The vulture is commonly thought to dwell outside the community of living beings. These birds are seen to have no real relationship with humans; instead, they are simply waiting for us to die. An association with death and putrefaction has become central to many people's conception of vultures. This view completely dominates the popular image of these birds, leaving us with a very one-dimensional understanding of a group of fascinating and diverse creatures.
This volume offers a concise history and enlightening new view of this much misunderstood bird. Vultures vary in type and size, and while some have a diet consisting of bone, others have gone almost completely vegetarian. It is interesting that this infamous bird very rarely, if ever, kills for itself. Inside human communities, vultures have occupied predictable roles such as disposing of the dead and officiating over human sacrifices, but they have just as often been viewed as courageous and noble creatures, indispensable in the containment of waste and disease, world creators and divine mothers.
Thom van Dooren explores these tangled natural and cultural histories: from some of the earliest known Neolithic sites in which vultures are thought to have consumed the dead, through to contemporary efforts to reintroduce the bearded vulture into the Alps. The book highlights the rich diversity of vultures and the many ways in which people have understood and lived with them.
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Thom van Dooren is an environmental anthropologist and philosopher based in Sydney, Australia. He has published a number of articles concerning flora and fauna extinction and conservation, some of which have appeared in the Cultural Studies Review, Science as Culture and the Australian Humanities Review.
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