Bigfoot DNA: Is it Real?

Melba Ketchum released her eagerly-awaited Bigfoot DNA research paper today…and already it’s looking like a disaster. No academics (just forensic experts) were involved in the research. In order to get their paper published, they were forced to purchase and relaunch their own peer-reviewed journal. The paper, from what I understand, assumes Bigfoot exists and then goes about setting to prove its existence. Ultimately, it concludes with this comment: “The data conclusively proves that the Sasquatch exist as an extant hominin and are a direct maternal descendant of modern humans.” I’ve written about pseudoscience extensively. And from the looks of it, this is pseudoscience at its finest.

“Good science isn’t about proclaiming a hypothesis to be fact. Rather, it’s about doing everything you can to refute your own hypothesis. This requires creating unique and creative tests in order to rule out alternative theories. But even if these tests are done in a comprehensive fashion, an unassailed hypothesis still isn’t fact. It merely hasn’t been refuted yet. It might hold up under thousands of different tests. But all it takes is one test to send it to the dustbin of history.” ~ David Meyer, Monsters, Ghosts, & UFOs: Protosciences…or Pseudosciences?

The jury is still out on the actual data. But early word is that the results look more like contamination than anything else. Also, there seem to be a lack of rigorous tests done on the data. Here’s more on the Bigfoot DNA paper from idoubtit at Doubtful News:

Melba Ketchum’s long LONG awaited paper on Bigfoot DNA is published today. But you’re not going to see it.

Back in November, Ketchum announced her results: A team of scientists can verify that their 5-year long DNA study, currently under peer-review, confirms the existence of a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch,” living in North America. Researchers’ extensive DNA sequencing suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.

There was no paper to go along with the results. There is now a paper. With it comes a BOATLOAD of issues that leave this announcement less than spectacular…

(See the rest at Doubtful News)

Searching for Bigfoot?

When it comes to Bigfoot, we’re pretty skeptical here at Guerrilla Explorer. But can science prove its existence?

Searching for Bigfoot?

Recently, Oxford University and the Lausanne Museum of Zoology in Switzerland joined forces to research Bigfoot, the Yeti, and alleged similar creatures. The idea is to gather organic remains purporting to be from these animals and subject them to genetic testing.

“There have been DNA tests done on alleged yetis and other such things but since then the testing techniques, particularly on hair, have improved a lot due to advances in forensic science.” ~ Bryan Sykes, Wolfson College

DNA tests are nothing new. In fact, a recent DNA test indicated the infamous Yeti hand from Pangboche, Nepal actually belonged to a human. However, Sykes and Michel Sartori, director of the Lausanne Museum, wish to conduct a “systematic review” of all Bigfoot and Yeti material.

They plan to start with remains currently housed at the Lausanne Museum. Specifically, material gathered by Bernard Heuvelmans from 1950 through 2001. Then they’ll reach out to other institutions as well as cryptozoologists for more material. As part of their tests, Sykes and Sartori hope to take DNA samples from areas rife with Bigfoot or Yeti sightings. The idea is to see if the local population has unusually high amounts of Neanderthal DNA (modern research shows that the average person living outside of Africa carries Neanderthal genetic material in the range of one to four percent). If so, it might lend credence to a recent hypothesis that the legendary creature is actually a Neanderthal.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

It seems unlikely they’ll break new ground. The most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters such as the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent. Air or land-based cryptids like the Thunderbird or Bigfoot are far less likely to exist. We have slightly more faith in the Yeti, although not much. The Yeti supposedly lives in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make expeditions difficult.

Still, we’re big supporters of this type of research. All scientific claims deserve the chance to be taken seriously…even when they involve so-called monsters.

“But while I’m extremely skeptical of Bigfoot, I certainly don’t reject the possibility of its existence. One of the things that frustrates me about modern science is the built-in disdain many researchers hold for fields like cryptozoology. Regardless of our opinions, we must continue to evaluate any and all scientific claims with an open mind…even if its about the legendary Sasquatch. After all, that’s what science is all about.” ~ David Meyer, Bigfoot Lives…!

Humanity’s First Fire?

The invention of fire is rightly viewed as one of humanity’s greatest achievements. But when was the first fire built?

When was the First Fire Built?

It’s probably impossible to determine the date of the first fire. But if a new study conducted by paleolithic archaeologist Michael Chazan is correct, the first fire may predate modern man…by some 800,000 years. Here’s more on the first fire from Live Science:

Ash and charred bone, the earliest known evidence of controlled use of fire, reveal that human ancestors may have used fire a million years ago, a discovery that researchers say will shed light on this major turning point in human evolution.

Scientists analyzed material from Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa, a massive cavern located near the edge of the Kalahari Desert. Previous excavations there had uncovered an extensive record of human occupation.

Microscopic analysis revealed clear evidence of burning, such as plant ash and charred bone fragments. These materials were apparently burned in the cave, as opposed to being carried in there by wind or water, and were found alongside stone tools in a layer dating back about 1 million years…

(See Live Science for more on the first fire)

Piltdown Man: The Fraudulent Missing Link?

On December 18, 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward announced the discovery of mysterious bone fragments at a meeting of the Geological Society of London. These fragments, which included part of a skull and a jawbone, seemed to prove the existence of a previously unknown human species with chimpanzee-like features. In other words, the Missing Link. What was Piltdown Man?

The Piltdown Man Hoax?

The discovery of the so-called Piltdown Man was greeting with frenzied excitement and some skepticism. But it would take another 41 years before scientists were able to uncover the dark truth about Piltdown Man.

In 1953, Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark, and Joseph Weiner used modern chemistry to shed new light on Piltdown Man. In the process, they exposed perhaps the greatest paleontological hoax of all time…Piltdown Man was a fake.

Until that point, researchers believed Piltdown Man had lived 750,000-950,000 years ago. However, fluorine testing showed the bone fragments actually came from three different creatures. The skull was human and just 600 years old. The jaw was 500 years old and came from an orangutan. And the teeth had belonged to a chimpanzee.

The hoax quickly unraveled. The fragments had been treated with chemicals to create the impression of age. Also, someone had filed down the teeth and deliberately removed parts from the fragments to confuse scholars.

Who was behind the Piltdown Man Hoax?

So who perpetrated the hoax? And why? Over the years, historians have pointed the finger at a number of individuals. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame has found himself a suspect. However, most people believe the hoax was originated by none other than the discoverer, Charles Dawson himself.

It turns out Dawson had the bad habit of forging other archaeological finds years before Piltdown Man. His personal collection included at least 38 fakes, some of which showed filed-down teeth. He deliberately aged flints with chemicals. And his written work included numerous examples of plagiarism. In short, Dawson had the means to perpetrate the archaeological hoax.

“Piltdown was not a “one-off” hoax, more the culmination of a life’s work.” ~ Miles Russell, Charles Dawson: ‘The Piltdown faker’

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As for motive, Dawson once wrote to a friend that he was “waiting for the big ‘find’ which never seems to come along.” This, along with his penchant for creating bizarre fossils and passing them off as real, would seem to imply he was driven by a desire for fame. Finally, Dawson had the best opportunity. Apparently, he was the only person present for the various discoveries of Piltdown fossils over the years. And all such discoveries ceased after his death in 1916.

A New Human Species…in China?

As early as 11,500 years ago, a strange group of people lived in China’s Red Deer Cave and Longlin Cave.

The Mysterious Red Deer Cave People?

These people, referred to as the Red Deer Cave people, are believed to be a separate species of Homo – possibly the last such species on Earth, next to modern man. Here’s more from New Scientist on the Red Deer Cave people:

And so it begins. For years, evolutionary biologists have predicted that new human species would start popping up in Asia as we begin to look closely at fossilised bones found there. A new analysis of bones from south-west China suggests there’s truth to the forecast.

…What’s more, Curnoe and Ji Xueping of Yunnan University, China, have found more evidence of the new hominin at a second site – Malu cave in Yunnan Province. Curnoe has dubbed the new group the Red Deer Cave people because of their penchant for venison. “There is evidence that they cooked large deer in Malu cave,” he says.

(See New Scientist for more on the Red Deer Cave people)

Neanderthal Mariners?

Were the Neanderthals land-locked? Or did they master the seas as ancient mariners?

Neanderthals: Were they Ancient Mariners?

Recently, researchers discovered Neanderthal-type tools in Greece as well as on several Greek islands. Although they have yet to be dated, they provide some intriguing evidence that Neanderthals crossed the Mediterranean Sea 100,000 years ago. It’s possible the water level was significantly lower back then and the islands were connected to the mainland. It’s also possible Neanderthals swam the distance. Or maybe, just maybe, they built boats and sailed to the islands as ancient mariners. Here’s more on Neanderthals as ancient mariners from New Scientist:

It looks like Neanderthals may have beaten modern humans to the seas. Growing evidence suggests our extinct cousins criss-crossed the Mediterranean in boats from 100,000 years ago – though not everyone is convinced they weren’t just good swimmers.

Neanderthals lived around the Mediterranean from 300,000 years ago. Their distinctive “Mousterian” stone tools are found on the Greek mainland and, intriguingly, have also been found on the Greek islands of Lefkada, Kefalonia and Zakynthos. That could be explained in two ways: either the islands weren’t islands at the time, or our distant cousins crossed the water somehow…

(See New Scientist for more on Neanderthal ancient mariners)

What is the Oldest Human Fossil?

Scholars generally agree that anatomically modern humans first appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago. But do human fossils go back that far?

What is the Oldest Human Fossil?

In truth, the fossil record doesn’t exact support the so-called “Out of Africa” theory. In fact, its quite skimpy in this regard. Complicating this is the fact that many older human fossils show traits from both humans as well as more primitive members of the Homo genus. This could mean the earliest Homo Sapiens possessed a wide variety of physical traits. Or it could mean the seemingly human fossils in question belong to some other hominid altogether. With that said, here’s more from the Smithsonian on the earliest known human fossil (which predates the Skhul human fossil shown above by about 100,000 years).

Omo I and II (195,000 years ago): In 1967, a team led by Richard Leakey discovered possible Homo sapiens fossils in the Kibish Formation near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia. Originally the fossils, Omo I (a partial skull and skeleton) and Omo II (a partial skull), were thought to be 130,000 years old, but a dating reanalysis in 2005 revealed they were much older—195,000 years old, making them the oldest fossils assigned to Homo sapiens. Over the last 45 years, the species status of the fossils has been debated. Researchers largely agree Omo I was a modern human; it had the human hallmarks of a flat face, fully formed chin, high forehead and globular braincase. They are less certain about Omo II, which was more primitive with its thicker, more “rugged” cranial bones and sloped forehead. While some paleoanthropologists say Omo II is too archaic to be one of us, others suggest it’s evidence of the great physical diversity of early modern humans

(See for more on other early human fossils)

Jimmy Stewart & the Raiders of the Yeti Hand?

In 1957, rumors began to spread that a monastery in Pangboche, Nepal possessed a Yeti hand. Now, after more than fifty years, a finger from this hand has finally been subjected to DNA analysis. Does it belong to a Yeti?

The Lost Yeti Hand?

The history of the Pangboche Hand makes for a fascinating read. In 1957, an oil tycoon and adventurer named Tom Slick heard rumors that a monastery in Pangboche, Nepal possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. He and his team were eager to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, managed to infiltrate the monastery and stole some bones from the hand, replacing them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones into London.

The Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, is a cryptozoological creature. It’s often described as an ape and supposedly lives in the Himalayas. It’s one of the most sought after cryptids in the world, rivaling Bigfoot and the Lochness Monster in popularity. In fact, a widely publicized expedition is now underway, hoping to discover evidence of this elusive animal.

Part of the finger was retained by George Agogino, an anthropologist who served as a consultant on Slick’s various expeditions. These supposed Yeti bones were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, they disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

But the main portion of the finger was given to Professor Osman Hill for examination. Professor Hill first declared it to be from a hominid and later, a Neanderthal. But after that, the finger vanished.

Until now.

The Lost Yeti Hand…Rediscovered?

Recently, the finger was rediscovered in the archives of the Hunterian Museum, at the Royal College of Surgeons. It was subsequently verified by an elderly Peter Byrne as the original finger. Reporter Matthew Hill requested a DNA test, the results of which were revealed on December 28, 2011. And now, we know for certain that the identity of the hand’s owner was a…

Human. That’s right. The finger, revered by Pangboche monks, stolen by Byrne, and smuggled by Jimmy Stewart, was nothing more than a human finger.

“We had to stitch it together. We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence and then we matched that against the database and we found human DNA. So it wasn’t too surprising but it was obviously slightly disappointing that you hadn’t discovered something brand new. Human was what we were expecting and human is what we got.” ~ Dr. Rob Ogden, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Of course, this discovery won’t end the hunt for the fabled Yeti. Still, it represents a blow to the hopes of cryptozoologists everywhere. But don’t count the Abominable Snowman out just yet. There are numerous examples of mythological creatures being discovered in modern times such as the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri. Maybe, just maybe, one of these days we’ll be able to add the Yeti to that list as well.

The Tallest Giant to roam the Earth?

On September 17, 2009, Guinness World Records announced that Sultan Kösen, a part-time farmer in Turkey, was the tallest man in the world. Thanks to a tumor affecting his pituitary gland, he now stands in at a whopping 8 foot, 3 inches tall. But is Kösen the tallest man in history? Or have other even larger giants roamed the Earth?

Who is the Tallest Man in Recorded History?

According to Guinness, there are only ten “confirmed or reliable cases in history of humans reaching 8 feet or more.” Nine of these people are men and one is a woman.

The tallest woman in known history, as well as the tallest overall person in the history of China, was Zeng Jinlian. She was born in 1964 and died in 1982. Believe it or not, she did most of her growing as a toddler, reaching the extraordinary height of 5 feet, 1.5 inches by the age of 4. Her tallest recorded height was 8 feet, 1.75 inches, which was taken shortly before her death.

Amazingly, the tallest man in known history isn’t Sultan Kösen. Instead, that honor belongs to Robert “The Alton Giant” Wadlow. For several years, he was a well-known American celebrity, thanks in part to a stint he did with the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1936. Wadlow was born in 1918 and passed away in 1940. Less than three weeks before his death, he was measured at 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall. Similar to Kösen, Wadlow suffered from a problem with his pituitary gland and it’s believed he may have still been growing right up until his passing.

Who is the Tallest Man in History?

While Wadlow is the tallest man in confirmed history, there are other disputed claims to his title.

  • John Aasen (1890-1938): American silent film actor. His skeleton measures 7 feet, 2.4 inches. However, he lost some height toward the end of his life and some people believe he may have measured 8 feet, 11.5 inches earlier in his life.
  • John Middleton (1578-1623): Also known as the Childe of Hale. Although his true history is somewhat muddled by folklore, it’s believed he might have been taller than 9 feet. His gravestone is marked with the words, “Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton the Childe of Hale. Nine feet three.”
  • Feodor Machnow (1878-1912): Also known as the Russian Giant. His tallest official measurement of 7 feet, 10 inches was taken at the age of 16. However, his wife claimed that he added height afterward, and eventually reached a towering 9 feet, 3 inches. Skeptics point out that Machnow was known for wearing a gigantic Russian Cossack fur hat and tall boots, which might account for the discrepancy.
  • The Giant of Castelnau (9500 BC?): In 1890, anthropologist Georges Vacher de Lapouge discovered the bones of the Giant at a French cemetery (pictured above). While the bones themselves have since disappeared, de Lapouge described them in La Nature as being appropriate for a person who stood about 11 feet, 6 inches. This discovery was followed up with other discoveries of gigantic bones in another French cemetery, which were sent to the Paris Academy for examination. Unfortunately, these bones appear to have vanished as well although it’s believed they may have “belonged to a race of men between ten and fifteen feet in height.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Interestingly enough, many ancient myths and folklore describes strange “giant-like” humans. So, the idea of a man standing at 11 feet, 6 inches might not be as crazy as it first sounds. Still, until the original bones are located or more bones are found, the titleholder for tallest man in history will continue to belong to the enormous Robert Wadlow.

A Hunt for…Yetis?

The Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman, is a mysterious cryptid said to live in the Himalaya Mountains. It’s widely considered a mythological creature. But not all scientists agree. And now, some of them are launching an expedition to search for the Yeti. So, is the Yeti a legend? Or could this new expedition possibly bear fruit?

The Legend of the Yeti?

The exact origins of the Yeti mythology remain shrouded in mystery. But according to H. Siiger’s The “Abominable Snowman” chapter in Himalayan anthropology: The Indo-Tibetan Interface (edited by James F. Fisher), the creature predates Buddhism in the Himalayas, as a factor in both folklore and religion.

During the late 1800s, knowledge of the Yeti began to seep into the outside world. During the 1900s, it became famous. While leading the Everest Reconnaissance Expedition in 1921, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Howard-Bury spotted strange, man-like footprints. Howard-Bury thought they belonged to a grey wolf which had made double tracks in the soft snow. His guides claimed they belonged to Yeti. Later, this name was mistranslated into the famous moniker, “Abominable Snowman.”

But the Yeti really came into its own in 1951 when Eric Shipton photographed large footprints while climbing Mount Everest. These photos have proven highly controversial over the years. However, subsequent expeditions reported similar discoveries and explorers began to investigate the possibility of an unidentified species living in the Himalayas. But physical evidence remained elusive.

The Mysterious Yeti Hand?

Around this time, rumors began to spread that the monastery at Pangboche possessed a Yeti hand, which it used as a ritual artifact. Tom Slick, an oil tycoon and adventurer, was determined to examine it. One of his associates, a man named Peter Byrne, supposedly stole some bones from the hand and replaced them with human bones. Byrnes smuggled the bones into India at which point actor Jimmy Stewart (yes, that Jimmy Stewart) smuggled the bones out of the country. Sir Edmund Hillary later investigated the hand left at the monastery. Not realizing that he was looking at a combination of the original hand and a human hand, he declared the relic to be fraudulent. The bones recovered by Byrnes were later analyzed by the TV program Unsolved Mysteries, which decided they were “near human.” Unfortunately, the hand disappeared shortly afterward, making future tests impossible.

Slick wasn’t the only person during that time period to believe in the Yeti. Recent revelations indicate that the U.S. government considered the Yeti to be a bonafide creature during the 1950s. It even set rules for expeditions hoping to discover one.

“The first rule required that expeditions buy a permit. The second demanded that the beast be photographed or taken alive. ‘It must not be killed or shot at except in an emergency arising out of self defense,’ wrote Embassy Counselor Ernest Fisk on November 30, 1959. And third, any news proving the existence of the Abominable Snowman must be cleared through the Nepalese government which probably wanted to take credit for the discovery.” ~ Paul Bedard, U.S. News

Recently, scientists from Russia, the United States, and other countries announced an expedition to Siberia to “hunt down the Yeti.” The effort will focus on the Kemerova region which has experienced a large increase in sightings over the last two decades. Is this a fool’s errand?

The Yeti: A Real-Life Cryptid?

I find cryptozoology to be an interesting field of study. At its best, it combines elements of zoology and folklore.

“The zoology-based cryptozoologist looks at the mystery animals being investigated by the folklore-based cryptozoologist, and thinks that they are highly unlikely to exist as real animals. The folklore-based cryptozoologist looks at the often rather mundane animals being investigated by the zoology-based cryptozoologist and thinks that the creatures concerned are so ordinary that they’re probably nothing to do with cryptozoology. A dedicated cryptozoologist – who combines investigation of both of these fields – is interested in both areas, and finds both real animals, and entities that exist only in folklore, of equal research interest.” ~ Darren Naish

After a long period of disrepute, the field is finally started to gain some interest from the established scientific community, thanks in large part to the recent Cryptozoology: Science of Pseudoscience conference conducted by the Zoological Society of London. At that conference, Henry Gee (Senior Editor of Nature), Dr. Michael Woodley, Dr. Charles Paxton, and Dr. Darren Naish argued convincingly that it’s possible to conduct scientific studies with cryptozoological data.

From my perspective, the most believable cryptids are so-called sea monsters. The ocean is a vast place and its depths remain largely unexplored. And while I rarely trust eyewitness testimony, it’s difficult to ignore the cases of the Daedalus Sea Serpent and the Valhalla Sea Serpent which involved experienced sailors and respected zoologists, respectively.

Land-based cryptids are another matter. Unlike a deep ocean, land doesn’t easily hide skeletons. And the commonly-held theory that cryptids bury their own kind, while possible, doesn’t constitute proof. Still, there have been a few famous cases of supposed mythological land-based creatures being discovered in nature:

“A list of species have been discovered following the investigation of either local tales and legends, or fleeting observations of what were (at the time) mystery animals. One of the great classic examples is the Okapi. Referred to as the Atti and thought to be a donkey-like equid, it had been mentioned in passing by Henry Stanley in 1888. It was on the basis of this anecdotal information that Harry Johnston went in successful pursuit of it. Just two recent examples of this sort of thing include the Kipunji Rungwecebus kipunji (discovered in 2006 following observations of a mystery monkey) and the Burmese snub-nosed monkey Rhinopithecus strykeri (discovered in 2010 following investigation of local reports about a “monkey with an upturned nose”).” Darren Naish, Scientific American

All in all, I think the Yeti is one of the more believable land-based cryptids. Unlike Bigfoot, it resides in the frigid, treacherous Himalayas. Few people live in that area and the conditions make it difficult to search effectively.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Assuming that the Yeti is a truly unique species, what is it? One intriguing possibility is presented by Igor Burtsev, who is connected to the most recent Yeti expedition.

“When Homo sapiens started populating the world, it viciously exterminated its closest relative in the hominid family, Homo neanderthalensis. Some of the Neanderthals, however, may have survived to this day in some mountainous wooded habitats that are more or less off limits to their arch foes.” ~ Igor Burtsev, International Center of Hominology

This may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The recent discovery of Homo floresiensisin Indonesia shows that other hominids were still alive as recently as 12,000 years ago. This has led some scientists, most notably Henry Gee, to think that “perhaps stories of other human-like creatures might be founded on grains of truth.”