Tetrapod Zoology

Yes, it’s true. As revealed by my most redoubtable friend and ally Nemo Ramjet, Amerindian people knew of giant flightless azhdarchids long before their possible existence was hypothesised about here at Tet Zoo (follow-ups here and here). Depicting these animals in their artwork, they symbolised them as the great bird Kaloo: this was the most terrifying of all creatures, a stork-headed, long-necked, quadrupedal, flightless bird with long, three-fingered arms and slim legs. Wow.

i-e6c7f4932c0f8b2eb141cb975f0dfa8c-kaloo_and_Shemhazai_together_at_last.jpg

I am, of course, joking. Nemo discovered an illustrations of Kaloo in a book on mythology and thought that it looked uncannily (read: vaguely) similar to Shemhazai, the hypothetical flightless azhdarchid-that-might-have-been. The question remains: was Kaloo a real mythological entity (rather than just a random illustration that was given a bogus name by the book’s publishers) and, if so, what was it based on? Nemo has a longer discussion of this matter here, do visit. For previous thoughts on ‘modern’ pterosaurs so beloved of creationists and some cryptozoologists, see Pterosaurs alive in, like, the modern day!

Just received volume II of Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America to review. Awesome. The most surprising thing: a quote from my review of vol I appears on the back! Have also just been sent John Long and Peter Schouten’s Feathered Dinosaurs. Absolutely wonderful… but with some problems.

Comments

  1. #1 Jorge Velez-Juarbe
    October 21, 2008

    “Just received volume II of Evolution of Tertiary Mammals of North America to review. ”

    Nice this is the one with the Marine Mammals!! I got a glimpse of that volume when my advisor got his copy, it looks nice!!! Maybe I should buy it someday…. or at least make a copy of the chapters on Sirenia and Desmostylia.

  2. #2 Robert V Sobczak
    October 22, 2008

    That’s an interesting hypothesis, but doesn’t sound like a slam dunk. Which raises the larger question: do facts generate ideas, or do ideas find facts to build their case?

  3. #3 Dartian
    October 22, 2008

    I have to disagree. That’s not a quadrupedal pterosaur. That’s a depiction of a bird giving viviparous birth to its young (legs first).

    Still a remarkable zoological discovery, though.

  4. #4 Leonardo Ambasciano
    October 22, 2008

    I’ll post this comment as a “true” post (with further indications/bibliography) and without typewriting errors (excuse me!) on my blog http://www.geomythology.blogspot.com – as well as on “nemoranjet.blogspot.com”.

    Please read everything before answering.

    > For now, here we are:

    Yes, this is a true mythological entity; the exact reference is:

    “Picture Writing of the American Indians, Vol. 2: with 54 plates and 1290 text illustrations”, in two volumes, volume two by Garrick Mallery, J. W. Powell
    Published by Courier Dover Publications, 1972 [This is an unabridged republication of the original work appeared in the 1888-89 Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology]

    The image [n.657, p. 472], represents the giant bird Kaloo [a.k.a. “Culloo”] “who caught up the mischievous Lox in his claws and, mounting to the top of the sky amog the stars, let him drop, an fell dawn to sunset. [Lox generally depicted as a wolverine or a lynx]. In the illustration Kaloo is soaring among the stars, annd appears to posess an extra pair of legs armed with claws”.
    Kaloo is highly similar to the image n. 656, which show a crane, depicted as “flightless” (wings are held against the body, not visible). This might be the simplest explanation, but not the finest [not even correct one].

    Let us consider now a more realistic combination of mythology, art folklore and palaeontology.

    As told in Mayor’s
    “Fossil Legends of the First Americans” [Princeton University Press, 2005]: “As the Spanish expanded their empire north in the 1730s, they met the fiercy Yaqui living in pueblos along the Rio Yaqui in Sonora. The Yaqui legend of Skeleton Mountain, a sacred site of great antiquity, tells of an enormous bird that preyed humans “in the olden days” [p. 101-104].

    Now, the scientific “evidence”:
    a) hevy bodied teratorns [Teratornis merriani+Teratornis incredibilis] may have played the role of the ‘evil villains'; “Teratornis remains, some as recent as eight thousand years ago […] in the Southern U.S.A. – and the remains almost always coexist with human occupation sites” [Mayor, 2005; p. 104]. Giant raptors’ existence in the whole range of oral local legends tells us that once there may have been a great bird preying on humans so impressive that it deserved a place in mythology; today it is still believed that “claws form the earth/below” represent the bone/fossil remains of those giant terror birds.

    b) Pterodactyls’ realistic images appeared all over Aztec and Amerindian culture. “Coclé civilzation possessed evven more realistic images of pterodactyls” [1330-1520 a.D.] may have influenced Azetc mythology and art [Mayor, 2005; p. 98].

    > There’s more to say:
    “In the Great Plains of thr U.S.A., for example, complete pterosaur fossils are preserved in slabs of white limestone, and these conspicuous remains played a role in a tale of Thunder Birds [Mayor, 2005; p, 99].
    “Much of the lore about the four types of hunder Birds was symbolic, and some of the stories may have combined living memory of very large, extinct raptors of the Ice Age with the storytelling imagination. But discoveries of large skeletons taht were identified as Thunder Birds reported in the 1800s suggest that the actual fossils of winged or beaked creatures also played a role in th mythology. Giant condors’ range extended over North America until about 1800, and their remains, along with those of Ice Age teratorns (with wingspans of between 12 and 17 feet) could exist in the Midwest. The geology of Minnesota precludes any mesozoic fossils of fling reptiles, but Sioux who traveled in the Dakotas and Nebraska could have encountered large Pteranodon, or the giant bird Hesperonis, in Cretaceous chalk and shale beds”. [Mayor; 2005; p. 239].

    My conclusions:

    a) It is possible that a flightless azdarchid was recovered (at least a fossil specimen) and mythically restored as a sort of flightless crane, rearrenged to fill in the imagery of human myth/folkore, as art. If this sounds plausible and correct, we’ll find (at least, it is possible, theoretically) some flightless cretaceous azdarchids.
    But it is equally possible (in a more parsimonious way) that an incomplete azdarchid fossil was restored as thought to be “complete”, e.g. as flighless. The evidence for the living animals may have been mixed with the oral traditions for the extinct giant raptors (see above).
    b) It is also possible that the (flightless) being was merely based upon a crane, and that the two legs in the back represent the “movement” sequence;
    c) “Recently, some yakima people noted a similarity between their vision of the Pach-an-a-ho and a reconstructed model of a Dyatrima in a museum” [Mayor, 2005; p. 239]. Even this possibility might be of some help.
    d) Not even for a second it is possible to believe some azdarchids alive during Ice Age human’s exploration of the north american continent!!! I do not want to hear/read things like that! Geomythology is not criptozoology.
    e) Do not mix Carl G. Jung with some strange ideas about “race-memory” [that does not exist] recurrence of symbols/animals from the past eras: cfr. “A bona-fide race memory of a surviving animal (Highly unlikely)” in nemoranjet.blogspot.com.
    Mammalian and bird pleistocene megafaunae might have survived in worldwide cultures thanks to the oral recollections (symbols are a more precise – and more difficult – psychological explanation) + recovered fossils bones strengthened those identifications.

    Thanx to Darren Naish for the interesting post.

    Leonardo Ambasciano

  5. #5 William Miller
    October 22, 2008

    That “Picture-Writing of the American Indians” book is on Google Books (a link to the relevant page is in my name URL to avoid the spam filter). It seems to be a Micmac legend (and possibly Passamaquoddy, the book isn’t 100% clear). Both groups are from the New England/New Brunswick/Gaspe Peninsula area, which seems to be east of the range of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes. So that’s my first thought shot down…

    Hmmm, this one is mysterious. Even if we assume the extra limbs are just exaggeration, there doesn’t seem to be any bird it could be based on; why would a heron be seen as “the most terrifying of all creatures”?

    A mystery, indeed…

  6. #6 Nathan Myers
    October 22, 2008

    The pained expression on Kaloo’s face lends credence to Dartian’s interpretation. An alternative is that it swallowed a(nother) ciconiiform and is trying, painfully, to pass it.

  7. #7 Tim Morris
    October 22, 2008

    Seeing as American native mythology often noted hairless bears and bigfoots(!) as separate animals (mange clearly), one could hypothesise that they were familiar with the results of animals with deformities and illnesses. Which leads me to my possible conclusion that maybe this is a large bird with supernumery limbs?

  8. #8 William Miller
    October 23, 2008

    That’s an interesting thought. Maybe some other kind of leg deformity could make it look like it had extra, shorter legs? (Really crooked legs, seen briefly in flight? I’ve seen an egret which had one leg bent practically double – the “knee”, really the ankle, hung down way below the body, and it did fine.) Or some kind of conjoined twins? Do those happen in birds?

    It still wouldn’t explain the “most feared of all creatures” thing, but that could just be fanciful exaggeration.

  9. #9 Dartian
    October 23, 2008

    Just for the record and lest anyone would think otherwise, my suggestion that ‘Kaloo’ is a bird in labour was made tongue-in-cheek (damn, I perhaps I have to resort to using smileys after all). I don’t believe that every mythological creature necessarily needs to be based on observations of some real, actual animal. Sometimes a mythical beast is just a mythical beast.

    Anyway, Leonardo has done some good background research on that image. His suggestion b), that the ‘extra’ legs represent movement, seems to me a reasonable one. However, I’d like to offer an additional suggestion: Could that perhaps be two ‘Kaloo’ pictures superimposed on each other, thus explaining the apparently supernumerous legs? In paleolithic cave art*, it is quite common to have animal pictures painted or engraved upon eachother.

    *Most famously, perhaps, in the French caves of Lascaux, Les Trois Frères, and Font de Gaume.

    The paleolithic cave pictures seem not to have been superimposed because of lack of space; large parts of the cave walls have no animal pictures on them at all, although appearing suitable for the purpose to modern observers. Probably the cave artists had some symbolical reason to choose a particular spot (simple superstition, perhaps)?

  10. #10 Tim Morris
    October 23, 2008

    In response to William Miller.

    It seems that, at least by human standards, mutants or deformities are viewed as unlucky, or even as omen. Which may explain “most feared of all creatures” (what a hyperbole, huh?)

    Of course, it occurred to me that it is remottely possible that this creature may simply be a constellation used by the Native Americans, but then we get into astrology, dont we ;)

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?
    October 23, 2008

    why would a heron be seen as “the most terrifying of all creatures”?

    Did you miss this?

  12. #12 William Miller
    October 23, 2008

    I don’t know much about this sort of art, but it doesn’t really look like a depiction of motion to me (unless it’s some cultural convention) because of the way the legs are arranged. Notice the way the bigger legs attach in front of the smaller ones, and the smaller ones look like they are dangling. That dangling looks significant to me; it really does look like a deformity, or dead limbs, or something.

    @Tim Morris: That makes sense.

  13. #13 jomega
    October 25, 2008

    Another possible explanation: Some dude decided to draw a picture of a weird-ass monster, And folks came up with an “explanation”for the picture later.
    Really the lack of imagination frequently attributed to artists of the past in cases like this is downright bizarre. I see no reason why ancient artists would have been incapable of Making Shit Up!

  14. #14 Tim Morris
    October 26, 2008

    Thanks to those who saw my argument as a valid one.

  15. #15 Graham King
    October 26, 2008

    jomega said:

    Another possible explanation: Some dude decided to draw a picture of a weird-ass monster, And folks came up with an “explanation”for the picture later.
    Really the lack of imagination frequently attributed to artists of the past in cases like this is downright bizarre.

    Great point!

    It is a disreputably inconsistent feature of SOME young-earth-creationists, von-Danikenesque types, and bee-ridden-bonnet wearers generally, that they attribute to our ancestors infallible honesty of reporting, while simultaneously denying them any fertility of original imagination.

    Our predecessors’ real surviving relics and accomplishments – architectural, technical, artistic and literary – surely show that they were every bit as (both) curious and creative as we are today (maybe more so, since they had to discover or originate much which, ever since, has been available for us later-ons simply to emulate, or to develop further).

    Having said that:
    neat image, Darren! And fun to contemplate. It IS very like an azhdarchid…
    If only it had their elongate fore-digits too, then, it would count better as evidence… (of some real fossil found, or recollected as having once been found; not necessarily of something seen alive).

  16. #16 Leonardo A.
    October 30, 2008

    >[Graham King] “some real fossil found, or recollected as having once been found; not necessarily of something seen alive).”

    – SURELY not seen alive.
    “Recently, some yakima people noted a similarity between their vision of the Pach-an-a-ho and a reconstructed model of a Dyatrima in a museum” [Mayor, 2005; p. 239]. Even this possibility might be of some help.
    [from here]

    My “Dyatrima example” taken from Mayor (2005) was exactly intended to cover things like those you’ve listed: fossil found.

    Leonardo A.

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