Category Archives: Native Americans

The Secret Weapon

Each July, along the dappled stream banks of Kodiak Island, just off the Alaska coast, a weedy looking wildflower produces a few dark-blue hooded blossoms. There is nothing particularly memorable about the appearance of Aconitum delphinifolum. Its leaves are thin and rather spiky. Its scrawny-looking stem cannot hold the weight of its flowers: its neighbors keep it upright. But this eminently forgettable looking plant, a member of the buttercup family, possesses a dark secret. Aconitum delphinifolum contains a toxin capable of killing one of the world’s largest animals, a 40-ton humpback whale. Indeed, the local Alutiiq people have long understood this: their whalers once enlisted it as a lethal weapon.

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Photo:  Humpback whales, NOAA Sanctuary collection,  Dr. Louis Herman

How to Hunt Swift-Footed Game

Archaeologists in Israel have just published a new study on mysterious funnel-shaped lines that stretch for miles across the deserts of Israel,  Jordan and Egypt.  In all likelihood,  they suggest,  the lines are part of an elaborate system of drive lanes and a pit trap for hunting gazelle.  In my regular end-of-the-month blog post for Archaeology magazine,  I explore the antiquity of these big game traps,  once used to hunt everything from caribou to antelope, horses to bison.