Fossil Legends of the First Americans

Front Cover
Princeton University Press, 2005 - History - 446 pages

The burnt-red badlands of Montana's Hell Creek are a vast graveyard of the Cretaceous dinosaurs that lived 68 million years ago. Those hills were, much later, also home to the Sioux, the Crows, and the Blackfeet, the first people to encounter the dinosaur fossils exposed by the elements. What did Native Americans make of these stone skeletons, and how did they explain the teeth and claws of gargantuan animals no one had seen alive? Did they speculate about their deaths? Did they collect fossils?

Beginning in the East, with its Ice Age monsters, and ending in the West, where dinosaurs lived and died, this richly illustrated and elegantly written book examines the discoveries of enormous bones and uses of fossils for medicine, hunting magic, and spells. Well before Columbus, Native Americans observed the mysterious petrified remains of extinct creatures and sought to understand their transformation to stone. In perceptive creation stories, they visualized the remains of extinct mammoths, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine creatures as Monster Bears, Giant Lizards, Thunder Birds, and Water Monsters. Their insights, some so sophisticated that they anticipate modern scientific theories, were passed down in oral histories over many centuries.

Drawing on historical sources, archaeology, traditional accounts, and extensive personal interviews, Adrienne Mayor takes us from Aztec and Inca fossil tales to the traditions of the Iroquois, Navajos, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Pawnees. Fossil Legends of the First Americans represents a major step forward in our understanding of how humans made sense of fossils before evolutionary theory developed.

 

Contents

Marsh Monsters of Big Bone Lick
1
The Northeast Giants Great Bears and Grandfather of the Buffalo
32
New Spain Bones of Fear and Birds of Terror
73
The Southwest Fossil Fetishes and Monster Slayers
106
The Prairies Fossil Medicine and Spirit Animals
168
The High Plains Thunder Birds Water Monsters and BuffaloCalling Stones
220
Common Ground
296
Fossil Frauds and Specious Legends
332
Notes
347
Bibliography
407
Index
429
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About the author (2005)

Adrienne Mayor's books include The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. She is a research scholar in classics and the history of science at Stanford University.