Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

21. Mystery of The Crane Dance

Nerissa Russell, Anthropology, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology research colleague Kevin McGown researched the question, why do people around the world dance like cranes? They studied evidence from an archaeological dig at a long-buried site of an Anatolian village and a collection of modern bird bones in an Ithaca, New York, museum to help solve the mystery. Both cranes and human crane dancers are found worldwide, except in South America and Antarctica, and people today and thousands of years ago have observed bird dances. The researchers surmised that humans were so intrigued with cranes that in order to imitate the crane in dance, they laced the wings of cranes on their arms as part of their dance costumes. With the find of a crane wing stashed along with other items from animals, such as a cow’s horns, in Catalhöyük (today’s Turkey), the researchers believe an enduring mythic association with the animals in neolithic Anatolia existed. In pondering why people do crane dances, they made a list of human-crane similarities. The Cornell researchers received the Antiquity Essay Prize for the best scholarly article of the year for posing and attempting to answer the question.

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