By Hannah Newell, graduate student in the Institute’s 15th cohort.
When you hear the word raven, what first comes to mind? Do the words deceptive, persistent, clever, noisy or disruptive come to mind? Most often, this is how people have culturally thought of the raven.
Through the early works of Edgar Allen Poe, parts of society have learned to fear the death bringing raven who “Quoth, nevermore” to his dead love Eleanor. What people don’t always know is that the story goes deeper into history. Early cultures around the world have encountered the raven through hunting practices or even at their homes. Hunters from Greenland have been recorded using ravens as a beacon for finding herds of caribou as they were associated with flying in circles around the herds. Similarly, the Han of the Yukon in Canada went to the length of mimicking their calls in order to attract bears to hunting areas. This learned behavior of the bear acts as an example of cultural knowledge being passed on through the generations of bears, creating a new learned relationship between the bear, the raven and the hunter. The raven, being the one who finds the carcass, the bear who strives for the same carcass by following the raven call, and the hunter who uses the desire of the bear to hunt it for their own needs. Ravens use the exchange of knowledge from generation to generation to transfer understandings of humans, feeding sites and potential threats to either their own brood or to roosting mates.
The relationship between humans and ravens have not always been one of admiration, but as we step into the next generation with science and field biology as a priority in many cultures around the world, the desire to learn about ravens and their complicated social dynamics has grown. When humans begin to learn about their complexity, the raven becomes more interesting and desirable to understand, perpetuating the line of knowledge.