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Customer Review

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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