Piasa

The Tradition of the Piasa and the Mysterious Rock Art of the Mississippi

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In the years following Marquette’s description, a number of explorers spoke of the pictograph, as well as others that were reported to have been seen on the bluffs as far as 30 miles away from the original. St. Cosme reports seeing the images in 1699. The Piasa is mentioned in a book by A.D. Jones with the title, “ Illinois and the West” written in 1838. One of the most satisfactory pictures of the Piasa comes from a German book called “ The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated” published in 1839.

As with the Illini tribes, there can be found traditions of similar large birds and dragons throughout the world. The Dacotah tribe believed that thunder was a monstrous bird flying through the air and claimed that these birds were large enough to carry off human beings. In the ancient Buddhist caves of India there can be found a number of carved and painted dragons that easily fit with the descriptions of Piasa. There have also been found in the area of the Mississippi Valley thousands of burial vases which have dragon-like heads pronounced, standing up from the rim of the vessel.

One theory regarding the origin of the Piasa is that it may have been an older iconograph from the large Mississippian culture city of Cahokia, which began developing about 900 AD and was at its peak about 1200 AD. It was the largest prehistoric city north of Mexico and a major chiefdom. Icons and animal pictographs, such as falcons, thunder-birds, bird men, and monstrous snakes were common motifs of the Cahokia culture. The Piasa creature may have been painted as a graphic symbol to warn strangers traveling down the Mississippi River that they were entering Cahokian territory.

However, others have questioned whether the so-called mythical creature could have been an ancient species of bird that actually existed.  That so many cultures and groups of people separated by thousands of miles and years have similar tales of immense flying creatures is curious to say the least.

Featured image: The Female Piasa Bird. Credit: FoolishLittleMortal

By Greg Sorrell

References

Records of Ancient Races - W.M. McAdams 1887

The Valley of the Mississippi Illustrated - H. Lewis 1839

Illinois and the West - A.D. Jones 1838

Parkman's Discoveries of the Great West 1838

Comments

The myths of North America and other continents are strong proof that a monstrous winged lizard lived within the memories of mankind. The only counter-evidence to pterosaurs living just 10,000 years ago is the dating techniques that are championed by orthodox scientists.

if you look at the transcribed story, it mentions that the event that inspired the legend took place roughly sometime in the Pleistocene period, by mention of mastodons and the Megalonyx giant ground sloth. around that time there were a number of these teratorns existing throughout the Americas, with the largest, Argentavis, having a wingspan of 7 meters. They, along with a large number of animals, went extinct during the Pleistocene-Quarternary Extinction event..... curiously coinciding with the currently accepted time frame of human arrival in the Americas from the Eurasian landbridge. 'currently accepted'

"if you look at the transcribed story" Point well taken, LOL

Looks like I should count to "10" before tapping out a comment, Eh?

We tend to look at the stories of old with contemporary eyes whatever century that is, 18th, 19th or 21st century. We are no different than the Illiniwek people. They recorded what they saw and what they experienced. So, I am not going to try and re-write their stories by putting a modern spin on it. That's disgraceful. Instead we should take it at face-value and leave it at that. A big flying creature had a taste for Human meat that met it's demise at the hand of it's next meal. Period.

As for what the drawing resembles? I dunno. I suggest we look for something like the Piasa in fossil records.

John Russel's account of being in the creature's lair and seeing the bones of thousands if it's victims is enough credible evidence to doccument the Illini's oral and pictograph tradition. It's modern Archeology that refuses to allow the truth to exist beyond their narrow mindedness. I wonder if the Smithsonian had paid a visit to the cliff caves in the early 19th century and confiscated all the evidence which ran contrary to the prescribed evolutionary "spin" just as they have destroyed the truth of the red haired giants and Dinosaurs walking with Man?

gregsorrell's picture

MATH_FELLOW,

I agree wholeheartedly with your perspectives. I see that we do indeed look at stories like this thru a very limited contemporary lens. I've always thought that simply discounting stories like this as myth is such a dis-service to the peoples to whom this story truly resonated. 

As far as what the Piasa might be - I have researched this a little bit and found out about a bird called 'Teratorn'. There are 5 species of this bird that have been found mostly in the LaBrea Tar Pits in CA but they've also been found in Argentina. The teratorn is the largest flyinig bird that we know to have existed. At its largest, we've found a skeleton that had a wingspan of 26 feet & its estimated that the particular bird weighed 200 lbs and could fly at speeds of 150 mph. Could you imagine?

I don't think its too far off to think that perhaps some of these birds survived. 

As far as the Smithsonian goes, I'm sure that happened. All throughout the 1800s they were the 1st people at the sight of one of these kinds of discoveries and from what I can see they either bought the artifacts or the land or confiscated them promising to return them after testing but most accounts show that they never kept up their end of the bargain.

I believe that stories like this serve as evidence that our human story is far more complex and reaches so far back in time that we could scarcely comprehend it. So many fascinating stories and finds... 

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your points.

 

greg sorrell

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