TRACKING MYTHS

In Julien d'Huy's “The Evolution of Myths,” the sidebar delineating a family tree of Cosmic Hunt myths brackets ancient Greek and Roman writings with the oral traditions of North American tribes such as the Ojibwa. This striking similarity then serves to support d'Huy's claim for a link between such myths coming from settlers crossing from Siberia into the Americas 15,000 years ago.

But a more direct source for the observed similarity would be the influx of European priests and missionaries throughout the Americas in the centuries after 1492. They would have received an education that included the Greek and Latin classics, and one way for them to engage with local peoples would be through the sharing of stories and myths about the natural world.

JOHN R. HALE
Director, Liberal Studies
University of Louisville

How can you resist studying the greatest myths of all? Adam and Eve? The Garden of Eden? Noah and the Flood?

EDWARD CHIASSON
via e-mail

D'Huy assumes that parallels between myths are always the result of transmission rather than of independent invention. This leads him to the odd assertion that a Blackfoot Indian story is derived from the Greek myth of Polyphemus. As much as I would love to see empirical confirmation that myths and folktales are some sort of memory of the deep past, I don't think he has come up with more than a bit of attractive romantic speculation wrapped up in some statistical and algorithmic hand waving.

JOHN RICHARDSON
Edmonton, Alberta

D'Huy has done an impressive job of explaining his theories about Paleolithic (and earlier) origins of myth families. His identification of the therianthropic figure surrounded by bison in the Cave of Trois-Frères as an illustration of the Polyphemus myth certainly seems a possibility. I have also seen speculations that this figure is playing a musical bow, which would make him more of a Pied Piper of Hamelin. I wonder if d'Huy has any comment on a possible familial relationship between the Pied Piper myth and the Polyphemus myth?

PETER FARIS
Aurora, Colo.

D'HUY REPLIES: It is natural to connect the closeness among some Amerindian and European myths to the arrival of European priests and traders, as Hale suggests, but the evidence is against that idea. Statistical studies often place Siberian and Northwestern Amerindian variants of the same myth in an intermediate position between West Eurasian and other Amerindian versions, and, as shown by anthropologist Yuri Berezkin, some Northeastern versions of the Cosmic Hunt myth most likely predate the first European influx.

Regarding Chiasson's question: Studies of the variants of the Flood and Tower of Babel stories are in progress, and papers should be published soon.

To Richardson: As Berezkin has demonstrated, many Eurasian (particularly, Siberian and Central Asian) and Amerindian variants of the Cosmic Hunt show parallels at the level of minor details, a pattern that could be explained only by particular and very ancient prehistorical and historical links between the two continental traditions. For the Polyphemus motif, studies by others of its distribution around the world, the structure of the tale and other kinds of statistics show both the great antiquity of the Greek version and the prehistoric connection between the Eurasian versions and the North Amerindian one. Phylogenetic study and evidence from unrelated sources also converge to strong conclusions—very far from “romantic speculation.”

In answer to Faris: Prehistorian Henri Begouën (whose sons discovered the cave) and archaeologist Henri Breuil proposed a connection between a musical bow and this therianthropic figure back in 1958! But to my knowledge, the Pied Piper of Hamelin tale type was found only in Eurasia; it also is probably very recent. Expanding the database to all the tales where a trickster took away a herd of animals might be a way to test the Paleolithic origin hypothesis.

WOMEN IN SCIENCE

In “Science Has a Gender Problem” [Forum], Hannah A. Valantine makes some great points about the forms of discrimination that women researchers face. While much has changed with respect to gender equity in the sciences, there is still much more that can be done regarding areas such as student recruitment and retention, hiring, grant distribution and compensation.

Regarding new people entering the field, I have seen a tremendous change in my years as a wildlife biologist. When I was an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University in the 1980s, there was only one woman among the students taking classes in the wildlife sciences program. It was an “old-boys network.” The situation was better in my graduate school programs, but even when I was a doctoral candidate in the 1990s, there were many more men than women.

Today as a senior biologist for a state wildlife agency, I frequently give presentations to student groups. At several of the universities I have been to, more than half of the students are female. By far the female students show more interest, ask more questions and are more likely to request volunteer opportunities. This bodes well for my profession, and I hope these students will follow through with their education and make a productive contribution to the research and management of wildlife species in the U.S. and abroad.

JOHN MORGAN
Reading, Pa.

FIGHTING HIV

Great scientific news about the possible way to create an HIV vaccine, as described in “HIV's Achilles' Heel,” by Rogier W. Sanders, Ian A. Wilson and John P. Moore. Of course, the new research is exciting, and we need to continue it, but let's not forget the tools we have to save lives now! There are 18.2 million people receiving antiretrovirals in our world. This is only about half of the 36.7 million who are living with HIV, according to the World Health Organization. So we still have work to do to get our known medicine that leads to an almost normal life to the people who need it.

Thanks to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), this is happening. The question, as always, is funding. The U.S. recently made a pledge to the Global Fund to keep it on pace to create an AIDS-free generation by 2030. Will Congress come through with the money to back this pledge and continue PEPFAR? We should ask our representatives to fund these programs.

WILLIE DICKERSON
Snohomish, Wash.

CURRENT CONCERNS

Even before reading the body of David Pogue's article on Apple's elimination of the headphone jack, “Resistance Is Futile” [TechnoFiles], I and thousands of other engineers and assorted science geeks in your readership cried out, “No, resistance is voltage divided by current!”

That old joke aside, I'm reminded that, as with social resistance, electrical resistance can be useful but is often an impediment. In fits and starts, humans have found ways to overcome or harness both forms of resistance, which is perhaps what keeps us moving forward.

BILL WEHNER
via e-mail

ERRATUM

"Quick Hits," by Andrea Marks, reported that children younger than five have been nearly wiped out by malnutrition in Nigeria. It should have specified that this has occurred in Nigeria's state of Borno.