|A genuine treasure|
It's no secret that I'm mighty fond of dinosaurs, and equally fond of the First Nations people. I've been fascinated with both since childhood. And by the grace of the Almighty I came across this gem, Fossil Legends of the First Americans. Now, I'm a cheapskate. I keep Amazon afloat cuz I binge buy Kindle ebooks by the bucketload, but they're also cheap. I usually scope the one dollar ones. Given my meager budget, I have to. But when I came across this, I couldn't just buy a digital copy. I had to own a physical copy, to have it sit on my shelf. It cost a lot more, but it was worth it.
Adrienne Mayor, who I wasn't familiar with before picking this up, has swiftly become one of my new favorite scholars, and I have since purchased many of her other works. She goes into illustrious detail examining the folklore, history and legends of the various American tribes going back as far as records possible go and connects them materially and theoretically with the abundance of fossils of the land and how they influenced the First Nations.
The results are nothing short of breathtaking. Nor is she a simple armchair scholar that looks down her nose upon getting her hands dirty. Besides braving the paper jungles of ancient manuscripts, she has collected a wealth of first hand information from living members of various tribes, really trying to get down to the roots of things. She isn't someone who lets her pet theories and preconceived notions get in the way of objectivity and reality. She gets deep into the heart of things to find facts and genuine truth.
Her research here helps us realize that despite many of the thoughts of early scientists, the First Nations people didn't look at the various bones and relics of the earth with mute lack of understanding, but instead were utterly fascinated by them and often recognized them as being the ancestors of animals they already knew, especially in the case of Pleistocene-era mammals. Those they didn't recognize they sought to understand and fit within their legends and understanding of the world. Remarkably, many of them came to understand that our world had phases, eras where man was absent but other animals of great and terrible power roamed, until cataclysm removed them and paved the way for modern man and animals.
In many ways they were actually ahead of the scientists that came to study the bones after them. And their intimate knowledge of wildlife and their habits gave them a unique insight to how they might have behaved and helped them solve mysteries that baffled academics for years. One example was that of fossilized tunnels in a corkscrew shape, what they called Devil's Corkscrews. Paleontologists of the day were stumped. What could have formed these strange formations in the earth? Well, the locals had figured that out a long time ago: they were made by burrowing rodents, specifically the ancestors of beaver.
The numerous skeletons of massive sea lizards and remnants of pterosaurs gave rise to the idea of ancient sea serpents and thunder birds. The massive skulls and tusks of ancient mammoths in salt licks and rivers seeded the ideas of massive river monsters. Mammoth femurs, which look remarkably like human femurs, gave rise to the tales of ancient human giants. And yet for many these weren't static things to be observed and left alone. Many tribes felt that these remnants were great medicine and often used as charms and fetishes to give them power or protect them. Little wonder why! Equally interesting is how some were even ingested by those who were sick. Now, I'd known that the Chinese for millennia had ingested dinosaur bones as a medicine, but this was new! In fact, apparently Europeans had ingested them also. Who else has been eating fossils? What's even more remarkable is that they actually work! Evidently the density of calcium and minerals makes them a wonder for boosting the system. Bones and other pieces of the past were used as tools, burnishing pottery, withdrawing poisons, and a host of other usages.
The lore surrounding the fossils is utterly fascinating, and every group had a different history and flavor to them. Unfortunately, this book also highlights how much we could have known, as infinitely more than is recorded here was lost through the wars, famine and just plain unjust treatment and suppression of their myths. For history junkies like me it's like slapping a sunburn. But there's also hope for the future.
Now this book isn't for everyone, but if you are someone who follows my humble page here, then you're probably the kind of person who would enjoy it. I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's amazing work and well worth a spot on any bookshelf.