264 pages, 149 colour & 32 b&w illustrations, 2 maps
How birds shaped the world view of the southern Indians? Before the massive environmental change wrought by the European colonization of the South, hundreds of species of birds filled the region's flyways in immeasurable numbers. Before disease, war, and displacement altered the South's earliest human landscape, Native Americans hunted and ate birds and made tools and weapons from their beaks, bones, and talons. More significant to Shepard Krech III, Indians adorned themselves with feathers, invoked avian powers in ceremonies and dances, and incorporated bird imagery on pottery, carvings, and jewelry. Krech, a renowned authority on Native American interactions with nature, reveals as never before the omnipresence of birds in Native American life.
From the time of the earliest known renderings of winged creatures in stone and earthworks through the nineteenth century, when Native southerners took part in decimating bird species with highly valued, fashionable plumage, "Spirits of the Air" examines the complex and changeable influences of birds on the Native American world view. We learn of birds for which places and people were named; birds common in iconography and oral traditions; birds important in ritual and healing; and birds feared for their links to witches and other malevolent forces. Still other birds had no meaning for Native Americans. Krech shows us these invisible animals too, enriching our understanding of both the Indian-bird dynamic and the incredible diversity of winged life once found in the South. A crowning work drawing on Krech's distinguished career in anthropology and natural history, "Spirits of the Air" recovers vanished worlds and shows us our own anew.
"[...] This is a well-researched and informative exploration of the association between Indians and birds in the American South. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in both birds and Native Americans.
Further, any birder living in the South, or anyone strongly interested in this region’s birds, should find Spirits of the Air of interest. This is what drew me to this book, and I was not disappointed. It goes without saying that I learned a great deal about the Indians who once lived here, but I also discovered much about the birds that lived alongside them."
- Grant McCreary (27-04-2009), read the full review at The Birder's Library
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Shepard Krech III is a professor of anthropology and director of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University. He is a past president of the American Society for Ethnohistory and has been a fellow and trustee of the National Humanities Center. His many books include The Ecological Indian and Encyclopedia of World Environmental History.