University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Great Beasts of Legend: Underwater Panthers and Their Place in the Native American Cosmos


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Film Description:Annual Petersen Lecture: Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Weingarten Assistant Curator, American Section, Penn Museum

Archaeologists generally agree that certain beliefs about the cosmos are broadly shared among indigenous peoples of the Americas. Though the details vary wildly, the world is generally seen as consisting of three layers—the Above World, the Middle World, and the Beneath World. While we live our every day lives in the Middle World, the Above and Beneath Worlds are inhabited by a variety of supernatural beings. One of the most intriguing characters to inhabit the Beneath World is the underwater panther, a composite creature with both feline and serpentine characteristics that is associated with the dangerous yet beneficial powers of rivers, waterfalls, whirlpools and caves.

For further reading:
Howard, James H. 1960. ‘When they worship the underwater panther: a prairie potawatomi bundle ceremony,’ Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 16(2):217-224.

Saunders, Nicholas J. 1998. Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas. Routledge (London). 

Townsend, Richard F., and Robert V. Sharp, eds. 2004. Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South. Art Institute of Chicago in association with Yale University Press (New Haven, CT).
Video Category:Lecture
Video Date:03/01/2017
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