The Yaghan were the southernmost indigenous people in the world. Their territory comprised of the canals and fiords of southern Patagonia: from Tierra del Fuego to Cape Horn at the bottom of the South American continent. Their population was decimated after the arrival of the Europeans. They were a small people, seldom over 5 feet tall, with small hands and feet.
In this very cold area of the world, the Yaghan did not use clothes. They covered their bodies with grease from the sea animals they caught.
The Yaghan women dove into the icy waters of Patagonia to retrieve the shellfish in all kinds of weather. Women rode in the stern looking for the thick kelp beds which were hiding places for shellfish and smaller fish. They would dive into the frosty and icy kelp beds, harvest what could be found until their canoes were full. The woman repeated their dives throughout the day, without protective wear in very cold water where only a few modern-day ice swimmers with months or years of acclimatization would venture.
The Yaghan women of innumerable generations proved in earlier centuries that the human body can adapt well to its local environment, even to the extreme, hinting that modern-day athletes can do more than we ever think possible.
According to Dr. Jolie Bookspan, cold acclimatization is a well-documented process of gradually increasing the body’s resistance to cold through regular cold exposure.
In Acclimatization to Diving in Cold Water, Dr. Bookspan noted examples of cold acclimatization including in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego.
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