Las Limetas

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday started a beautiful day so our plans to show our friends Pepe1, Rosa and Alex -newish in town- some of the lesser known areas around Carmelo was possible. The idea was to visit Conchillas, a small town about 40 km to the south-east that happened to be the birthplace of my wife! After that visit we would wander around looking for a nice place to have a picnic. I had such a spot in mind but I was not sure that it would be feasible as I had last been there about 10 years before.

Conchillas is a special small town of about 500 inhabitants. It is special because it was, unusually for Uruguay, started by the British in the 1880s as a supplier of sand and stone for the building of the new port in Buenos Aires. The latter is located at about 40 km across the River Plate. After studies by the English company C.H. Walker and Co. Ltd. that discovered the Conchillas’ sand and stone deposits, the company started to develop the area bringing their own employees. Long stone houses were built and the Evans family -owner of the shops- even minted a special currency for the Walker Company to pay its workers. This unique currency would be used by them to buy goods from the company’s stores but it was also accepted in the rest of Uruguay!

After WWII -in 1951- the company sold the entire town, including its dwellers!, to two Uruguayan businessmen that, eventually sold the houses to their occupants and the public areas to the municipality.

We had a chance to visit the town and its cemetery where we could see the various tombs of the earlier British dwellers, including that of Mr. Evans himself!

After this cultural exercise it was time for driving in the countryside to find a picnic spot. I had an idea that I needed to test so I aimed for the place by driving through a road that follows the oriental margin of the River Plate in a north-westerly direction. I was aiming for a small stream where I guessed would be a suitable area to spend the afternoon.

I knew the Las Limetas2 stream from the 60s when we visited it for the first time while in High School. We had come back in later years while on holiday in Uruguay but I had not been there for at least 10 years and I had not really gone beyond looking at the stream from the small low bridge.

A surprise awaited. A new high bridge had been built as the old had been destroyed by a flood. The land around the new bridge had been cleared leaving a flat space where a picnic could take place. While the chairs and table were organized, I decided to explore the stream.

I knew a small secret: the place is well known by yielding fossils and to find some was my objective. Although I had no difficulty in finding petrified sea shells, I intended to surprise our friends with some special surprise: Glyptodon remains.

Glyptodons were large armadillo-like mammals that lived in this area during the Pleistocene epoch3. They were large mammals with a round shell that could reach the size of a small car. Glyptodons were buried in the area and sometimes they became visible in the sediment that formed the river banks. Pieces from the skeletons would detach and they would be found in the stream bed and surrounding area.

Extinct_animals_(Page_170)_BHL20384753 - Copy

A complete Glyptodon. Credit: Lankester, E. Ray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Different fossilized remains can be found but only the carapace plaques known as osteoderms are unequivocally from Glyptodons to the uninitiated. So I rolled up my trousers and waded up and down the river while my friends thought I had gone crazy! After a while I realized that there were no osteoderms to be found. However I was encouraged to see fresh tracks of capybara and coypu at the sandy shores.

I was about to abandon my wet search when I spotted an odd looking stone that I picked up. It was a petrified bone that, although I do not know for sure, I believe to have come from a Glyptodon limb. Although it was not an osteoderm, I was relieved that I could impress my friends with the find as I could always make a good story.

Satisfied after my fossil-hunting as I had something to show for it, I re-joined our friends and proceeded to explain my “madness” to them and to show them my priceless discovery. Although I really made an effort to impress, my glory was short lived as everybody was enjoying the lovely sunshine and about to have lunch and hardly listened to my story. After a while I decided to stop pretending to be a fossil hunter and tossed the bone aside to join them in their conversation and food. We had a great (and fossil-less) day together.


2  The only meaning of “Limetas” I found was “a fat and short bottle with a long neck”.
3  It lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.