In Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin there are hundreds of remarkable ancient petroglyphs that were carved thousands of years ago by prehistoric people who lived in the region.
In this region, there are depictions of large human or human-like figures, ancient symbols, geometric patterns and among the stones we find petroglyphs of large birds of prey such as for example the legendary Thunderbird.
There is archaeological evidence that suggests the Thunderbird petroglyphs are linked to Golden Eagle nests, but ancient legends tell a different story.
Native Americans have wonderful legends of a powerful and magnificent Thunderbird that was sent by the Gods to protect humans from evil.
When this huge, eagle-like bird soared the skies, one could hear its mighty wings beat with the sound of rolling thunder. Its eyes were burning like fire and caused lighting.
Interestingly, many of the Thunderbird petroglyphs can be found near Golden Eagle nests and this fact has made Bonnie Smith wonder if there could be a connection between these two?
Were the ancient Thunderbird petroglyphs made to depict Golden Eagles?
Bonnie Smith, who is a curatorial assistant of the Draper Natural History Museum has spent years documenting nest sites near petroglyphs depicting Thunderbirds in the Bighorn Basin.
“I propose that there is a direct correlation between ancient golden eagle nests, Native American eagle traps and thunderbird representations at rock art sites in the Bighorn Basin and the early Native American narrative,” Smith said.
Smith has discovered dozens of nests situated near rock art depicting birds and one eagle trap site with nearby petroglyphs and now she wants to understand why some of them were etched at deliberately chosen sites.
“What if the birds returned to nesting areas through the generations and the petroglyphs portrayed the ancestors of the birds that now live in the area?” Smiths said. “It seemed such an obvious question and connection,” she said.
Archaeological evidence does in indeed fit Smith’s theory, but Native American legends of the Thunderbird are not in favor of her research.
To Native Americans, the Eagle is symbol of courage, wisdom and strength. It’s a messenger of the creator and the bird must be treated with respect.
Legends of the Thunderbird tell this enigmatic creature was able to manipulate weather, affecting the winds and creating storms, lightning, thunder, and rain. The Thunderbird is often described as a s shape-shifter who could take the form of humans.
The Quillayute Indians of the Pacific Northwest remember how the Thunderbird was sent by the Great Spirit to help the Indians after a horrible disaster. The Indians had no food and many had died after rain and hail had fallen for many days, destroying all plants. After the rain came snow and the Indians called the Great Spirit for help and it then, he sent people the Thunderbird.
All Native American legends reveal that the Thunderbird made horrible noise when soaring the skies and people feared this mysterious creature as much as they admired it.
Obviously, the ancient Indian account do not fit the description of an eagle’s behavior. So, it’s possible that Thunderbird petroglyphs in Bighorn Basin are not in linked to Golden Eagle nests. It is also thinkable that the petroglyphs Smith has studied do in fact represent Golden Eagles, but and are not depictions of Native Americans’ idea of Thunderbirds.
Perhaps the nature of the Thunderbird is entirely different than we can possibly imagine. What kind of creature can make such horrible noise and change shape at will?
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