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The early history of this Web site began in 2001, when a group of professors at Arizona State University (ASU), supported with funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and from our university, taught a set of courses in Costa Rica on the symbolism of the natural world, including mountains, bodies of water, and biodiversity.  The initiating concept was that the natural world—volcanoes and other mountains, rivers, lakes, bays, and other such prominent natural locales—has assumed a symbolic importance over thousands of years that has not been systematically catalogued or analyzed over time and across cultures. Similarly, animals and plants have also assumed a profound dimension of symbolic significance that urgently calls for cross-cultural scholarship.

The ultimate goal of this project, which began with a few very basic undergraduate and graduate courses, was to create a Web site that would belong to the worldwide community of students of this subject and that would provide a place for anyone to contribute relevant examples and advances in the endeavor of studying the symbolism of the natural world and biodiversity.  Such a Web site is under construction and we have tentatively named it Interpretations of the Natural World.

Costa Rica is the world’s most hospitable place for the resplendent quetzal.  Our project made its first concrete contribution over the Internet when a number of faculty and students in 2001 fell in love with the resplendent quetzal because of its beauty and were inspired to produce scholarly works on the profound symbolism of this bird. The resplendent quetzal is also the basis for various pre-Hispanic deities including Quetzalcoatl, Kukulkan, Gucomatz, and Xochiquetzal. Kinich Yax K’uk Mo (First Quetzal Macaw Sun God) was the founder of the brilliant and highly advanced Copán dynasty in the 6th century A.D.

Our first concrete contribution to our Interpretations of the Natural World idea was a Web site founded early this millennium that now contains a considerable number of entries.  We invite you to visit Transcendent Icon, Resplendent Quetzal at http://quetzal.asu.edu

As we developed resplendent quetzal scholarship, informed by several trips to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Panama, we were increasingly struck by the symbolism of a different type of bird: eagles (Falconiformes or Accipitriformes, using an alternative classification scheme). 

Eagles of various species clearly are profound symbols, and we were particularly impressed with eagle symbolism in the areas of national, political, and spiritual identities.  For example, the resplendent quetzal is not merely the national bird of Guatemala, it is a primary icon of the identity of Guatemala. A similar observation can be made about the bald eagle and the United States of America and numerous indigenous communities of North America.  Additionally, the golden eagle is inextrictably woven into the national identity of Mexico and of numerous other countries and polities around the world.  The harpy eagle has a similar role in the national identity of Panama. As exemplified earlier in this introduction, there is a spiritual dimension to the resplendent quetzal.  That dimension is no less apparent in eagles, which are cited scores of times in the Old Testament, characteristically as birds who care for their young so deeply that they are analogical to the God’s care for the chosen people.  In the Aztec culture, the golden eagle is the animal that, when perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth, was prophesied to be pointing to the homeland of the Mexicas, the place that over centuries would become Tenochtitlán.

This Web site before you is a companion to the Transcendent Icon, Resplendent Quetzal Web site developed some years earlier.  All eagles will be covered by this site, which we hope will be a resource by and for the people around the world who care about eagles.  We invite your contributions!

By the same token, the eagles that the Arizona State University founders of this Web site know best are those of North and Central America which they have studied in relationship to national, ethnic, racial, and spiritual identities (along with the resplendent quetzal).  These are the bald eagle/águila de cabeza blanca, the golden eagle/águila dorada o águila real, and the harpy eagle/águila arpía.  For the moment we are concentrating on these three species, but this is on the basis of available resources and knowledge.  It is our deepest wish that this site serve as a home for students of all eagles and it is open for this purpose.

We would like to conclude with some heartfelt acknowledgments:

  • David Olerud, the founder of the American Bald Eagle Foundation and of the American Bald Eagle Festival in Haines, Alaska. The festival is an amazing experience in an outstanding setting, and we recommend it heartily.  You will see thousands of bald eagles there during this November event.
  • Preston Cook, an international trustee of the American Bald Eagle Foundation and a resolute collector of eagle memorabilia and visual and textual information, who has given us access to some of the images within his collection of thousands of items
  • David Hancock, an international trustee of the American Bald Eagle Foundation, a genuine pioneer in the placement of live streaming wildlife cams (including eagles and salmon in the Pacific Northwest), founder of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, the Hancock Wildlife Foundation, Hancock House Publishers, and the Hancock Wildlife Channel
  • Robert Seaton, a fabulous photographer who has generously supplied us with numerous photo stills and made us aware of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Eagle Festival

The triumphs that conservationists, legislators, and the general public have achieved with the bald eagle have been of major importance and we are both delighted with that result and believe that this Web site provides a valuable resource to the ongoing study of and advocacy for eagles, quetzals, biodiversity in general, and the planet itself.