Fossil Legends of the First Americans

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Princeton University Press, 2005 - Social Science - 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.


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User Review  - TheDancingGoats - LibraryThing

In Fossil Legends, the mysterious lore of the Native Americans is explained in the context of Proto-Science awareness…The vast bone beds scattered across North America needed explanation and ... Read full review

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This quote, from the book, is not true as I was directly involved with the discovery, excavation and a great deal of the preparation of the Triceratops skull which is, or was, housed at the Grand RIver Museum.
Page 263:
"…I saw Edmontosaurus and Triceratops skulls that had been dug up by a rancher in his pasture on the Grand River. He dug there because of a story in his family that, as a boy in about 1900, the rancher's grandfather had repeatedly told his parents he'd seen "a monster" in the pasture."
This is an outright fabrication as Dr. Steven Sroka lead a crew of professionals, and well educated volunteers, which were wholly responsible for the discovery and in recovering the Triceratops skull over 2 full dig seasons after a survey crew found the skull of the Triceratops exposed at the terminal of the right brow spike alone. This was about 4 or 5 yeas into an ongoing effort to recover fossils and strata-graphic data in the upper Hell Creek. It looked like the end of a leg bone embedded in mudstone.. The rancher was only minimally involved in the field work or the opening of the jacket. There was no insight to look at this location for a Triceratops skull and was found by a volunteer in the dig crew.
The above can be confirmed by the professionals involved.


Marsh Monsters of Big Bone Lick
The Northeast Giants Great Bears and Grandfather of the Buffalo
New Spain Bones of Fear and Birds of Terror
The Southwest Fossil Fetishes and Monster Slayers
The Prairies Fossil Medicine and Spirit Animals
The High Plains Thunder Birds Water Monsters and BuffaloCalling Stones
Common Ground
Fossil Frauds and Specious Legends

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About the author (2005)

Adrienne Mayor, an independent scholar of natural history folklore and the early history of science, is the author of The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times (Princeton) and Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs (Overlook).

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