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When the explorer Magellan sailed around the great island at the tip of South America, he saw Indian campfires all along the coast and called the island Tierra del Fuego, or Land of Smoke. But it was reasoned that where there is smoke there is fire and the named was eventually changed to Tierra del Fuego.

Tierra del Fuego was home to four Indian tribes: Haush, Ona, Yahgan and Alacaluf. Primarily nomadic, they generally dressed in guanaco skins, lived in huts made of sticks, branches and sometimes skins. They hunted with bows and arrows, slings and snares, and fished by harpoons and spears. Unlike Indian tribes to the north, none of the tribes had chiefs or organized religion.

Between the first explorers in the early 1500's & permanent settlers in the late 1800's, there were scientific expeditions, pirates, sealers and whalers passing through, occasionally skirmishing with the Indians and introducing European diseases and otherwise negatively impacting the Indians' way of live. Today there are no true full-blooded Fuegan Indians, the last having died around 1915.

In total the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego covers an area slightly smaller than Ireland, with 70% belonging to Chile. The border runs down the middle of the big island and then down the middle of the Beagle Channel.

Tierra del Fuego is home to several of the world's largest birds, including the rhea, the condor and the albatross. Large animals include guanacos, otters, seals and sea lions.