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Workshop and book: Raptor and human - falconry and bird symbolism throughout the millennia on a global scale

Dr. Oliver Grimm, Karl-Heinz Gersmann

Hunting with trained birds of prey is a very elaborate hunting technique that was probably invented by Eurasian nomads, and from the Steppe area it spread, in the early first millennium AD, to Japan in the east and to Spain and Portugal in the west. A broad analysis of falconry would have to rely upon an entire range of sources, including the knowledge of actual falconers. In the absence of any recent attempt to that effect, this is the object of current research at the ZBSA which, however, lays an emphasis upon Northern Europe and the Baltic area.

Falkner mit Adler bei dem Golden Eagle Festival 2012 in der Mongolei (Foto: Takuya Soma). Reiternomaden der Steppe werden üblicherweise als Erfinder der Beizjagd betrachtet.

Fig. Falconer with an eagle at the Golden Eagle Festival 2012 in Mongolia (Foto: Takuya Soma). Usually, the rider nomads of the Steppe area are considered the inventors of falconry.

The falconry workshop at the ZBSA early in 2014 saw 30 scientists and falconers from eleven countries. Apart from introductory lectures about falconry, there were presentations from representatives of the Natural Sciences (Zoology), case studies (e.g. on falconry and bird catch in Norway) and cross sections through different faculties within the Humanities (e.g. Art History as to Central and Northern Europe).
As was evident in the workshop, Northern Europe and the Baltic countries yield many important testimonies about falconry history which, however, have to be considered against a broader background since basic questions about the origin and spread of this particular hunting technique remain to be answered. For this very reason the workshop publication has been substantially enlarged. The c. 100 contributions will cover falconry history in full geographical scope (Japan to Spain/Portugal) and in maximum scale of content, including practical considerations and contributions from the Natural Sciences and Humanities. The book that is developed in close cooperation with falconers and falconry organisations is meant to be published in early 2017. Notably, Karl-Heinz Gersmann, a prominent falconer, became the second book editor.  

Rekonstruktion des ostschwedischen Rickeby-Grabs aus dem 7. Jh. Der hochrangige Krieger wurde zusammen mit einem Pferd, mehreren Hunden, mehreren Beizvögeln und Tieren bestattet, die typische Beute einer Beizjagd sind (Zeichnung Ulla Malmsten, nach: Vendel Period Studies, Stockholm 1983, Abb. 5)

Fig. Reconstruction of the east Swedish Rickeby burial of the seventh century. The high rank warrior was buried with a horse, several dogs, several birds of prey and animals which represent typical prey of falconry (drawing Ulla Malmsten, after: Vendel Period Studies, Stockholm 1983, fig. 5).

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