Fraas was able to track the images to Helm's manual, whose print edition is kept in the Penn collection.
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According to Fraas's translation, in the treatise Helm explained how the poor animals could be used as explosives.
"On cats the text paints a grisly picture of attaching lit sacks of incendiaries onto the animals to have them return to their homes and set fire to them," Fraas said.
Whether the pyrotechnic warfare technique was ever actually employed by Helm, we may never know.
"But strangely enough the idea of using cats and birds in just this way appears in historical texts from many disparate regions of the world," Fraas said.
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According to the Finnish scholar Pentti Aalto, examples of incendiary-bearing cats and birds are mentioned from a third century B.C. Sanskrit text, as well as in the Russian Primary Chronicle, early Scandinavian sources, and an early modern history of Genghis Khan.
"Just today folks have been emailing me that there are illustrations of early Chinese fire animals out there," Fraas told Discovery News.