I noticed that the smaller streams in the Pampas were paved with a breccia of bones, but this probably is the effect of a gradual increase, rather than of the destruction at any one period. Subsequently to the drought of 1827 to 1832, a very rainy season followed which caused great floods. Hence it is almost certain that some thousands of the skeletons were buried by the deposits of the very next year. What would be the opinion of a geologist, viewing such an enormous collection of bones, of all kinds of animals and of all ages, thus embedded in one thick earthy mass? Would he not attribute it to a flood having swept over the surface of the land, rather than to the common order of things?

Note: These droughts to a certain degree seem to be almost periodical; I was told the dates of several others, and the intervals were about fifteen years.


Darwin, Charles. A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World The Voyage Of The Beagle. Project Gutenberg EBook #3704 produced by Sue Asscher. August 6, 2008. The e-version is based on the 1890 11th edition. (The book first appeared in 1839.)

Last modified 4 April 2012