At the beginning of the 21st Century monsters still roam the remote, and sometimes not so remote, corners of our planet. It is our job to search for them. The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is - we believe - the largest professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world. Since 2009 we have been running the increasingly popular CFZ Blog Network, and although there has been an American branch of the CFZ for over ten years now, it is only now that it has a dedicated blog.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

WHAT WAS THE PIASA?

Later painting of piasa.
In 1673 Louis Jolliot was exploring the Mississippi with a Father Marquette, when they came to the bluffs at Alton (Illinois).  There they saw a remarkable painting upon the rock, too high up to be painted with any kind of ease.  It depicted two animals which were described by Marquette as the size of a calf, with antlers, red eyes, a beard and a scaly body with a tail winding around it, going over the head and back between the legs and ending in a fishtail. It was colored green, red and black.  Marquette said the creature had a horrible look.  Marquette does not mention wings.

After this the second painting seems to have faded completely and a Texan traveler in 1687 said the original painting looked like a horse, which indicates it was fading too.  The entire painting vanished between 1852 and 1867.  This may have been the result of passers-by, both white and Indian, shooting at it.  Quarrying may also have been a factor.

An article written in 1883 by a purported eyewitness said it had become much fainter.  This writer said the creature had wings.

We now come to a story told by one John Russell, schoolmaster.  In 1836 he asserted in a story in the Family Magazine that the Piasa had been a winged predator, with a penchant for carrying off Indians.  An Indian chief, Outaga, took a party of twenty archers and laid himself out as bait.  When the Piasa came into sight, the trusty bowmen opened fire, killing it.  This certainly numbers wings among the animal's characteristics, but we have to ask if they featured in its description before.  It seems that Russell may have intended this piece to be a work of fiction, for later, in 1847, he told the Illinois Journal that the Piasa had been a giant condor, killed by a single Indian.  Russell also spoke of visiting the Piasa's cave and finding bones there.

It seems that the Piasa may not originally have been a flying creature at all and modern cryptozoological speculation that it was a pterosaur or a thunderbird should be treated with extreme caution.  However, it would have been extremely difficult to have painted it on the bluffs where Marquette first descried it, meaning it must have had some considerable importance for its painters.  It was perhaps a religious painting.  It may represent a kind of artwork in which the bodies of different kinds of animals were deliberately combined.  Further speculation is useless without further evidence.
The current painting on the bluffs dates from 1998.

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