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.
Subjects: Archaeology, Sociology
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