Bad to the Bones – part 1

Fossils did not go unnoticed in human societies that Victorian scholars once disdainfully labelled “brutes”, “savages” and “primitives”. With renewed vigour, today”s geomythologists explore the ideas traditional cultures harboured regarding the nature and the origin of bones and stones they encountered on the surface, embedded in rock, or anywhere else.

The American classicist, Adrienne Mayor, has documented that the first nations of the Americas, just like the Greeks and Romans, recognised that fossils were the remnants of creatures that lived in previous eras and, in many cases, did not die a natural death. Intriguingly, pre-modern fossil lore does not stop there, but often identifies the extinct life forms with a mythical race of beings that dwelled in the sky before its extermination during a cataclysmic, lightning-charged battle, or a world-engulfing fire or deluge. Though compelling parallels have been adduced, scholars have not yet documented the global extent of such ideas. One case that has so far eluded discussion in this context is the local mythology surrounding the bones found in the vicinity of Lake Eyre, in the Tirari Desert of northern South Australia. The species represented here are predominantly those of vertebrate animals associated with the Tertiary age.

emil kintalakadi tirari nation

Emil Kintalakadi, a member of the Tirari nation, east of Lake Eyre, ±1901

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