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Re: What would Hitchcock have thought...?

Thanks for these ideas. I agree there is no way to find "historical proof" of the myths about avian abductions. People are always asking me if such stories are true. Personally, I think Native American stories of avian abductions originally arose from the storytelling imagination, based on seemingly plausible fears of large raptors and knowledge of their behavior (as noted by Norton and Graydon) and on discoveries of well-preserved fossil remains of extinct raptors and their nests (which often contain parts of mastodon bones carried there from carrion sites, but giving the impression to a casual observer that the bird brought large prey to its nest). If one baby was ever carried off in a rare instance, that would help perpetuate the myth.

Ancestral memories of megafaunas from the Pleistocene is a dubious argument. It's an unprovable hypothesis, but it has cropped up in popular and scientific venues for the past century or so. The only kinds of oral traditions that can be proven to have been inspired by an empirical observation in the prehistoric past are stories about scientifically datable geological or astronomical events (volcanoes, earthquakes, comets, etc).

On Jan 15, 2006, at 10:26 AM, Patrick Norton wrote:

Ok, good point. But if not teratorns, which other Ice Age birds of prey would be capable of picking up a small child (either in talons or beak)? Or should we reject the new interpretation of the evidence in South Africa, reported in Am J of Phys Anthropology, that large birds apparentlypreyed on human ancestors?>

I accept the recent evidence from South America. I just don't think it's very surprising, or that it confirms the historical truth of the myths you mention. There is all kinds of evidence of large raptors preying on primates, including video of a Harpy Eagles (with a modest 7 foot wingspan) snatching an adult three-toed sloth out of tree and flying away with it. It's not surprising to see evidence that this also happened in the distant past to juvenile hominids. In the Pleistocene, the New Zealand eagle, Harpogornis, would likely have been able to snatch a snatch up a human toddler with little problem. I'm skeptical about the North America origins of these myths, however, because nothing analogous to Harpagornis (that I'm aware of anyway) is known from the late Pleistocene of North America.

Perhaps there was such a North American bird that just hasn't been found. Perhaps the myth goes further back in human history than the Pleistocene of North America. Perhaps the myth is born of a fear in which the observed prey capture techniques of eagles was conflated with a parental concern for the safety of children who did live in the shadow of the huge teratorns.