Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Sunday, 5 October 2014

THUNDERBIRD FEATHERS AND PIASA PORTRAYALS

Northwest Coast styled Kwakwaka'wakw totem pole with thunderbird perched on top (© Dr Haggis/Wikipedia GFDL)

Cryptozoologists are familiar with the longstanding mystery of the missing thunderbird photograph (click here for my ShukerNature investigation of this curious case), but what about an alleged thunderbird feather?

Interviewed recently by Tucson-based freelance writer Craig S. Baker for an online article on unsolved mysteries of the Wild West (click here), veteran Wild West author/investigator W.C. Jameson made a claim of considerable potential significance to cryptozoology regarding the legendary thunderbirds.

Jameson stated that a Cherokee treasure hunter he once knew told him that while looking for a long-lost cache of Spanish silver in a Utah cave, he had dug up several huge feathers, each one over 18 in long and with a quill of comparable diameter to one of his fingers. Above the cave’s mouth, moreover, was an ancient pictograph of an enormous horned bird. Could this have been a piasa?

For anyone unfamiliar with the piasa, here is what I wrote about this extraordinary monster of North American mythology in my book Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013):


"In August 1673, Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette was travelling along the Mississippi while journeying through Illinois when, looking up at the cliffs towering above both sides of this mighty river at Alton, he was both horrified and fascinated by some huge, extraordinary petroglyphs carved into the face of one of the cliffs.

"They depicted a truly astonishing monster, which the local Indians informed him was known as the piasa. In overall appearance, it closely compared with the famous winged classical dragon of European mythology. Boldly adorned in black and red scales all over its body, the piasa had four limbs whose feet were equipped with huge talons. It bore a pair of long antler-like horns upon its head, it sported an extremely long tail with a forked tip, and two enormous bat-like wings with vein-like markings were raised above its body. But what set the piasa entirely apart from other classical dragons was its bearded face – for in spite of its snarling grimace of fang-bearing teeth, broad nose, and flaming eyes, it was nonetheless the face of a man!

"According to the Indians, the piasa had lived in a huge cave in the cliff face and was once friendly to humans – until it acquired the taste for their flesh. Afterwards, it became a bloodthirsty, insatiable killer, but was finally lured within range of the tribe's best marksmen, who severely wounded it with a barrage of arrows, then finished it off with their tomahawks.

"Tragically, in c.1856 these wonderful ancient petroglyphs were destroyed accidentally during some quarry work nearby, which caused the petroglyphs to crack and shatter, falling off the cliff face into the river."

Piasa - a modern-day depiction at Alton, Illinois (© Burfalcy/Wikipedia)

Returning to the thunderbird feathers: Jameson has also claimed that he actually owns the stem (i.e. quill) of one of these remarkable mega-plumes, albeit broken and incomplete, thus 'only' measuring 18 in long, and that its species had not been positively identified by any of the several (unnamed) ornithologists who had seen it. Click here to see an online photograph of Jameson's alleged thunderbird feather quill on Mark Turner's Mysterious World blog.

Assuming that Jameson’s story is accurate, could this giant feather be a bona fide thunderbird plume? Tangible, physical evidence for cryptids is, by definition, a rare commodity, so such a specimen could be of great scientific worth, thanks to the considerable power of modern-day DNA analysis in ascertaining taxonomic identity or kinship.

For by subjecting the feather to such analysis (using samples of dried blood if present at its base, or viable cells collected from the calimus - the portion of the quill that had previously been imbedded underneath the bird’s skin), biotechnologists might succeed where the ornithologists have reputedly failed, and duly unveil the hitherto-cryptic nature of its avian originator.

Sporting a colossal wingspan estimated at 23-24 ft, the giant Argentinian teratorn Argentavis magnificens; teratorns were huge prehistoric relatives of today's New World vultures, and some cryptozoologists believe that the thunderbirds of Amerindian mythology may be based upon late-surviving or even still-undiscovered present-day North American teratorns (© Justin Case aka Hodari Nundu/Deviantart.com)

Let us hope, therefore, that someone will be able to persuade Jameson to submit his giant mystery feather for formal DNA testing - always assuming of course that it really is a feather...

After all: during medieval times, crusaders returning home to Europe from the Middle East often brought back with them as unusual souvenirs what they had been told by unscrupulous traders were feathers from an immense fabled bird known as the roc or rukh – said to be so enormous that it could carry off elephants in its huge talons. Even its plumes were gigantic, up to 3 ft long. In reality, however, when examined by naturalists these were swiftly exposed as the deceptively feather-like leaves of the raffia palm tree (for further details, click here).

A raffia palm tree leaf masquerading as a roc feather – one of several that I purchased several years ago as cryptozoological curios (© Dr Karl Shuker)





4 comments:

  1. Hello Mr. Shuker, on the same page as the "Thunderbird Quill" there is this INSANE photograph!!! What's with this??? I mean its fake...right?!?! http://markturnersmysteriousworld.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/thunderbird-legends-sightings-evidence.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi there, The "hunters and pterodactyl-like thunderbird" photo is indeed a hoax, as exposed here: http://bizarrezoology.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/on-matter-of-alleged-civil-war.html

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi. I've been searching for sightings of a bird that is similar to what I saw one day in Northern Alberta, Canada.

    I was driving to High Level, Alberta and caught what I assumed, in my pariferal, was a large black dog sitting very upright in the ditch along a fence-line. I did a double take, as it stuck me as odd due to how far away from it's home it must be (about 3 miles on either side to the nearest home along the highway). My mind will never forget what I saw; standing there was a dark bird (mostly black) reaching a full 4 feet to the top of it's head. The silouette was of similar shape to a dog with it's ears laid back sniffing the air slightly. I am guessing it's weight to be 150 pounds or more.

    The beak was dark grey if not black irodescent. The feathers on its head and mane were grey speckled almost like a young bald eagles would be.

    If i had to hazard a guess, it's beak would have had to be 6 to 8 inches long and seemed hooked sharply at the tip more pronounced than an eagle's. So all in all, the head was at least as large as a big wolf's from crown to beak-tip.

    For 15 years it has remained in my memory very clearly, and I haven't told many about it, maybe a handful of people including the chief of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) of New York and an elder of the Saddle Lake nation (Cree).

    If anyone has had a similar sighting I would love to hear about it.

    howage1@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi. I've been searching for sightings of a bird that is similar to what I saw one day in Northern Alberta, Canada.

    I was driving to High Level, Alberta and caught what I assumed, in my pariferal, was a large black dog sitting very upright in the ditch along a fence-line. I did a double take, as it stuck me as odd due to how far away from it's home it must be (about 3 miles on either side to the nearest home along the highway). My mind will never forget what I saw; standing there was a dark bird (mostly black) reaching a full 4 feet to the top of it's head. The silouette was of similar shape to a dog with it's ears laid back sniffing the air slightly. I am guessing it's weight to be 150 pounds or more.

    The beak was dark grey if not black irodescent. The feathers on its head and mane were grey speckled almost like a young bald eagles would be.

    If i had to hazard a guess, it's beak would have had to be 6 to 8 inches long and seemed hooked sharply at the tip more pronounced than an eagle's. So all in all, the head was at least as large as a big wolf's from crown to beak-tip.

    For 15 years it has remained in my memory very clearly, and I haven't told many about it, maybe a handful of people including the chief of the Kanienkehaka (Mohawk) of New York and an elder of the Saddle Lake nation (Cree).

    If anyone has had a similar sighting I would love to hear about it.

    howage1@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete