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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A second first step
Following her innovative and informative study of fossils as roots for myths in the Mediterranean, Mayor brings her investigative talents to the Western Hemisphere. Here, she follows the pattern set in her earlier book, "Ancient Paleontologists" by examining the myths and legends of Native Americans. Did they, like their Eurasian counterparts in Greece, find ancient bones...
Published on 11 Aug 2005 by Stephen A. Haines

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SLM
'QI' It's a shame that so called educated western ideas put very little store by native oral records and in most cases did not bother to record anything that was said. Similar to south America in earlier invasions where written accounts were destroyed before any research and understanding could be carried out. It's frustrating that 'political' wrangling is still denying...
Published 19 months ago by S. L. Marchant


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A second first step, 11 Aug 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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Following her innovative and informative study of fossils as roots for myths in the Mediterranean, Mayor brings her investigative talents to the Western Hemisphere. Here, she follows the pattern set in her earlier book, "Ancient Paleontologists" by examining the myths and legends of Native Americans. Did they, like their Eurasian counterparts in Greece, find ancient bones protruding from creek beds and bluffs? Did they also weave legends of fabulous creatures, human giants or spiritual entites from these unusual artefacts? In this account of tales and myths, Mayor's fluid style enlivens the legends, their tellers and the artefacts that inspired them.
Dividing her quest into regional investigations, she surveys the East Coast of North America, skips South to the realm of the Incas, then returns to Great Plains and Pacific Slope. Mayor finds links from recorded stories to the bones of dinosaurs, pterosaurs and mammoths. She is hampered, of course, by the minimal direct information available. She must rely on those who recorded and interpreted the information often gathered from conquered peoples. And many of the earliest records were destroyed by the Christian conquerors. What remains of those records has been the subject of much dispute. In early New England, Puritan Cotton Mather rejected stories and fossils alike as the invalid heritage of the heathen "salvages". In modern times, renowned paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson rejected the notion of Native American fossil finds and the legends surrounding them as lacking scientific value.
Mayor, however, shows how narrow Simpson's view has proven. Taking the legends more seriously, she notes that even President Thomas Jefferson had enough faith in fossil finds to charge the Lewis and Clark expedition with searching for living specimens. It took one of the geniuses of the times, Georges Cuvier, to bestow validity on fossil bones by declaring them the remnants of actual ancient creatures. With so many of the artefacts representing large species, the underlying logic of Native American legends depicting giant people and creatures makes sense.
The tales Mayor recounts are those of huge, terrifying animals or human-like creatures. Some raid the human settlements, only defeated by divine beings or the occasional heroic figure. Many of the stories have these beings eliminated by lightning or "fire from the sky". The powers of the giants were immense, but some felt the strength and size might be imparted to people. It remains unclear how many peoples used the bones for medicinal purposes - reminiscent of the "dragon bones" of apothecary shops in China. From Atlantic to Pacific, on the Plains or in the Andes, the bones emerged, launching fireside stories. The tales show how innovative individuals acquired special powers in the community through knowledge of fossils. These people could give the artefacts meaning or make them useful in various ways. There is a great similarity among the many peoples of the Western Hemisphere on what the strange objects appearing from the ground meant. The theme of giants, great battles and contests with fiery ends recurs often. When recorded in images, whether on tipis or stelae, they are readily identifiable.
Fossils in "enterprising" North America became the subject of frauds and deceptions. To the credulous, artefacts take on a special role and there's money to be made in them. Mayor concludes her book with an account of many of these. Fossils have been used to support "Scripture", such as accounting for the Noachean Flood. A regular business arose in Mexico through a trove of clay figurines purporting to represent ancient Sumer or even Atlantis. Red-haired giants were "found" in Nevada and ceremonies are performed in northern Mexico by people claiming to have recent contact with dinosaurs.
Mayor's books on ancient paleontology are a call for further investigation of a new field of interest. She is a herald for a new, emerging science. Simply finding bones and other fossils is no longer sufficient evidence for assessing the past. Long-term historical and legendary records have much to contribute. Mayor's plea for more studies should be taken up by young [and not so young!] scholars who are open-minded enough to apply new ideas and approaches. Her clear prose style eases the way for anybody interested in these topics to delve into them and perceive the possibilities. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating exploration of Native ancestral knowledge about fossils and dinosaurs..., 15 May 2014
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Paperback)
This book is in very much a similar vein to Adrienne Mayor's earlier book, The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times, tracing evidence, via literature, folklore and myth, of the awareness of ancient cultures of prehistoric fossils. She set herself a much harder task in this book, in tracing Native American awareness and understanding of fossil remains via stories and myth-making, since most Native cultures are oral and therefore prior to the relatively modern era left little in the way of written evidence of myths and beliefs.

It's a fascinating read, although it didn't enthral me in quite the same way as her other book. Part of my issue was the approach, I have to confess. For a start, it would be impossible to replicate the thoughts and beliefs of earlier generations of Native Americans; for all that their culture is predominately oral, it is virtually impossible to believe that modern stories and myths can have been handed down over decades and centuries within any change, modification or influence from current knowledge. Unlike a Greek vase or a Roman tablet, there is no way of ascertaining just how old a story may be. A storyteller saying it has been passed from his grandfather's grandfather's grandfather is not evidence.

I can well believe that earlier generations of Native Americans, both pre- and post-Columbian, will have incorporated the fossils and remains into their belief systems, that stories of Thunder Beings and Water Monsters may have been inspired by the scattered remains of gigantic creatures, that Native Americans may have shown much more awareness of 'deep time' and geological epochs, of extinction events, climate change and climatic disasters, than pre-Darwinian Europeans may have. But relying of stories told now as evidence of what people believed then, is just too much of a stretch for me. But it's an interesting theory, one I well believe, and given how well it ties into the arguments in her previous book about the Greeks and Romans, it's a theory that I think holds up, despite the lack of empirical evidence - and certainly I think more attention needs to be paid by the academic community to what Native American myths and legends may reveal about intellectual sophistication and ancestral knowledge.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SLM, 16 Jan 2013
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S. L. Marchant "Q.E." (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fossil Legends of the First Americans (Paperback)
'QI' It's a shame that so called educated western ideas put very little store by native oral records and in most cases did not bother to record anything that was said. Similar to south America in earlier invasions where written accounts were destroyed before any research and understanding could be carried out. It's frustrating that 'political' wrangling is still denying full scientific research in certain areas. I've only marked this as three stars, as whilst reading I got the impression it was written so as not to upset the belief that North American Tribes were 'The First Americans'. I would suggest that anyone interested in this area should read 'Forbidden Archeology' (Michael A. Cremo & Richard L. Thompson)
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Fossil Legends of the First Americans
Fossil Legends of the First Americans by Adrienne Mayor (Paperback - 18 Mar 2007)
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